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by • September 12, 2011 • Best of, ProductComments (0)69

Use the tools you’re displacing

I’ve made this mistake a lot. I have an idea. I ask customers if it’s a problem. It is. I ask how they currently solve it. Excel? That’s barbaric. A better, more specific tool could exist, so I go to work.

I’ve built a Twitter moderation dashboard when Tweetdeck covered 90% of the use case. I built an “easy to use” animation tool when Flash is already pretty accessible. I built a game development log which really should have just been a Tumblr.

The list goes on. In every case, the mistake was discovered when I began seriously using the existing tools for that exact use case. And I usually realise: they’re not so bad!

This site is a good example. While learning about customer development, I thought it was absurd that every person who wanted to do it would have to make their own copy of the discovery checklists. So I built the tools.

But when I started actually doing customer development in earnest for multiple projects, I realised the flexibility & customisation of paper outweighs any initial inconvenience during setup.

Same deal with the business model canvas. I built some online tools, but once I started seriously using the existing solution (post-its on a wall), I realised my new tools were 90% pointless (and often counter-productive). The remaining 10% helps some edge cases, but in retrospect wasn’t worth the development time.

Just as you should be your own biggest user, you should also be a serious user of all your competitor’s products. Don’t just click through the features. Really use them, regularly, to accomplish the full use-case. And for most startups, your biggest competitors aren’t other technology companies. You are competing with pencils, post-its, email, spreadsheets, and blogs.

[Image] from aigle_dore

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