What problem are you solving? Your product might not deserve to exist.
You are not the market. And just because you can build something, doesn’t mean you should.
Some products and services don’t deserve to exist. The sooner you find out if yours is one of those, the better.
I should know because I’ve built two products like that. The learnings from the first kept me from crashing the plane into the ground on the second takeoff, so I cut my losses after thorough prototype testing.
Your passion for the problem doesn’t matter.
I was fed up with the superficial connections on dating apps, so I built my own that was focused on organic connections; dubbed as “missed connections” by Craigslist. This resulted in a mobile app called Lost & Found, and the world’s worst chicken and egg problem.
My product shouldn’t have existed.
We sputtered along for five months with just under 10,000 downloads mostly acquired on Craigslist for free. We ended up reconnecting a handful of people and the app was well adopted at music festivals for drug-fueled lustful encounters.
But nobody needed an app for just in case they bumped into their soulmate and missed the chance to exchange digits.
On to the next one.
My next side project was a retrofit device for your faucet to help you save water. You could install “Walter” in ten minutes, on any faucet. It blossomed from a real problem: I was brushing my teeth, listening to a podcast about saving water and realized I was wasting a ton! I thought I’d do my part by getting one of those motion-sensing faucets only to realize that they’re really expensive ($300) and take like two hours to install.
No, thanks. So I built my own from some spare parts, got the design patented, and worked on sourcing a manufacturing contract to build a prettier version that I could take to market via Kickstarter.
Yay! I solved a problem. Who doesn’t want to save water?!
Well…. On the surface everyone loved it. That was until I installed it for them. Faucet motion sensors are fickle. If you’ve ever been in an airport bathroom, you know what I mean. The batteries were also an issue and needed to be replaced every few months.
People say they care about saving water much more than they can actually be bothered to care. The hassle of battery replacements and annoying motion sensors wasn’t enough. Also, the price of water doesn’t reflect actual supply and demand; utilities in the United States are only allowed to charge what it costs to carry the water through the pipes! So that’s like .0002 cents.
Besides the slight moral hangover you feel, the extra two minutes you left the faucet on all week only costs you 67 cents.
That was super disappointing, but something I could have only learned through actual research and user testing my prototype!
Does your product deserve to exist?
I challenge you to challenge yourself first and find evidence in the market that there’s a gap in the market: Are you solving a problem that enough people have to justify going to market?
Lost & Found = NO
Walter = YES
Then, you need to identify (at the lowest cost possible) if there’s a gap in the market: Does your product/service create enough benefit that people will pay for it? Answer this with a bootstrapped product or service.
Dropping $50,000 in development does not equal bootstrapped. Be scrappy!
Walter didn’t pass that final test. It’s unfortunate because I think water scarcity will be a major problem in the future. However, I’m glad I learned early on that Walter didn’t deserve to exist instead of finding out a year later when I’m broke and depressed trying to cram a product into the marketplace that nobody wants.
Too often this hard truth is forced on someone only after they’ve spent thousands on marketing their product. If you think this may be you, read about the “sunk cost fallacy” and, yes, you’re probably right.
On to the next one.