Avoiding Market Failure Should Be Your Only Focus

I am assuming that whatever you are working on, whether it is your instrument playing skills, programming chops, or a tech startup, that you want to work on it/do it for a long time. I mean many, many years.

That doesn’t mean that you want to continue working on the same tech startup or you want to continuing hacking away at PHP (only) for the next 30 years. It just means that you want to continue building startups, or programming for the better part of the next 30 years.

Given that, your #1 priority should be avoiding market failure. Paul Graham simplified it to ‘make something people want’. But it is broader than just making. It is, whatever you are doing - e.g. playing the violin, make sure other people are interested in what you are doing (and how you are doing it). Really interested. i.e. follow you on Twitter and jones for every video you post, every mp3 you give away free, every album of photos you release, every product iteration you roll out.

There may not be a direct correlation between the number of people interested in what you do, and the number of customers you have, but once you can get people interested (i.e. consistently avoid market failure) and keep them interested - you have a much higher probability of financial success. By financial success I mean, the ability to earn a living doing what you love - so you can continue doing what you love for a long time (in a sustainable way).

It sounds so simple, but it is very hard. In fact, it is the hardest thing to do - because the market is ruthless. People have seen all manners of things, and their tastes change. They get bored and tired easily. So to build a sustainable following, you have to be sincere and you have to be innovatively unique. It takes a long time, and there are no shortcuts. 

That’s the hard part. That’s the only thing that should matter. So, don’t worry about raising money, using the best/latest technology, running 200 A/B tests looking for that copy that will improve your conversions by 20% or anything else that is inconsequential in the early days. Once you focus on avoiding market failure - that forces you to figure out how you can add value in a way that no one else is doing currently, which will dictate everything else. It will dictate the technology you ultimately use, your marketing plan, the features you implement, the team you build, and the investors you raise money from.

That’s the great thing about helping people build their minimum viable product. The best part is helping them figure out/begin to figure out, where that unique value proposition is. 

Once you avoid market failure - or conversely achieve product/market fit - the market will forgive you for all the other mistakes. They will forgive your servers constantly crashing for the first few months/years, your PR gaffes, your sloppy marketing page copy and even your animated gifs. As if not having to worry about those issues killing you, an added bonus is….once you have done the hard-work on your own….you will have maximum control and maximum leverage. When you want to raise money, it will be on your terms. You can hire the people you want, because you will have the pick of the litter. It won’t be a cakewalk, but in comparison to avoiding market failure it will sure feel like it.

If the market never notices you, and you fail there first….then the upside is you won’t need to worry about all those other problems.

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