I spent Friday at ConfShop in the company of some of the most talented people in the UK web industry. Elliot Jay Stocks and Keir Whitaker pulled off a risky new event format that resulted in far more insight into the experiences of other attendees than I've ever before gained from a conference. Their "insites" brand is very aptly named. Some of the things I heard inspired me to write this, my first blog post in a very long time:
You do your best work when you get to choose what you do, who you do it for and with, how you do it and when you do it. For that reason almost every developer I know who cares about their craft wants a product of their own. They want it to provide themselves with enough income such that they can make those choices without being constrained by money. Sadly, perfectionism seems to be holding the best ones back.
When you spend weeks or months perfecting your product in the name of 'user experience' or 'design' before selling it, you are doing more harm than good for your users and yourself on your quest to be financially independent. This harm is multiplied if you are spending money or sacrificing other income to make your 'final finishing touches'. If you know one of these perfectionists please shout some or all of the following at them (I'm going to try it with myself in the mirror).
- How dare you make users wait for your product so they have to suffer the alternatives even longer. Version 1 of your product doesn't need to be 10 times better than the rest.
- How dare you increase the risk of failing to build a sustainable business to support your product. There's no shame in making money so you can make a better product.
- How dare you add more features to your product that your users might not even need. If you must, add them when they discover they need them.
- How dare you assume everyone will see and remember the first version of your product. It takes years for most customers to find even the most successful products and they rarely remember their first experience of them.
- How dare you let your delusions of grandeur delay you in making money from your product in the name of growth. If big growth is on the cards for you, making some money now won't harm it.
- How dare you assume that your picky peers are the people who can gain most from your product. By all means aspire to their high standards but don't let them be the reason you delay shipping your product to more forgiving customers.
- How dare you assume that your best customers will want to pay less than $100. Low paying customers are usually the most expensive to support and value your time the least.
- How dare you assume that the people most in need of your product will discover it 'organically'. Word of mouth alone rarely starts by itself and almost never jumps between industries and markets.
- How dare you assume that you will spend less time on sales and marketing than you will building your product. The long hard road to profit comes after you start selling.
- How dare you assume that your competitors have the time and skill to copy you. They have far bigger concerns than your risky product that almost none of their customers have heard of.
"But," you might respond, "I want to make well polished, high quality, easy to use products like Apple". If you want to do that either go and work for a business with the resources of Apple or go through the process they went through to get those resources. To do it yourself you need to start by selling your Apple 1* - prove that a market exists and ideally make a profit. Use the resources that provides to build your Apple II and make a real dent in the universe. Then, if you wish, you'll have all the time and money you need to build, your Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Name and shame the products you wish you could buy today. Apply the pressure they need to start building businesses that support their awesome products.
* I mean the version of your product that's as attractive as an Apple 1. If you actually have an Apple 1, please consider donating it to a museum where it can inspire future generations.
Photo credit: rebelpilot
Lots more comments and clarifications over on: Hacker News