Founder Diary

March 21, 2023

Building for yourself is underrated

Building for yourself is underrated

Stop obsessing over validation.

A smiling hamster with a trowel in one paw is leaning against a brick wall under construction
A smiling hamster with a trowel in one paw is leaning against a brick wall under construction
A smiling hamster with a trowel in one paw is leaning against a brick wall under construction
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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Dropbox, Dyson, Airbnb, Spanx, Under Armour, and countless successful businesses have done it, but most marketers and business coaches today say it’s a big no-no.

I’m talking about building a business to solve a personal problem.

Here’s what the “commonly-accepted” way looks like today:

  • Find a gap in the market or an unaddressed pain

  • Come up with a solution

  • Validate

  • Build

Or maybe even sell first, then build. That makes you next-level (I mean it).

I don’t have a problem with this process. It works.

Well, I lied. I do have an issue with it, but let’s get back to it in a minute.

Right now, I want to ask a simple question:

What if I need that thing myself?

I haven’t done any market research. I didn’t jump out of my skin to validate the thing and make sure there will be buyers. I don’t care about the total addressable market, its “saturation,” competitors, and their churn rates.

Instead, I just say, “Screw it. I want it for myself, and if there are other folks willing to pay me to solve the same problem for them, great!”

That was the approach Sara Blakely of Spanx took when she “created” her first product by cutting the feet off a pair of pantyhose. Or James Dyson, who got frustrated with the poor suction of his vacuum cleaner. Or Drew Houston of Dropbox, who got fed up with carrying USB drives everywhere instead of sharing files online.

Heck, Graydon Hoare wrote a whole-new programming language just to fix the glitchy software of an elevator in his apartment building. Clearly, he wasn’t one bit enthusiastic about climbing 21 flights of stairs. So, he set out to sort out this particular personal problem.

They all created a product to make their own lives better, then pushed it to the market. And despite initial challenges, got them off the ground, and turned into multibillion-dollar powerhouses.

In marketing speak, that was a push, not a pull.

So why would this approach be just fine for these brilliant folks, but not okay for us today? Why the stubborn obsession with “pull”?

One word: validation.

Remember, I said I actually do have a bone to pick with the default process?

Validation somehow turned into a holy cow for entrepreneurs. But I think that’s a dangerous illusion, and I’m not alone. Jason Fried, co-Founder and CEO at 37signals (the company behind Basecamp), described it best (emphasis mine):

“How do you know if what you’re doing is right while you’re doing it? You can’t be. You can only have a hunch, a feeling, a belief. And if the only way to tell if you’ve completely missed the mark is to ask other people and wait for them to tell you, then you’re likely too far lost from the start. […] There’s really only one real way to get as close to certain as possible. That’s to build the actual thing and make it actually available for anyone to try, use, and buy. Real usage on real things on real days during the course of real work is the only way to validate anything.”

When I came up with the idea behind Brick 3 years ago, I wanted one thing: to end my own overwhelm. I had too many projects and tasks that looked intimidating and lacked structure. I didn’t know where to begin and, even more importantly, how to stick to doing one thing at a time.

So, I called my best friend Alexander, who happened to be a coder, and said, “Hey, here’s a problem I have. Why don’t we build this thing and see what happens?” And here I am now with a working product that I love (try it for free while it’s still in beta), ready to go out there. Let’s see if real usage will prove other people want it and, more importantly, are willing to pay for it.

So what am I driving at?

There isn’t one “correct” process to start a business. Validation has become a buzzword for new entrepreneurs, but it's not always the best approach.

Do what works for you.

If “building for yourself” is good for thousands of successful entrepreneurs, including quite a few household names, it’s probably good for you.

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