I had a bunch of offline responses to “If I knew then, what I know now”, specifically around the point of making something people want or need. Most responses were along the lines of: “What about Facebook and Twitter? No-one knew they wanted them and now they’re huge”, or “What problem did Twitter solve?”.
Funnily enough when I wrote the blog I thought I might get a point along those lines and was going to add two exceptions. But for the purpose of brevity I omitted them. Those two exceptions were “the Facebook/Twitter exception” and “the Apple exception”. Ultimately, they both come back to the same point and aren’t really exceptions to the “Make something people want” rule, so much as nuances, in that you still need to make something people want, it’s just they may not have realised it yet. It’s a bit like the Henry Ford quote about the first motorcars “If you’d have asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”.
- The Apple exception – The way that Apple have done this so successfully is to solve a problem / answer a need that they had themselves or make something they wanted i.e., the first Apple computer was the personal computer that Steve Wozniak always wanted but couldn’t afford, and the iPhone is the phone that Steve Jobs always wanted
- The Twitter exception – again these guys may not have been solving a need you knew you had but really that’s what they’ve done. They did it slightly differently to Apple to my mind in that they made something completely revolutionary and relied partly on an interesting new concept/product and partly on buzz to get users in the short-term, before quickly iterating based on what they saw and heard from users to help make that something that people wanted, to sustain themselves in the long-term. Compare and contrast your original reasons for using Facebook or Twitter to why you use it today; or even the founders’ original visions for these companies with where they are today
Like we’ve seen with Apple, Facebook and Twitter this can be hugely successful but it’s important to note two things: 1) All these companies in their own way could show some type of demand (i.e., at least they wanted what they were building) or demand by proxy (that there was a lot of people using a hacked together/inferior solution because their product didn’t exist); 2) Ostensibly paradoxically, in many ways some of the most revolutionary services are those that listen to and observe their users behaviour the best e.g., look at how quickly Facebook fix something when they get a bad reaction from their users; or even better, look at PayPal, they originally set out to do payments by Palm Pilot and email, and went so far as to discourage E-bay purchasers from using their service before realising that these guys could be the bedrock of their business!
Ultimately, I still maintain my point that, however you achieve it, the goal should be to make something people want, and have somehow shown they want, even if they don’t necessarily know it themselves yet.