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Product design best practices dictate that you should ask what customers need and build that.

But a product that you don’t deeply want to use yourself won’t have a soul. Most of the world’s great products were born of personal passion.

Build for yourself first. 4 reasons why:
1) When you are designing for you, the customer is not abstract.

So many bad products have been designed based on generic business plans or analyses of “unmet customer needs.” Yes, there are ways to get great customer signal but that is always one layer abstracted from yourself.
Facebook started because… well, you've seen The Social Network. The Uber guys wanted to tool around in fancy black cars. @stewart + the Slack team started building a game and instead realized what they cared about was the chat software they were building for themselves to use.
I once considered building an app for homeowners to easily hire people to repair things in their house. But at the time, I lived in an apartment, legally prohibited from fixing anything.

“Uber for handypeople” sounded great, but I was the wrong creator because it wasn’t for me.
When you build for yourself, you know at least one person loves what you’re making: YOU.

In my experience, others will follow, reacting emotionally to the product’s singularity of vision.

On the other hand, when you build for other people, who knows if anyone will love it. 🤔
2) When you build for yourself, you infuse the product with a strong point of view.

In any product, it’s easy to argue that most nonessential features are “nice to have” and therefore don’t need to get done. We’ve all used lowest-common-denominator generic boringware before.
Software made by a small teams (or even a single person) can be radically amazing because they are building to a clear, precise point of view.

They know intrinsically and clearly what things matter and what things don't… because they are building it for themselves.
Big company products are often soulless because so many people are involved in the design of them.

You end up in drawn out discussions with dozens of people who can’t agree on what to do, and what ends up left are only the few features everyone agrees are essential.
What makes a product loved isn’t that it performs all of its core duties well.

A loving, passionate creating team adds bespoke workflows and efficiency tweaks that are not just 85% right… they are perfectly, 100% right. Because the people making it care. Selfishly.
3) When you build for yourself, you are free to build a product with personality.

Many of the details that make people feel emotionally attached to products—easter eggs, minigames, unique personality/language, etc.—work best when they reflect a genuine personality.
In my spare time at Microsoft, I wrote an internal bug tracking app (Bugger) that went viral.

In every notification, it wished a celebrity happy birthday (like “Happy 249th birthday Napoleon Bonaparte!”)

I heard over and over that this tiny detail made people love using it. 🐛
Focused teams building for themselves have the creative freedom to add personality without red tape.

On the other hand, teams building for abstract customers tend to only build the features market research says they need (a conversation in which personality never even comes up.)
Products with personality engender love. It feels like the product has been designed by humans, so humans react to it emotionally.

Even more important, people identify themselves with products with personality—they spend outsized energy advocating for other people to use them.
Personality doesn’t just have to be fun. The original Google home page, just a search box on a white page, had tons of personality. It said “here’s an open door to the internet.”

It reflected the genuine personality of the team who made it… who were building it for themselves.
4) When you build for yourself, the feedback loop is extremely tight and high bandwidth.

One of the challenging things about building for customers who are not you is that getting feedback is imprecise. There’s signal loss, no matter how much telemetry or feedback you collect.
When you are the customer, you know when something doesn’t feel right or work right, immediately. And you can fix it, starting right then.

Companies talk about “eating their own dogfood” but that is about HAVING to use something vs. WANTING DESPERATELY to use something.
The wonderful, virtuous loop of creating something, trying it out, seeing how it works, and immediately refining it is a recipe for creating lovable products.

Being your own customer means that the customer is always in the room.
So having said all that, before the hate mail starts coming in… caveats:

First, many products can’t be made this way—too bad.

And yes, everyone knows you have to listen deeply to customers who aren’t you also… that is incredibly important because you WILL have blind spots.
But when you design a product for yourself first… when it’s something you care deeply about, you’ll obsess over getting small details right. You’ll infuse it with personality and a point of view.

This is how you make products with a soul, that people love and connect with. 💖
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