Build it and they will come: a myth

In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character is prompted to brave uncertainty when an unseen force compels him to “build it, and he will come.” Like the arresting tale of Noah’s ark, Kevin’s character builds an unlikely investment in the middle of nowhere as a response to a voice. In the movie, how he acts on his instincts proves effective in that the circumstances fall toward his favor.

Not the same can be said for entrepreneurs looking to build software. The line, “build it and they will come,” is cinematic and inspiring, but on a pandemic-stricken planet, it’s become even more challenging to enter a market unprepared. With the advent of social media and digital marketing, it’s easy to think that any business can sell, but that’s a reality, not every entrepreneur can claim for themselves.

Understanding the start in startup

The number one reason startups don’t do well is because many business leaders build something no one asked for. According to a report, 95% of startups fail, and more than 40% of those happen because of a lack of market demand. The “build it and they will come philosophy” discredits all of the complications and politics of creating a profitable enterprise. When that thinking is eased into, you can bet a startup is designed to fail. People aren’t automatically drawn to new products, no matter how innovative they are. What people are drawn to is how a product or service brings value to their lifestyles.

One study says that the average user has to see an ad or be reminded about a product at least seven times before they consider purchasing the item. If it isn’t something they enjoy, the possibilities of a second purchase are low. All that factored in, a better alternative to “build it and they will come” is to “build an awesome product that is useful to people, and consistently bombard potential customers with targeted content.”

The developer’s problem

When a digital product doesn’t fly, the immediate reaction is to develop more features. This is a faulty way of looking at it. Wise salespeople would say that you need to be selling more than you build. In other words, build only what people ask for and sell everything about it as much as you can. Creating things without demand may seem like an obviously wrong move to make, yet so many entrepreneurs fail to assess the market they intend to serve. The best way to test your audience is by coming up with a product that’s as simple as it can be.

The first secret in building a product is to focus on your Minimum Viable Product. Simply put, your software’s most basic set of features is where you need to pour all of your attention. Only then should you think of expanding your concept when the bare bones of what you have to offer start to show promise. Growth hacking is what experts refer to when they talk about verifying and validating only what’s critical.

Many entrepreneurs fail to understand that the MVP isn’t for your market—it’s for you. The MVP process should be used to gauge whether or not an idea shows potential or if only fragments of that concept make sense. When you learn what parts of your product you need to adjust, it becomes easier to realize what works and what doesn’t. What’s more, you’re introduced to your market even better.

Another trick is to not approach the MVP process as a phase that completely satisfies users. The entire point of the Lean methodology is to test a hypothesis and gather feedback—not to make crazy sales just yet. While you will want to make money as soon as you can, remember that the MVP stage is the safest space for you to learn, so experiment while you can. To make nuanced decisions that improve your product, you need to base your assumptions on real life data.

Finding comfort in failure

We said it before, and we’ll repeat it: it is better to fail early on in your startup process than to take longer perfecting a product that will still fail in the end.

When you play your cards right, failure becomes only gathered research in the form of an investment and not the end of the road. This is why the quicker you fail, the faster you learn, and the more interest you accrue. Of course, this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t exert effort in building a useful first product. When your objective is to bridge a gap, consumers will be better able to test your concept with you when they can utilize something first hand. Phrased differently, your MVP will still need to be a feasible product. If something truly is viable and functional, people will use it no matter how basic it is.


Ultimately, what works for people will vary, but this reality doesn’t change the fact that failing a lot earlier in the process helps you identify what clicks with a market and what doesn’t. Work on your vision and improve your MVP. The grand overall idea will take form soon enough.

Have startup ideas you’d like to discuss? Give us a call, and we’ll help you out!

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