Why These Idiots Are More Successful Than You

This article is for all of my insanely smart friends.

You’re so damn smart — I’ve told you how awesome I think you and the solutions you’ve built…they’re amazing. You have so many awesome things on your hard drive you built that it would blow the world away if only they knew. You created Facebook before there was Facebook and PayPal before there was PayPal. But recently I’ve heard you ask, “how can this junk software out there be so popular?”…why are all these idiots more successful than me?

I’ll try to do my best to explain to you why…

You Pre-Maturely Optimize Your Software to Cast a Wide Net, When There’s No Fish

As developers, we optimize our solutions to cast the widest net as possible. We want everyone to be able to see our work so we make things work back to old browsers and cast a wide net. But the reality is that even if your amazing software is accessible, people won’t use it by default! They don’t care about your software. They lived yesterday just fine without your amazing solution and they’ll live fine tomorrow. You have to make them care by showing them why it’s important.

This is the default state of the world:

var World = {
  people: 7203469811,
  peopleWhoCareAboutYourSolution: 0
};

You have to do something to make World.peopleWhoCareAboutYourSolution greater than zero.

You Don’t Start with Delivering Value to a Small Amount of Users First

In business things actually work almost the exact opposite as casting a wide net. Business starts with resonating greatly with a very small segment of the population. The internet has created more niches than it has mega corporations. And on top of that, almost every software mega corporations started so niche they have almost laughable stories.

  • Groupon? Group-buying coffee and pizza at a local pizzeria.
  • Facebook? A network for connecting with fellow Harvard students.
  • Twitter? Let people know what you ate for dinner.
  • Kahn Academy? Started with a guy in his closet teaching his extended family Math on YouTube.

So many companies seemed laughable because they made a solution for such a small segment of the population. Almost none of it was ever made for a big audience.

It’s simple solutions with big hooks that win. Crawl before you walk! It’s ok…it really is.

var mockup, mvp, feedback, idea;
product = Object.create(Product);
product.createMockup("Totally inane thing few would care about.", function(mockup) {
  mockup.announce(World.friends);
  console.log(World.peopleWhoCareAboutYourSolution.length); // 10
  product.build(mockup, function(mvp) {
    mvp.announce(World.peopleWhoCareAboutYourSolution);
    console.log(World.peopleUsingYourSolution.length); // 5
    // Now we're getting somewhere!
    feedback = mvp.getFeedback(World.peopleUsingYourSolution);
    mvp.iterate(feedback, fn...);
  });
});

You Aren’t Honest With Yourself About What You Want and Go Ask for It

I remember in my teen years wondering why guys who were complete idiots or not even good looking got girlfriends. Well, the solution wasn’t that they were pumping iron — it was that they just asked. That’s really it. You’ll have 100% of a chance of failure if no one hears you are looking, and whatever % chance of them saying “yes” means you could end up with a girlfriend…or maybe even a wife / life-companion for life! BTW — I’m happily married. It works.

You need to get comfortable asking for everything… feedback, money, help. Not comfortable asking? You need a partner who is.

The more people you ask, the greater your chances are to get people to get feedback, people to use your solution or…perhaps…even find customers who love your solution!

var prospects = [],
  sales = [],
  feedback = [];
function ask(type) {
  product.ask(type, person, function(response) {
    if (response.sale) {
      sales.push({amount: amount, customer: person});
    }
    if (response.feedback) {
      feedback.push(response.feedback);
    }
  });
}
// Marketing
for (var i = 0; i < people.length; i++) {
  // some people might give you their email or +1 you
  if (people[i].likes(myProduct) {
    prospects.push(people[i]);
  }
  // ask for sale right away to get feedback!
  ask('sale', people[i]);
}
product.iterate(feedback, function(){ 
  for (var i = 0; i < prospects.length; i++) {
    ask('sale', prospects[i]);
  }
});

You Aren’t Being the Change You Want to See

Here’s the final kicker. Let’s say you don’t want money, or fame, or fortune, or anything like that! That’s fine. But let’s get real deep right now…

Are you being the change you want to see in the world or are you hoarding your treasure?

  • If you go to a conference and find yourself complaining there aren’t any good talks…create a new talk and submit to call for papers!
  • If you look online for a solution and can’t find one so create one for yourself…open source or productize it!
  • If there are no companies you’d like to work at…create the ideal company you’d love to work for!
  • Can’t find a blog you’d like to read…create a blog and start writing what you want to hear!

Find people who will enjoy what you’ve made. It will change you to see people enjoying your creations.

The hardest thing in life is to be the change you want to see. It is what separates truly successful people from people with hollow and shallow form of success.

Comments

  1. says

    Awesome write-up. Thanks for sharing Marc!

    One thing that would be interesting to know about is: What time would you say is required to get something started? I mean, if you work full-time (40 hours a week) for your employer, have your own blog and read some books to improve your skills. Do you think it is possible to start something (really small)?

    In my opinion it needs too much time. Once you really have your product, somebody will be earlier or even worse, after your first release, they’ll just copy the idea and spend more time doing that.

    What would you suggest?

    • Marc Grabanski says

      Having less time to work on things can actually be good. It makes you really get specific and spend much less time to get your product out the door. Before I had a family I spent way too much time behind closed doors on my ventures instead of just releasing things once they worked and seeing how people responded.

      Basecamp was a huge success and all it took was 10 hours a week to get launched and get money coming in the door.

      “David gave us about 10 hours a week for about 7 months.” Bascamp Founding Story

      As far as competition, you shouldn’t worry much about it. It’s not about features as much as it is about the customers you get that trust you and you support.

      I’ll add that you don’t have to be the biggest company to make a living from products. Basecamp’s target was $5,000/mo and they blew that goal away. And they aren’t the only project management game on the internet — there’s probably 1000s+ of them or more with many of them making a living off their take on solving the problem.

      Bottom line is that there’s no perfect solution for any problem and people are always seeking alternatives (and willing to pay for them!). Your take on things might be just what people need.

  2. says

    Great article… The words about developing what you want and have success are so true :) So get a bunch of friends and spread the word about your solutions :P