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Deciding What To Build

Some simple ideas for picking your next project

Oftentimes when I tell people how I got started with Laylo, they’ll respond by saying they’d also love to build a startup but they’re not the “creative type”. It’s a dangerous mentality because the truth is, deciding you’re not creative is the surest way to not be creative. When I respond by asking what they’re interested in, it’s usually very generalized but passionate. “I want to build something that changes how films get financed!”. “Ok” I’ll say, “so what sucks about film financing right now?”

Focus on a problem you hate, and know a lot about

It’s a classic line but great startups are almost always created based on a problem the founder faces. Daniel Ek hated what filesharing was doing to the music industry but loved that he could access every song in the world (it didn’t hurt that he had been CEO of one of the biggest file sharing services in the world). Elon Musk genuinely thinks humans will be eradicated if we don’t cut fossel fuels and find a way off this little blue dot. Brian Chesky needed to pay his bills so he started renting out floor space in his apartment. You get the point, these are people who saw a problem that they genuinely cared about, and they wanted to fix it for themselves.

Talk about it

Start talking to your friends and family about the problem you’re facing. It will help you validate that the problem exists outside of your head and it will give you solutions you may never have thought of. Just as importantly, it will force you to start empathizing with what you hope to be your first users. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with the problem (I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg’s mom didn’t think Facebook was something she had to have) but it will help you narrow down on the people you should focus on first and get them involved in spreading the word when you’re ready. Lastly, it will give you that extra kick in the ass to get started. Once you tell people you’re working on something, you feel double the pain when you know you’re not getting anything done and they keep asking.

Make sure you love thinking about it

If you’re not thinking about designs in the shower or the people that need to know about it while you’re eating breakfast, you probably won’t last very long. Startups are extremely hard to build and even harder to sustain. You better love thinking about this problem often otherwise you simply won’t last. Even more dangerous is that someone else in the world is thinking about the same problem and if they care more than you well, good luck out there.

Understand that you need to prove that there’s a market

Will people pay for it? This doesn’t necessarily mean with dollars (although that’s probably the strongest indicator). If they’ll pay with their time then you’re probably on to something. Figure out exactly who those people are and cater to them first. The idea of an MVP means viable to the first cohort. If you can find a small group of people who are obsessed with what you’re doing, theres likely more of them out there and they’ll tell their friends. Don’t build for everyone and make sure the people you are building for are actually here to stay. Once you understand that you can dive into the financial models behind the problem you’re solving for. Likely there are a few options out there so may sure you extrapolate over a larger number of users and think through that you’re focusing on something that scales (rather than a big one-off paycheck).

Move fast and break things

The facebook motto matters here. You should try and get this in the hands of people as quickly as possible so that you can find out all the things you got wrong (there will be a lot and that’s good). The faster you get your product out there, the quicker you’ll learn and fix things and continue that cycle. Things will break, people will be pissed off and you will get angry emails at 2 am. All of these things are great because it means that you’re learning and that people actually care about what you’re solving. If you move slowly, good luck beating that other girl that moves even slightly faster.

Read and write a lot

Some of the most valuable things I’ve learned have come from people I admire who have been through this process multiple times. While I don’t recommend reading “10 things you must know about startups”, I highly recommend reading great biographies and long form articles from reputable writers to get insight that took your role models years of experience to attain. The next best thing is to take lots of notes (buy a highlighter right now) and then write about the things you’ve learned. Some of my biggest partnerships and closest allies have come from someone reading my articles and reaching out. Oh and on that note, reach out to the people you admire! Smart people want to help other smart people, don’t be afraid to tell them what you love about them and you might just meet your next mentor, investor or friend.