The 'Why' of building a Product

Karan Shah
Karan Shah
15 Apr, 20198 min read
The 'Why' of building a Product

Explore about the ‘one’ hidden force which will make your product great.

Ihave a confession to make —I have been as guilty as millions of other tech-startup founders who build or have built products

  • To mimic competitors
  • Because a ‘technology’ was trending
  • To massage their ‘egos’ when called ‘entrepreneurs’
  • See if they could create a ‘need’ after reading motivating books

and blah blah…dreaming to getting acquired by biggies like Google, Facebook, you name it.

Well, anyone could guess what the outcome would be.

However, some of us are really optimistic and just refuse to see the ‘why’.

The problem with these ‘kinds of approaches’ is that your idea is based on a very weak foundation only to crumble later on. The question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Over the years, as I started my own Product Development Company, I witnessed such flawed approaches an umpteenth number of times. I must admit, it just saddens me. I so much want those ‘wannapreneurs’ to save their hard-earned money, time and efforts but they just won’t listen.

And, hence I decided to write this.

Since encountering countless failures, I always start anything that I start with one thing — ‘The Why’.

And I did come across this TeD Talk by Simon Sinek —

Youtube Playvideo

This has also been turned into two best-selling books called ‘Start with Why’ and ‘Finding your Why’.

PS — I am in no way promoting or marketing these books. Just found it helpful and wanted to share it. A quick note, if you are dead-sure of your ‘Why’, you might not find this book helpful.

Here are some points that I’ll quickly cover in this post -

  • Understanding the ‘Why’ to building a successful product
  • How you can build an amazing product when you uncover the hidden
  • Learn from successful examples to create your own product
  • Things to avoid when building a product

Using this simplest framework to lay the foundation of your new or existing product

Parenting is hard. Ask any new mom or an experienced father, you’ll know about those treacherous waters.

I am not joking. I am a father myself.

But, what has parenting got to do with the ‘why of building a product’?

Wait, until you learn about Poppy (now discontinued, but that’s another story to tell).

Back in 2015, Avni (the CEO and Co-Founder of Poppy) had her second daughter. She had, also, newly moved to Seattle. Stress and anxiety were here constant companions. Why? Well, with the absence of her family around and no way to get dedicated childcare, she was determined to do something about it. She was no expert in childcare or technology back then.

Any working mom or dad would know the restless that accompanies them in offices when someone else is taking care of their child at home. So, Avni decided to build (as she liked to call it) ‘the modern village’.

The ‘Why’ of this whole scenario led her to do some research and she found it was equally stressful for other parents too. So, she came up with Poppy — a highly vetted childcare platform to connect parents with caregivers.

Listen to the following talk she gave —

Youtube Playvideo

Closely observing her approach, she started with the ‘Why’ which in this case was her own anxiety which led her to dig deeper and see whether others felt the same.

This, in turn, led to the idea of connecting caregivers with parents. Now, vetting is the most crucial part & they knew from their research that parents either did not have the time or had no means to do the vetting themselves and that’s what Poppy did because it’s so hard.

What did they do you might ask? They built a platform.

Which explains the golden circle.

Finding your ‘aha’ moment and see success follow you.

‘Start with Why’ has been so popular since 2009 (over 36 million views) that almost every entrepreneur includes the above circle in their pitch deck in the hopes to get that much-needed venture funding.

However, one must realize that its no point to forcibly find a why and fit it in this circle because it leads to meaningless s**t like — I want to make this world a better place, I want to revolutionize this industry and all the c**p. The idea is to actually spend some time with yourself to understand why you do what you do or why you want to do what you want to do.

Your ‘Why’ has to flow naturally and it will only come once you know yourself. And the ‘key’ to knowing yourself (according to the monk Dandpani, featured in the video below) is to spend time with yourself.

Youtube Playvideo

Consider the story of Charity Water.

Scott Harrison, the Founder & CEO was a nightclub promoter and his average day would revolve around models, booze, drugs…you name it. After working for nearly 10 years, he found himself to be lacking a purpose in life and started working on a hospital ship in Africa. It was here he found his calling.

