Don’t expect to build something people want

Customer Development is great. It can really reduce your risk and save you years of misery. One misconception about the methodology that I myself fall prey to is a promise that building something people want is enough. It’s not enough.

You hear a lot of talk about pain killers versus vitamins and the logic is sound, but how many of the things you buy or your business buys would you really call a pain killer?  If I look around, I don’t honestly see that many. Sure, some of them save me time or money. I like having them around. Tedium is reduced, but pain killer? It’s not a compulsion. Few of these things are absolutely necessary and most of them have reasonable alternatives.

How many things that you buy happened simply because someone built something to solve a problem you had? Wait, none? Zero things flashed into your mind and wallet because they were constructed to solve your problems?

How many of the products you buy are ideal solutions for your problems? Does it feel like someone understands you and your specific context? I doubt it. I am often delighted by the smallest improvements in design. If the benefit of using the product is there, I’ll put up with a lot of hassle.

Do you always buy the best or most feature-ful option? Most expensive? Cheapest? Wait, it might be too complex or error-prone with a lot of features? And you think it would be crazy to pay $X for that, but also that there has to be something wrong with the cheapest one?

How do you make your purchasing decisions then? I’ll tell you. You get marketed to because someone else has studied you. you belong to their targeted segment. They are trying to understand you. To speak to you. To talk like you. They want to help you succeed because then you’ll both succeed. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better. They want you to buy.

Don’t expect to build something people want and have a sudden success on your hands. You have to understand your market. Speak like them. Talk to them. Find where they hang out. You have to market something people want.

2 thoughts on “Don’t expect to build something people want”

  1. Robert, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s only so many ‘products’ that people want, need and desire.

    Maybe we need to look beyond the product, app or software level to consider other needs not currently being addressed by startups.

    At a bigger picture level, I think people’s core human needs are not being addressed by startups and companies launching new products. People have wants that go far beyond a simple technology widget or an algorithm that accepts input and pushes back output.

    I think the technology, software and startup industries tend to ignore these core human needs.

    What if the things people really, really want are more related to fundamental human needs such as:

    Genuine human connection…

    Human conversation…

    Support from another human being…

    An ear to listen to their needs and wants…

    A sounding board…

    None of these needs are fulfilled with a product such as yet-another simple CRM that no one cares about, wants or needs.

    I don’t think people value apps or software… without a broader human context, community, conversation, connection and education behind them.

    In other words, I wonder if what people ACTUALLY value is the interaction, conversation and relationships with human beings ‘around’ the software product or app. Not the actual product itself.

    In your experience, would you agree with this hypothesis?

    I discuss this set of ideas more in the following articles:

    I’m excited to hear your feedback on these ideas Robert.

    1. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days. It’s a sticky problem. I think the reasons are myriad.

      Some startups don’t focus on the things that people really want and I think you’re definitely on track in seeing that often they err in believing that technology is the solution. Technology can only be a means to an end.

      The best thinking I’ve heard on this issue is Kathy Sierra’s talk from 2012 at the Business of Software conference. I strongly encourage you to watch that 60m presentation. She’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen. Hit me back if you have more thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *