Before You Build, Write


I’m a fan of shipping. My personal philosophy on product development is to run headlong into building it, getting it to market as soon as possible, and helping use the feedback cycle from the market to fill in the holes and move you toward product-market fit more quickly.

That said, I think there’s another step before building it. I think you should write about it.

As my buddy Josh wrote about recently, writing about your idea is one way to find out how passionate you are about it. It’s also a fabulous way to find out if the idea is worth a damn, and to find the holes before you even ship anything.

Consider this: telling the world about your idea is sure to do one of two things. It can either create a bunch of interesting conversation, whereby you know that the idea might worth pursuing, or it can generate a whole bunch of silence. Either way, writing about your idea publicly (for instance, on a blog like this one) is a way to get those ideas and concept out into the world, and see what the world thinks. After all, you’re going to do the same when you ship the product - might as well start sooner, and find out if you’ve got a nugget of gold or a piece of shit on your hands.

There’s another reason for writing about your idea. Writing about your idea helps you more fully think through it, to consider the angles you haven’t yet considered, and to tell the story of the product in a way that actually makes sense. Too often, we have this vague idea of a product or service in our heads, and it’s only when we’re challenged to put it to paper (well, at least in the metaphorical sense) that we realize it’s not fully baked. Posting about it for the world requires that you tidy it up, clean up the edges, and present it in a way that makes sense to others. All the while, you’re testing whether or not it’s actually a marketable idea, and whether or not it has huge gaping holes you hadn’t yet considered. Sounds like a pretty high return on investment for 30 minutes of work.

I can already hear some of you: “BUT SOMEONE WILL STEAL MY IDEA!”. Ok. Bullshit. Put down your NDAs and get off your plateau of arrogance. Here’s the sad part: pretty much no one cares about your idea. Certainly not enough to stop what they’re already WAY too busy with to work on your idea. Besides, if your idea is so thin that the full trade secrets of it are revealed from a simple blog post, you’ve probably got bigger problems.

One final point. Writing about your ideas shouldn’t get in the way of shipping. There’s a difference between talking about an idea for 3 months to whoever you come in contact with, and writing about your idea to do a quick market test. Don’t confuse the two. Writing about your idea is a time-limited experiment designed to help vet your concept with the market while gut-checking the concept with yourself, not an excuse to blow smoke for months without taking action.

I’m going to start putting this into practice on the blog. Every week or so, as I have ideas for new products/services, I’ll post them here. I’d love for you to comment, react, tell me I’m an idiot, all that. It’s all in the name of getting to better ideas faster. I’ll challenge you to do the same: set up a blog, and start posting your ideas. Hell, if you do, I’ll do a weekly idea roundup where I link to your post. Just leave it in the comments here.

Go forth and ship. But first, take 30 minutes and write. I think it’ll make a huge difference.

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