On Building Great Products

Posted on Tuesday July 9, 2013

In August of 2009, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Ella Reese, into this world. Anyone who has had the privilege of becoming a parent will tell you, life changed for us. Sure there were a new set of responsibilities but with it also came a new set of adventures.

As Ella grew, her thirst for knowledge also grew. Soon we found ourselves looking for iOS apps that would satisfy or peak her interest to supplement the education we were fostering in our home. I can remember one stage where Ella loved pictures. There was something about seeing herself in pictures that just lit up her life.

But there was this problem…

Ella, in all of her enthusiasm, would eventually push the wrong button and land herself outside of the pictures and into another part of iOS.

I tell you this story because this experience led me to create BabyMe Slideshow. You see, I knew my daughter loved looking at photos and I knew she hated it when she would exit the photos because she lacked the control to know what everything did. The good news is I knew I could solve this problem.

I could create an App where she could look at photos and it would be pretty difficult to escape the App. But like most parents, time and priorities grew and this idea left. But then, my wife and I went and had a second child. This time around, I would bound to make this App because I needed it and because I needed it surely there were others out there who did as well.

The Best Products Solve Your Own Problems

I believe that people who use the products they create tend to make better products. Why is this?

  • They are solving a real world problem (they have it) and not some problem they think someone has.

  • They experience the good parts and the bad parts of the thing they build.

  • They remove doubt about the user experience because they are the use case.

You Are Your First Customer

When you build something you will use, you have a customer from day one.

When I built Gitty, I was, in part, building it for myself. While I would eventually share it with the world, I was foolish enough to think that there were people out there who may just want the same experience I wanted. If they did, great, if not then I was going to be happy.

Software curation is an undervalued skill in today’s market. Some people may refer to this as taste, foresight. Call it what you may, when you are building something you will use, making yourself happy tends to go a long way in making a good product.

Some Examples

In my world (software), I can think of some great examples of people who are using what they create and are making great products.

  • 37signals - Basecamp was birthed out of a need to create a better way to communicate with clients. A tool that became a form of communication and project management soon transformed their business into a full-time software venture.

  • GitHub - Knowing that the people who build GitHub also use it everyday to build GitHub is pretty cool. They are not guessing at their users needs because they themselves are the user. Much like 37signals, GitHub was birthed out of a need to create a better way to use git and build software.

  • Square - Birthed out of the ability for a friend to sell his artwork to someone with a credit card, Square is revolutionizing how the world process payments. From day one, the founders were users of what they were building and the rest is history.

What About You

Not everyone has the luxury of working on something full-time that they use. Perhaps that is in your future or you can start something on the side but that does not mean we can learn from these examples.

If you are not able to work on what you build, ask yourself these questions:

  • How can I get closer to the product?

  • How quickly can I begin observing how people use what I build?

  • What problems are we solving?

  • What problems are we creating?

These types of questions will lead you down the path of a first hand experienced user and lead to better products. No matter if you are building software, apps, houses, etc., I think we can all learn from those who use what they build and why their products are great.

Do you work on something that you also use? Let me know in the comments…