When I tell friends that I’m building a side-project, they all give me a certain flavor of bad advice. I’m confident enough to ignore them but not convincing enough to persuade them that I’m correct. This is fine while I’m working alone, but I should figure it out eventually. I’m going to try this framework:
- Verbally state their worldview (to convey that I appreciate their perspective).
- Give them my delta – how do I think the world is changing, specifically?
- Given this specific delta, state my enlightened worldview, and then segue into my strategy.
You see, my side-project is for a small niche of humans. It’s for maybe 5% of swimming pool owners, in addition to some pool service workers who are specifically seeking this tech.
When people hear this, they immediately start telling me how to pursue the other 95% of the pool market. When I explain that I’ll pursue the rest of the market eventually but will focus on my pool-nerd market for the next couple of years, they don’t even hear it, and instead point out other ways that the product is tailored incorrectly for “average” pool owners. We then get into a silly conversation where I make points about growing a solid foundation, and they talk about how most consumers want a simple product.
I’ve had some luck when I phrase things in terms of the Innovator’s Dilemma (moving slowly upmarket) or Crossing the Chasm (start w/ early-adopters). I’ve had worse luck when I try to explicitly disavow the vaporware, fake-it-till-you-make-it, hustle-porn culture of many startups. However, I recently read a very good essay by Adam Wiggins: how we pay for software. In reading this, I realized something important: I’ve taken the “prosumer” emergence for granted, but he’s writing entire essays just to convince people it’s happening.
The reason why most of my friends disagree with my tactics is because they assume that every software company should try to build a unicorn startup. I learned years ago about the economics of the prosumer market, and even worked at the same company as the Slopes guy for a bit (Adam mentions him in the essay). I know that most VC-funded tech companies need to grow unsustainably fast, and I’m intentionally pursuing something different.
I want a high chance of making $0.1M, rather than a low chance of making $100M. But, most of my friends aren’t used to this line of thinking, so my approach seems silly to them, and they pattern-match it to something familiar: an engineer who doesn’t grasp business. But this isn’t just a science-project, and I want to get better at explaining my intentions.
I hope to set the stage here (the “why”) before I tell them about my specific plan (the “what” or “how”). This lines up with canonical marketing advice, where people tell you to advertise values & feelings rather than features. I’m taking this even further – before I preach my values to others, they need to hear me vocalize their values. This demonstrates some mutual understanding upfront, which should be a useful anchor or foundation for the discussion.
This won’t make me 100% successful, but it should result in more productive disagreements. It will be fun to tailor this framework for each person, guessing their worldview & communicating the smallest “delta” possible. I think that a smaller diff will yield better conversations, and that’s all I really want for now.
There is also a wide range of great business advice that friends have given me, and I’m certainly not above it… but I’m generally not there yet, and that’s ok. Most people (including me) have careers focused on optimizing something that’s already working, which is very different than building something new. I’m less concerned with “leaving money on the table” and more concerned with building a good table that I’ll enjoy sitting at for a long time.
Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.