Building a product for yourself or for someone else

Some founders create products for themselves first and then think about whether it could turn into a business.

Other founders create products for customers but they themselves aren’t the target market. Tons of examples but to name a few illustrative examples: I’ve seen men create web services aimed at women, or adults creating products for kids. You get the idea.

There are plenty successful companies in the latter scenario but I have to confess, I find myself more attracted to founders that create products that they want to use.  

Consider the founders of Twitter, Boxee, Tumblr, Foursquare, Userland, Vimeo,, Instapaper and gdgt (just to name a few, please dont’ get upset if I left you off this intentionally incomplete list). Those founders wanted their products to exist in the world because they wanted to use them everyday.

This is important for two related reasons:

1 – Product Instinct. As users, they know in their guts what the product should be like without the need for surveys, market research, or a product management team. On day 1, they start designing and creating without a spec. 

2 – Startups are hard and rarely always up and to the right. They are bumpy rollercoasters. You’ll get advice from everyone and then some on what features you are missing or should add or remove. It will be endless. And while that feedback can be useful it can also lead to confusion with conflicting signals. If you are building a product for yourself, you can quiet your mind and focus on building the thing you always wanted.

Of course it’s not that clear cut and precise. But if the founders don’t have the product instinct then everything becomes a bit more challenging. It’s harder to know if you hiring the right folks, or focused on the right things, or even how you interpret the usage data. 

I’m hoping this post is most useful for entrepreneurs that are thinking about starting a new company and deciding where to spend their time. I suggest you start your journey building stuff you love and want to see exist in the world. 

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(this post is really about companies building consumer products. i’m not sure it applies as well to b2b companies etc).