Divine Inspiration Fallacy

When you first start creating products it is easy to succumb to divine inspiration fallacy. For many first time entrepreneurs, it is easy to think that you uniquely have had a one-of-a-kind product idea. You wake up one night with a crystal clear vision for a product and exactly how your future customers will use it. You think that the product spec comes from the mouth of God directly to your mind, and from there directly to the web. Write it out, build it, ship it, done.

When you think you already have the perfect solution to a problem, your mindset changes from “how do we discover what our customers want?” to “how do we get as much day one leverage as possible for our product?”. After all, it was quick for you to build it, so now it’s a race to capture as much of the market as possible before a competitor comes along and creates the same thing. Unfortunately, this leads many entrepreneurs to invest heavily in large launch campaigns, paid media and other excesses before they have discovered if their product actually fulfills a customer need. See Airtime and Color for recent examples.

While externally other companies appear to operate this way, few products created like this survive in the wild. You and I are not Steve Jobs and this is not Apple, and even Apple does iterative prototyping for during product development. A priori you do not know what people want, nor will you be particularly good at guessing when you are just starting out.

The first version of Exec was a text input on the web that would send an SMS, and we built it in week. After releasing it, we built things only things that solved a customer problem that multiple customers had. Customers wondering where their Execs were? Added the live map feature. Customers didn’t want to be bothered with phone calls? Added messaging in the app.

Do the bare minimum to prove your hypothesis. That doesn’t mean do shoddy work; that means knowing what the bare minimum is. If you are testing whether great design will inspire more customers to engage more with the product, well then, you need to actually put in the work to create some great designs. If you are testing whether customers will use a new billing interface, perhaps the first version doesn’t need the best design.

Some experiments will work, and some will not. You will likely need to do many experiments to solve even a small problem.

Invest in growth once you have external evidence that something is working. Before that time, keep as small of an overhead footprint as possible.

Remember, everything you are building today will be killed or iterated. The former is more likely than the latter. Great products are created by many incremental improvements.

If this seems like the way you would develop products, we’re hiring iOS and Android engineers to join the Exec team.


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