Your Product Is Likely Not Changing the World, but it’s likely making someone’s world better — and that’s ok

February 22, 2017 by Paul Lopushinsky

Let’s start with the obvious: The tech world can be very far up its own butt.

  • If your company doesn’t have a billion dollar valuation, it’s worthless in the eyes of the public
  • If you’re not featured on Product Hunt, what are you doing?
  • If you don’t have the ambitions to “change the world”, just get out. Why would you even bother building software?

In the current tech landscape, it seems that if you’re not eyeing on “changing the world”, then what you’re building is pointless.

Okay. Let’s all take a breath, take a step back, and think about this for a second. Is there something wrong if what your product does is not changing the world?

No, there is nothing wrong with that. However, your product DOES need to make someone’s world better.

love the show Silicon Valley and how it’s really hit a nerve with some in the tech community who refuse to look in the mirror.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve come across a few articles that have gone into depth about this whole “change the world mentality”.

From the ever opinionated David Heinemeier Hansson, some exceprts.:

And it’s not just the concepts that attract grandiose dressings, it’s also our purpose. If it isn’t CHANGING THE WORLD, then clearly there’s something wrong with the ambition calibration! Get with the mission, man!
…The trite truth is that most software is utterly mundane. Avoid of any potential for major, human catastrophes. Loss of some monies, sure. Loss of some customer trust, definitely. Should you take it all seriously? Sure. But you can do so without invoking the criticality of human life.
…You can write lovely software without standing on your tippy toes trying to clear some bullshit bar of importance. So what if you’re not working on the lunar module. So what if you don’t have a red cape. Accept the workaday lot and learn to love what you actually have, not what you wish you could pretend to be.
Your software just isn’t mission critical

Maybe the product you build helps a profession (let’s product managers, since this is what this blog is about) save time by giving them automation processes. No, that software isn’t about “changing the world”, but you are making someone’s work life better by reducing some mundane tasks.

Chris Guillebeau book, The $100 Dollar Startup, featured a story of a man who made software for piano teachers to help with scheduling and payments. Is this changing the world? No, but for piano teachers, it’s made their lives a million times easier.

Pat Flynn had a story from his book “Will it Fly”, where he was on a podcast with a host who was grilling him about his products, and asking Pat why he wasn’t building the next excel or something on a grand scale.

Pat gave it some thought, and told the host:

I don’t need to change the world, I just need to change someone’s world.

And that stuck with me, and I think the software industry needs to get a reminder of that.

We’re product managers. We want to make the best possible product for our customers. We want to be one step ahead of the competition, and that’s great.

However, going around constantly claiming that what you’re building is changing the world, is, for most companies, rather silly.

Here’s another article I came across (thanks Nat Eliason) called the unexotic underclass. Let’s take a look at some excerpts:

On one side stand those who believe that entrepreneurs have stopped chasing and solving Big Problems — capital B, capital P: clean energy, poverty, famine, climate change, you name it. I needn’t replay their song here; they’ve argued their cases far more eloquently elsewhere. In short, they contend that too many brains and dollars have been shoveled into resolving what I call ‘anti-problems’ — interests usually centered about food or fashion or ‘social’or gaming.
On the other side stand those who believe that entrepreneurs have stopped chasing and solving Big Problems — capital B, capital P — that there are too many folks resolving anti-problems… BUT just to be on the safe side, the venture capitalists should keep pumping tons of money into those anti-problem entrepreneurs because you never know when some corporate leviathan — Google, Facebook, Yahoo! — will come along and buy what yesterday looked like a nonsense app and today is still a nonsense app, but a nonsense app that can walk a bit taller, held aloft by the insanities of American exceptionalism. For not only is our sucker birthrate still high in this country (one every minute, baby!), but our suckers are capitalists bearing fat checks.
On the other other side, a side that receives scant attention, scanter investment, is where big problems — little b, little p — reside. Here, you’ll find a group I’ll refer to as the unexotic underclass. It’s rather quiet in these parts, except during campaign season when the politicians stop by to scrape anecdotes off the skin of someone else’s suffering. Let’s see who’s here.
The Unexotic Underclass

It’s a great read and one of the things I want to focus on from the article is how people are building solutions to anti-problems, instead of focusing on the big problems, the things that can greatly impact or change a large number of people’s worlds.

To be a broken record once again, there’s nothing wrong with building a product that targets a niche, and makes things easier or better for that market.

My main issue are these products and companies saying what they’re doing is changing the world.

If you’re building a product that targets a niche, recognize it for what it is. You’re making a product that is making someone’s world better. Despite what the media or the tech blogs might be saying, that’s more than enough. You see reality for what it is.

However, if you are building a product that targets a niche audience, and are making claims that you’re changing the world, take a look at yourself in the mirror.

Be proud of your product, but also keep it in reality.


Originally published at www.pmpaul.com on February 22, 2017.