Build what people want.

That’s horrible advice. Please don’t do that. One, it is hard to build what people want. I find that consumer psychology is difficult to understand, and if you don’t understand, you can’t sell. Rather, build what people need. Two, building in an obvious space, where it is obvious that people do want, is competitive. It becomes oversaturated for the same reason you can pursue that space.

Build for the future.

If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”

  • Henry Ford

The real difficulty and where the real value lies is in figuring out what people are going to want or need – sometimes even before they realize it themselves. People don’t know what they want (or need) until you show it to them. It’s your job to think long-term and figure out what is it that the world desires.

Let’s look at some examples.

Google

Google is a good example of 1) building what people need and 2) building what people need in the future.

Their market was small for search engine optimization. But they knew that as the web exploded, the market would need a better search engine. So they built something with currently limited demand, but as we all know, exploded as the 3rd largest company by market cap.

Venture capital was created for times like this, when big shifts in underlying technologies create opportunities for contrarian (but forward-looking) individuals to build products that might change the world.

Dyson

Dyson is one amusing example that demonstrates that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

It amazes me that people somehow really love cool vacuum cleaners, bladeless fans, and premium hair dryers!

Rolex

When Rolex was founded, only women wore wristwatches. Although Hans Wilsdorf wanted to design wristwatches for men, everyone told him the idea was “contrary to the conception of masculinity.”

If he listened, he would’ve shut down Rolex and you would’ve never heard of the brand.

But he showed the world that men could, and would desire wrist-watches. For 60 years, he worked on perfecting Rolex to become the best watch ever made.

And before he died, he made sure Rolex could never be sold or taken public so they would never have to focus on anything but making timeless watches. Now that’s fucking commitment.

“My personal opinion is that pocket watches will disappear and that wrist watches will replace them definitively! I am not mistaken in this opinion and you will see that I am right.”
Hans Wilsdorf

Skunk Works

I take credit for immediately recognizing the value of stealth before it became apparent to everyone else, and for taking major risks in expending development costs before we had any real government interest or commitment. The result was that the F-117A was the most significant advance in military aviation since jet engines, while rendering null and void the enormous 300-billion-ruble investment the Soviets had made in missile and radar defenses over the years. (Page 20)

Link to original

(I took some notes on Skunk Works – it is a great read to learn more about venture, leadership, and people.)

Liquid Death

Perhaps the oddest of them all: Liquid Death. Bottled water in metal cans. People would spend more on bottled water because it is simply called Liquid Death and because it is in a metal can.

This is also a perfect example of the difficulty in understanding consumer psychology. Nobody would’ve thought that people who spend more, rather than less, on water.

Nanoneuro Systems

I’m building Nanoneuro Systems now.

Countless individuals and investors have told me that there is no need for messy, biological computing chips.

I disagree. As climate change worsens, the world is going to need climate-friendly computing systems. As available data for training decreases, the world is going to need data-efficient computing systems. Just not now – because these are problems that aren’t affecting us today.

Build for the evitable tomorrow.