Product First, Everything Else Second

Why try to market, organize a business for, or sell a product if your product doesn’t even exist yet? I’ve been guilty of this a thousand times: recognize a great idea, get excited, and run outside to get everything off the ground. I’ve filed Limited Liability Corporations, printed posters, made announcements, and tried to raise money – for projects that hardly even made it on paper.

There are several problems with this. First, you’re spending a ton of time doing work that is not relevant until you have something to show for it. Time spent on “extras” means time not spent developing great content, executing ideas, and bringing your vision to life. Product is at the core of every great business and must come first (pray tell me one organism that grows from the shell inward?).

Moreover, the execution of ideas seldom aligns with the vision outlined in the first place. After facing obstacles and discovering new approaches to the same problem, the end result may look or feel nothing like the thing you set out to build. Any time you spend marketing, filing papers, and chasing investor deals for your project before you realize it will most likely be a complete waste of time. There will be a major disconnect between the core and the shell trying to promote it. Everything you did outside the lab will be invalidated by the discoveries within.

If you don’t have a product or story to tell, nothing else matters. Forget all the extra bullshit and get to the real work.

Put It On Paper First

Before spending lots of money or time realizing your “vision,” put it on paper first. Unless you can afford to waste resources or fail miserably, it’s far better to outline and iterate your project in writing. Pens and paper are cheap. Payroll, equipment, and building blocks are not. That’s why people started using blueprints, screenplays, sketches, budgets, business plans, outlines, storyboards, and recipes. By mapping your vision, you liberate ideas from your skull onto a medium others can review. On paper, you can objectify your idea better and collect feedback from peers who can help you.

Yes, this may be a fundamental concept. “Duh, Craig, of course you should plan things on paper.” But it kills me how many people jump into the deep end without thinking first. And it amazes me how much time I’ve wasted getting dirty without a plan. Hours and hours of design, coding, and crafting to get me nowhere when I could have realized project faults on the page early on. Trust me, put it on paper first. It’s not a real idea until someone can read or see it – including you. Thank you, Mark Godwin, for reminding me of that.