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John Petersen

Can We Build This?

Several years ago, we were given a free booth at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC from a friend who wasn't going to use it. As a web development company, I didn't think we would get much value out of it but it seemed to good of an offer to pass up. In general it was pretty boring standing at the booth except for one conversation that I'll never forgot...

The Wrong Approach

A female entrepreneur from Latin America came up to me an introduced herself. Once she learned that we build apps and websites her eyes lit up. The conversation went like this:

Her: "Can you build that (pointing to a startup a few booths over)?"

Me: "I don't know. What do they do?"

She explains how they do some social media aggregation and analytics.

Me: "Yes. We can build that."

5 minutes later, she returns with eyes lit up again with excitement.

Her: "Can you build that (pointing to a startup halfway down the row)?"

Me: "I don't know. What do they do?"

She explains how they do something completely different.

Me: "Yes. We can build that."

This exact process happened again. 3 times she came running over asking if we could build a similar site to what she had just learned about. 3 times I told her that we could.

Replace "CAN" with "SHOULD"

The problem here is that she was asking the wrong question. She should not have been asking "Can we build this?" She should have been asking: "Should we build this?" And to be more specific: "Should we build this FOR HER?"

Clients, prospects and friends ask me this question all the time. "Hey John, can we build this feature or app or website or new piece of functionality?" And I always answer the same.

"We can build anything. If you have the time and resources, anything is possible. The better question is: "Should we build this?'"

How to Think About Should

If you are wondering whether or not a startup idea can be built, the answer is almost always yes. Should you? Well, you really need to be thinking about whether or not you can build a sustainable business around this idea and whether or not you want to commit the next few years of your life to make it happen. The should answer will become very clear.

If you are wondering whether or not a new feature should be built for your existing product, you need to ask how it's going to drive the company forward. Is it going to increase signups, engagement, revenue, interaction, etc? Every founder always answers yes to this. Then I tell them to prove it. Find some customers who are dying for this new feature. If clients aren't screaming for it, then you probably don't need to build it right now. Can you spend resources building it now -- absolutely. Should you -- probably not.

If You're Not Sure if You Should

My friend Sam Hysell just released a course on Udemy all about this subject. Sam is a master of lean startup methodologies and customer discovery. If you've been asking yourself the can vs. should question, you definitely need check out his course or connect with Sam directly.

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