“The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” — Thomas J Watson Sr., Founder of IBM
I come from the tech industry. I’ve been building products for tech startups for a long time. The biggest struggle for a startup is to find a product-market fit, which means finding a specific need in the market the product satisfies that potential clients are willing to pay for. If a company can’t figure it out before all the resources are exhausted, it declares a failure and shuts down.
There’s no way of knowing if a particular idea will work or not without showing something to early adopters and asking them to give feedback. The sooner you, as a founder, start testing the product for the market fit, the higher is the chance that you’ll be able to adjust based on that feedback while you still have money and motivation to move forward. The whole concept of the Lean Startup movement is built around that idea.
Writing is a product
I think writing is a perfect product to test the product-market fit. Of course, to do that, you need to meet specific requirements with the writing, like the quality and usefulness. Plus, it would help if you put your writing in front of the people’s eyes so that they can find it. Here’s why I think it’s so perfect.
Writing is the most straightforward packageable product you can create. The whole point of entrepreneurship and business is to help people. If what you’re doing is not helpful, then no one will pay you for it. If you’re not getting paid for what you’re doing, it is art or hobby, not a business. The fastest way to help someone is to give advice — consultants and coaches do that all the time. But for someone to dedicate time to meet you, either in person or online, you need to build trust and authority. This takes plenty of time, especially when you don’t know how to do it right (which you probably don’t).
Reading, on the contrary, requires nothing but a few minutes and genuine interest. Thousands of independent writers on Medium confirm this point every day. Here you can find advice on almost any topic, from construction works to data science and dating. Every writer gets some attention. Every reader finds an interesting article to read and learn something. You can even get paid as a writer on Medium, although making a living on it is a totally different game.
From a product validation standpoint, all you need is to start writing about the problem you want to help people with. If you will get the reader’s attention, or maybe your post takes off and goes viral, then you know that you’ve hit the nerve. Of course, things aren’t that easy in reality — for a post to get enough eyeballs, you need to figure out a lot of variables — getting into publication, being curated by Medium editors, having proper headlines and subheads and so on.
You can get paid for a product you wrote
Medium is just an example, it’s not the only platform you can distribute your writing on. For example, if you’re building a software startup for dog grooming, you can create a landing page and provide helpful tips on grooming and run some ads to get people there. If you see that people click the ads and read your advice, then you might be on to something. You can move to the next step and offer a free ebook. Then ask a few bucks for it. And so on and so on.
This path is so much easier than what most of us, startup founders do. We love to build software products, so we spend a fortune on building an MVP, then spend even more money on customer development and marketing. All that only to figure out that people we were building the product for don’t even know they have a problem. It might turn out you can’t sell a dog grooming service to Husky owners who don’t care if their dog has a perfect hairstyle (maybe you do, I’m just using it as an example).
The Things app and “Getting things done”
I know plenty of examples of how a problem can be solved by both writing and software. My favorite is Things app on iOS built by Cultured Code, a 9-people company from Stuttgart, Germany. It’s my absolute favorite app for task management — I use it on my phone, iPad, and laptop to dump my tasks and ideas and deal with them later. The app has a minimalistic interface, nice micro-interactions, and pretty useful features like having a sub-list for a todo-item.
The app has a straightforward concept — you dump all your tasks and ideas into inbox during the day and move the tasks either to the “today,” “next,” or “archive” list. You can also schedule a task for a specific day so that the app will remind you about it on time. This concept is called “getting things done” and was introduced by David Allen around 2005 in his book under the same name. The book was revolutionary at that time, and the approach made my life so much better since I built a habit of dumping everything into the inbox and freeing up my mind.
But we’re not here to talk about GTD today. Culture Code team built software to help people organize their tasks using the GTD approach. Essentially, they did the very same thing David Allen did with his book, but in another form — as an app. The need for a product was validated by the book — millions of copies were sold, proving that plenty of people, including myself, struggle with organizing their day to day tasks.
I started this post with a quote about failing fast. When you’re building a software product, failure is costly. Even if you’re a developer, it takes plenty of time to create something usable and launch it. Failure in writing isn’t a big deal. You don’t even have to write and publish a book to figure out that no one cares about the problem you’re trying to solve — some ads and a landing page or a blog post would be more than enough. When you can fail fast, and it doesn’t cost you anything, it’s easy to pivot and do something else and repeat the process until you’ve found the market fit.