Founders Fighting Human Nature: Crafting a Great Product

Creating something that has value and longevity is incredibly hard. So much has to be done well -- hard work - and go right -- luck. Founders also have to deal with the fact that much of what it takes to build a successful company goes against human nature and the way we intuitively think and act.

This is the first post in a series about how successful founders overcome human nature to excel where others fail, starting with product.

What Makes a Great Product?

Intuitively, people perceive something that does many things okay to be better than something that does a few things well. As builders of products, we’re not immune to it, especially since the problem being solved is probably complex. A product to solve the problem and to add value to customers couldn’t possibly do it by doing only a handful of things well, right? 

Our minds and belief systems don’t allow us to believe it. It doesn’t compute. Surely a complicated and complex problem needs an equally complicated and complex product as the solution.

So what do we do as founders? We over-engineer.

We find ways to complicate and add complexity to the product. We succumb to human nature that says something has to be big to solve a big problem. Founders who drive the creation of great products that solve big problems with the simplest solutions aren’t immune to the thoughts and desires to make bigger more complex products. In fact is just the opposite. Founders and outstanding product people acknowledge the human nature to build more, but because of the self-awareness they possess they overcome it and continually seek a simpler, easier way to solve the problem.

"Fear is the Problem. Hustle is the Answer"

Founders can also succumb to giving into human nature by focusing on the product too much as a way of avoiding other hard tasks. For some, it means working on product rather than potentially harder tasks like sales, operations, and fundraising.

Founders will get lost in the product convincing themselves that every product evolution and feature is advancing the product and company. Founders who do this are almost never really great product people. The reason they are doing it is because they are avoiding the other high priority tasks they don’t like or are uncomfortable doing, even though they know they should be doing them. It is easier for these founders to tinker, tweak, and expand the product than it is for them to face the fear of rejection from someone telling them they don’t like, don’t want it, or won’t invest in the product.

The product becomes the safe haven that feels like progress when a new feature is added even though no one asked for it. Founders, be honest with yourself and if you find yourself working on the product because you are avoiding other things you find hard and that cause you anxiety, acknowledge it and step away from the inward protection of the product.

Great Product Demands Critical Feedback

Don’t hide your product. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that you don’t want anyone to see, let alone use your product, until you deem it is ready behind a reasonable level of refinement. Every founder knows that perfect is the enemy of good and that shipping and learning always beats perfecting in a vacuum.

So why do founders still hide their products?

it’s because they don’t really understand what is driving them to do it. It actually has nothing to do with the product, the market, or any other external factor. It’s fear. Fear the product doesn’t solve the problem and add value for users. Fear that maybe there isn’t even a problem to be solved and the product doesn’t need to exist at all and this whole thing has been a huge waste of time, energy, and money. Building something is a risk. Most people don’t have the guts to pursue it. Once you’ve made the decision to do it don’t let fear hold you back. Validate, build, and adjust with confidence and purpose.

You are Not Your Product

Belief, passion, commitment are all necessary but don’t let your identity be your product or company. Founders need to be and want to be all in. Founders feel the need for the world to know they are the owner and driver of their product. As much as you are inclined to have your identity tied to your product and company, don’t take it too far.

The belief that you and your product are in separable is likely to cause some harm and anguish. Maybe a lot. Maybe depression. Your product is a manifestation of the way you see solving a problem and serving the world, but it is not you. Being able to think clearly about your product and to take feedback and criticism is difficult enough. Founders who have their identity tied-up in the product make criticism personal. Founders who don’t tie their identity too closely to their product are much better able to deal with the good and bad reactions to the product.

Our next post: how founders must overcome human nature to become good at selling.