One of my favorite quotations about innovation is attributed to Henry Ford:
“If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’”
It’s a great reminder to me how unpredictable the product creation process is, especially in brand new markets. Often, marketers are fooled into thinking that they can research their way into great products and solutions. That may work sometimes, but for capital efficient internet companies, I think this is rarely the right way to go.
I think the better route is to build something, find users, understand what works and what doesn’t work, and then iterate. Up front research has a place, but it’s less useful for figuring out what product to build and more useful for testing specific hypothesis about what your users are already doing. There’s a ton more written about this by guys like Steve Blank so I’ll save my ink.
That’s why I’m a big fan of programs like YCombinator and TechStars (by the way, the TechStars Boston deadline is approaching fast). There is an emphasis on getting products out the door and quickly iterating to find product-market fit. The goal isn’t to build the most bulletproof product in a short amount of time, but to build a product that gets users engaged and maximizes learning. A lot of folks don’t understand this – that’s why these products are often considered “toys” in their early days.
So, for those of you who’ve been thinking about starting something for a while – make it your new year’s resolution to build something. Get something out the door cheaply, test it with users, and see where things go. I have an idea or two of my own that I’m going to try to execute on, so this is a resolution for me as well.
Here’s to a great 2010. Let’s build some great products to solve some big problems.