a glob of nerd­ish­ness

Why build products?

published by natevw on Subscribe

My lame attempt to channel Calvin and Hobbes aside, @stevenf poses a question without an easy answer:

"@stevenf: License your patent and you become a millionaire. Build something and you grovel for reviews to keep another 99c (less 30%) rolling in. What's the incentive to make anything then?"

For about two years, I enjoyed making and supporting quality shareware with a good friend, feeling as if I were built for that very purpose. The company had just barely turned a profit — because we were not paying ourselves nada! — and so by then we'd run out of personal savings. Hrm. We found other ways to feed our families, which generally meant giving bigger businesses what they asked for, instead of what we thought independent individuals really needed.

I've been scared to risk much on my latest product because I can already see the same story playing out (quicker this round!) if I'm not careful. Had an amazing time announcing Argyle Tiles at SOTMUS and WhereCampPDX, meeting lots of mapping heroes as well as a bunch of encouragers who were excited to see the product. It's really hard though, looking back at just how little those two years of ware-sharing turned into when sold at $20 a pop.

Wondering how on earth I can afford to map all of it. And then offer it at people's preferred price point of "free". (Don't worry too much about the project though, I mentioned there were a lot of mapping heroes around Portland last weekend, right?)

How do you make shrink-wrapped software without it also being gift-wrapped, financially speaking? That I don't know yet. But there are incentives:

While Apple is weak on the "inspiring" these days, knowing that if I had skipped the tag-along business attempt, accepted my first day job, and instead invested all my savings directly into Apple's stock price… knowing that would have returned around 800% if sold today… and yet not really wishing I could trade that for what I've made…

That's inspiring.

Making your ideas happen is priceless. If all the pieces fall into place, you may even have a lot of users who feel the same way — it's sure worked out for Apple a few times.

If not, you should be able to find at least one customer who needs their ideas made; whose ideas are at least valuable enough that they already have the necessary financials available. It's not as glamorous, but it's not about you anyway.

Turning any good idea into an actual product — especially a digital product — is far more valuable than simply turning any old idea into income. You may not capture all that value but when you've done that work the value is there in the best form it could be shared. It's fair to expect enough value returned to keep the cycle sustainable; life isn't always fair, but often it can be a living.

That's inspiring enough, I hope.

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