For the first time in his life, he saw the effects of not having access to clean drinking water. He immediately decided, he wanted to do something about it. No money, no experience. But, this was not going to stop him.

Today, this organization is instrumental in improving the accessibility to clean drinking water (and that literally has the power to change everything in the lives of those people).

Warby Parker is another brilliant example of how uncovering ‘Why’ can not only change the fortunes of your business but make a far bigger impact too.

When you have vision problems, you find it difficult to learn, work and even do your daily, basic tasks. One of the founders actually knew what was it like to operate without a pair of glasses.

Most importantly, like the owners say ‘Everyone has the right to see’.

They decided to offer designer eyewear at reasonable rates and for every pair of glasses you buy, they donate one pair to charitable organizations.

They were very clear from the beginning they wanted to build a socially conscious business model.

Pro tip — According to Simon Sinek, revisiting your past to uncovering incidents/stories help you ‘Find Your Why’.

When it comes to product building/starting a business, ask yourself these questions -

  • Mark Manson, the author of the best-selling book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k, rightly advises to ask yourself ‘What makes you want to forget to Eat and Poop?’ You might come across an underlying problem or a need you are constantly trying to address.
  • ‘What is true about you today that will make your 8-year old self cry?’ You might have loved to create art from discarded pieces of plastic(which is a huge problem these days) to spur your creativity. When you grow older, people around you might have told you this won’t lead you anywhere. How do you think your 8-year old self would have reacted? He/she must have cried with disappointment. But, hold on, that includes the key to your why. With sustainability being a huge thing, you can easily combine it with art and start selling your work online or maybe even create a marketplace out of it.
  • Is there a problem you are constantly facing and can you do something about it? Basecamp is a wonderful case. Started out as 37 Signals, Basecamp was into web design. With ever-increasing client base, they found problems with managing them via email. It was a serious issue. Back then, project management was all about charts, graphs, and whatnot. This did not work for 37 Signals, so they decided to build Basecamp to solve their own project management problem. The core idea was to make communication simpler and project management easier. Same is the story of 500error.
  • What are your strengths? Where are you adding the value most? Instead of finding that perfect opportunity, why not play to your strengths and see where it leads you. When you are distracted with lots of opportunities around, its time to refocus and not to undermine your skills and expertise. See where and how these can be applied to create long-lasting value.
  • Is your ‘lightbulb’ moment hidden in adversaries? We have been trained to live in our comfort zones and the moment our reality deviates, we tend to panic and look for easy answers. For instance, your business might have hit a rough patch or you might have acquired a product that’s just like a ‘sinking ship’. What do you do? Do you look for quick fixes or use this time to pause and reflect to seek long-term answers? Mind you, this is not an easy path but definitely a courageous one which leads you to uncover the ‘valuable’ that can make your company/product/brand thrive for years to come.

Closing thoughts of an entrepreneur for all wannabe entrepreneurs

The one thing that will have your idea ablaze till it morphs into something tangible, and keeps the tangible thing ever evolving, is your ‘WHY’. Make sure it is deep enough, yet not philosophical; visionary enough, yet not hazy in terms of how to go about it, practical enough, yet not so constricted by your present reality, that your dreams ultimately are forced to conform to what everybody else believes.

Listen to your self and figure out, what rings the little bell in your head and keeps it ringing. To me, it is the love for technology and all the awesome things that technology can do in the days and years to come. I spend days, thinking about how the whole technology ecosystem can influence things as small as sending messages to kins, to things as huge as the way governments across the globe function and find security. I think, technology is elemental in everything in our world today and has a huge potential to make total heaven out of the world, if utilized properly….and every day, I try to get associated with people who are on that path.

I know my ‘Why’. and I know this why will never change, till I choose to stay professionally active. If you will it, call it my way to do something for society.

For you, it would be different. Might be as different as revolutionizing emotions through music therapy….well then, think of how! (that is another ballgame altogether, and includes a world of different things, which we will talk about in another article that would be dedicated solely to creating a roadmap for a successful business). Might be through a music app that senses emotional states and gives music recommendations accordingly….or might be good big stone and mortar music therapy center. If you know why you are doing it, you will instinctively know how you have to do it.

Good luck then, with figuring out your ‘WHY’!

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