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A Market Of One

I’m aware of a lot of startup advice and I can’t think of anyone ever saying that it’s good to keep your idea to yourself until you’ve perfected it. So why is that a recurring problem?

The more personal the idea is, the more excuses we find to keep it to ourselves. I think it’s bigger than just not wanting to be wrong. I think it’s also got elements of addictive reward. It just feels good in private and regardless of whether or not it fails or succeeds, once it’s out it will never feel that way again. The fear of loss is stronger than the desire for reward.

When the entire, complete, holistic idea is awesome it seems like it would be wrong (immoral) to implement only 1/10th of the idea. If I release early and the idea fails it will be because, well, of course the idea failed. It wasn’t the WHOLE idea. What’s the point of releasing early when I KNOW that the entire thing together would be perfect? Why not just skip the distraction and inevitable failure, spend more time in development, and release the entire thing? None of those crazies who advocate “fail fast” would recommend delivering a baby’s head and then ask users if they even want the head, let alone the rest of the body. But it’s only like that when we start attaching moral dimensions to the idea, which mostly happens when we’re personally invested in it.

I’ve never even heard anyone say that if the idea is really really good you should finish building the whole thing before releasing it into the world.

Phrasing it that way might help because it makes the thing sound a lot more like art than like a business. Maybe that’s why Paul Graham titled his book Painters & Hackers. Both groups want to build something beautiful and both have to sell out if they want to build something profitable. “Selling out,” in this case, meaning letting the market decide.

Keeping the idea private until it’s done is an attempt to make art. Releasing an idea as soon as it’s vaguely plausible is an attempt to solve a problem. When I’m the creator of the thing, and it’s kind of a reflection of who I am, it feels more like art. It’s fine to make art, but it’s impossible to sustain a business for a market of one.

Published inphilosophy

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