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The Product Of You

Why I haven’t launched my own product yet.

Now that I’ve been working for myself for the last year, a lot of my friends ask me why I haven’t created my own company yet. My response is always the same, “I just haven’t had an idea I really want to pursue”.

The truth is, in quiet moments, I often question the validity of that response.

Sometimes I think I’m not passionate enough. While other times I wonder if I’m just not the entrepreneurial type.

Maybe I’m more of an executor and less of a starter. Or maybe I am not risky enough.

Perhaps I lack the naivety that so many people have. Maybe I know too much. Do all my past startup experiences and knowledge of product development, user acquisition, scaling, marketing, and everything else cause me to think through too much too early and too quickly dismiss each idea?

Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me. Maybe it’s a fear of failure. Or maybe worse, I’m comfortable?

These are the things that all run though my head when I look through my Business Ideas notebook on Evernote and login to my GoDaddy account to see all the domains I’ve purchased because they fit a product idea I’d had.

After expressing these frustrations to a friend one day, my friend said, “why don’t you just focus on the product of you?”

It has taken me about 6 months to process that idea. But it’s finally starting to make sense.

In our world of never ending Top 30 Under 30 lists and other markers of supposed success, what you’ve already achieved is easily left out of frame as you zoom in on all the things you think you accomplish next.

There’s a growing imbalance in pressure to develop a product rather than develop ourselves as people.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that if you really want to be successful, it doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is who you are.

And yes, I know that sounds cliché.

Of course what you do matters. But more than what you do, true success comes from knowing yourself. True success comes from knowing what you believe, what you’re passionate about, and what your strengths are. Above all, you must know what matters to you.

The problem is that developing authentic versions ourselves is hard today for two reasons.

First, social media has caused us to constantly be curating the preferred version of ourselves through posting just the right Instagram, tweet, or Facebook update.

Second, when you work at a startup (or anywhere for that matter), I’d argue that you end up developing what I call tunnel vision very quickly. As a result, the lens through which you see the world is tinted to the lens through which that company sees.

Ron Conway was recently interviewed at Start Up School 2013. In the interview he talked about how SV Angel had invested in Ev Williams’ company ODEO which ended up not doing so well. Ron said that after ODEO didn’t work out, Ev gave all the money back to his investors. Ron wasn’t too thrilled with that because he said that part of investing is the risk that sometimes a company doesn’t succeed. But Ron reluctantly took the money back and also told Ev that whatever he ended up doing next, he’d be investing in it.

Then, along came Ev’s next company, Twitter.

In the interview, Ron says that when Ev told him about Twitter he’d said, “I don’t care what it does, here’s the money.”

Ron goes on to say that part of his investing strategy is to invest in the people. And that’s exactly what he did when he invested in Twitter.

When asked about what are the qualities of the people that he finds attractive, Ron listed product focus, decisiveness, leadership, and knowing your deficiencies.

An former boss of mine once told me, “you are your greatest creative product.”

It’s true.

The most important thing that you’ll create in life is not a company, app, or new piece of technology. The best thing you’ll create in life is yourself.

Only after creating yourself can you go on to create something truly great.

So, when people ask me why I haven’t launched my own start up yet, I may still give them my standard response.

But now, in those quiet moments when I used to doubt the validity of that response, I can remind myself that I am working on my best product I’ll ever create — myself.

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