Let me first define the itch concept – the itch here on in will refer to how far to take of your own opinions and desires of how a piece of software should operate.
So the question is from the title:
Q: How much to scratch your own itch as a startup?
Let me answer this right up front:
A: The correct amount.
Off the back of the Thursday night WDYK event, some Startup and User Experience talking points were raised that I wanted to discuss. I started off by trying to fit it in to the last post, but it didn’t quite fit there. I’m working in a Startupesque environment right now and just wanted to put some ideas down on ‘paper’, so here goes…
The statement that sent me off on this thought path was “don’t just scratch your own itch“, it’s good that Joel reminded the audience of this. Often as software developers we inject too much of our own usability ideas into the software being built. This falls over when we eventually realise this is not how typical users of our application would like to use it, even if they are other software developers. What I’m currently working on is not a core software engineer’s tool, say like bug tracking software. It is targeted at a specific type of user and process. But of course we developers often put our ‘application user’ hat on as we build features. Knowing that we’re building the system for someone other than ourselves doesn’t inhibit members of our development team from having strong opinions on how it should operate. This isn’t a bad thing…
There is something in the argument of “scratching your own itch” being beneficial – it is a reasonable starting point to turning your idea into a functioning application. But you always need to keep in mind your needs aren’t going to be exactly those of the customer. There’s a fair bit of this kind of opinion floating around on blogs: “Focusing on our own problems doesn’t necessarily mean we’re solving other people’s problems, or solving problems that matter at scale“- Ben Yoskovitz, source.
When subject matter experience/expertise comes in to play in building the application, you possibly are focussing on your interpretation of the problems that do matter. You can’t always get the cleanest/best problem definition from your users. So you go on to manage the itch combining the expertise and opinion with some user experience analysis. Your team probably has a vision of what the application will be about, heading towards hopefully at least one killer feature/aspect that makes your product stand out. So you go forward combining your ideas and refining with some user testing, now days focussed around the users experience and flow through the application.
This is how you get to that magical place which is the correct amount of scratching your own itch. Have the application be capable of (within reason) all you desire, but reign that in to simpler flows refined by actual results of real users navigating through the system to achieve their normal expectation of work supported by the system.
When my reaches that magical place, I’ll share what it took to get there, but for now it’s just an objective off in the not too far distance.
Joel describing his own start-up raised some great points about not needing venture capital, and how your product would likely be better off without it. There’s no financial pressure from the investor wanting to cash out sometime down the track. The way you do this is by:
1. Make something people want,
2. Make it better than what is out there,
3. Tell people about it.
That last point was a great theme to touch on, Mark had his ideas on this which were about going out to find your users, and not just shouting as he put it (a company blog, a company twitter account). Finding and engaging with users is critical. This is what it will take to get the widest range of feedback to help build your application. But it needs to be guided into a solution that’s not something that has come out of a very large handful of a ‘committee design meetings’.