Building in a bubble


[originally meant to post yesterday]

I’ve said before that it’s easy to get hopped up drinking your own startup Kool-Aid. You’re sitting around with great people, rapping about an idea and everyone feels the energy and says “yeah YEAH YEAH! Let’s do it!”

When it comes to building a product… that’s a death sentence.

Or is it?

On the one hand, when you build, write, or create in an insulated environment, you’re guaranteed purity of thought. Your thoughts are your own. Your ideas are yours. They are untested in the outside world, but the product is that which you want it to be and only you can screw up your own vision. 

On the other, when you venture out into the world, when you speak with real people, when you (as a techie) observe behavior of “normals,” “n00bs,” and dare I say it - MOST of the people on this planet, you realize their pain points are not your own. Their desires are a far cry from yours. Their needs don’t include your product. 

And that influences you. It makes you rethink what you’re doing. Makes you question your vision.

Yesterday, Chris and I spent hours on a whiteboard at Cyberdyne cranking out ideas for the evolution of Shelby.tv. We walked away very proud of our work. Excited to show the team and already imagining the first lines of code that would make our wireframes reality. 

Today, however, we boarded a flight to ATL en route to Las Vegas for CES. As we look around - away from our office bubble, our tech startup bubble, hell… our NYC bubble - it’s a painful awakening that the average American may as well be from a different planet (or maybe it is we who are the aliens).

Most of the computer users on our flight now are on PC’s. Some are running Windows 2000. I think we even saw an Android tablet. (I kid… sort of). All (Apple) elitism aside, we mentioned picking up PC Mag to check the sentiment in that world… 

We also spent some time drawing wireframes on our iPads. When Chris proudly opened an app that gives you all the basic iOS elements to work with, Dan was quick to suggest that working with pre-defined elements is a guaranteed way to stifle creativity and any hope for doing something original.

It was a telling moment. We, as a team, spend a lot of time thinking through our vision for Shelby.tv. We love user feedback, yet most of it doesn’t make it into the product… and that’s OK. 

Like most things in life, balance is the key. 

Creators must be well-versed in the way the world works. They should travel, speak and study with others in and out of their bubbles. It is constant observation of daily life. But when it comes to building a product, allowing for too much outside influence isn’t necessarily the best path to creating an amazing experience. Creators must not be afraid of throwing away what they know and starting with a blank canvas. 

And those “aliens” I mentioned? Well if you’ve done anything original… anything that’s worth a damn… anything that creates some value… they’ll tell you. 

But they’ll tell you if it sucks, too.

So, study the world, then shut it off and build your vision. Go.