Treat building product like client work.image
All Stories

Treat building product like client work.

In college, I spent a few winter and summer breaks taking freelance web-development work. I liked the people I took projects from, but over the course of the work period I would get increasingly frustrated with them.

I wanted to approach these projects like works of art - ways of showing off my skills and creativity. However, a lot of ideas I would present to clients for how I thought things should be designed, displayed, or developed would get shot down - leaving the final product a shell of what I thought it could have been. The client was happy - which should have made me happy, but all I was so focused on was the artistic vision that wasn’t realized.

Flash forward to building product at Lumastic, and that habit of prioritizing my artistic vision over the opinions of customers hadn’t been broken. And unlike clients, users of a startup don’t have the same power and control to direct development - especially if they aren’t paying you.

So, this gave me full license to not only arrogantly believe all of my opinions were right, but to actively not listen to or seek out user feedback. Over the course of Lumastic’s lifetime, I think I did 60 user-interviews - only 4 of which were with creators who were running profitable businesses.

I masked this mistake by telling myself that, “I am our target customer” - as if that gave me license to speak for our entire customer segment. And that also wasn’t even true. I wasn’t running a profitable creative business nor had I gotten to that point when I ran my YouTube channel. I was the founder of a startup. I was not our users.

We wasted so much time building features that I thought were be cool and useful without consulting anyone. Ugh. It’s so painful to realize this mistake in hindsight because, “talk to your users” is the main mantra of startups.

So, the next time around, I’m treating building product like client work. The clients job is to share what problems need solving - my job is to listen and solve elegantly.

Note: This is part of a larger blog series on 10 Things I Learned From My First Failed Startup. Checkout the rest of the series and tweet your thoughts at me.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Friday, February 4, 2022

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


If this article has been valuable and you'd like to be notified the next time I post, subscribe to my newsletter!

Each week, I share my latest post along with three other works from people smarter than me on whatever topic is top of mind. Of course, you can unsubscribe at anytime.