The ultimate test for any early-stage product and startup is also simultaneously the most validating — as it should be — and it’s also the highest predictor of long-term success than really anything else out there; here it is:
Does the founder use their own product in fundamental / existential ways?FOUNDER SELF-DELUSION TEST
In other words, does the founder (and/or founding team) actually use their own product in ways that are truly, honestly, meaningful? Do they count on their own system and platform and software to functionally exist in the very environment, market, industry, vertical, and niche in which they live and seek to serve?
Do they use the product exactly like their customers, really?
Sadly, the answer for most startups is “no” as the founding team has built something to serve someone (or some “group”) of folks that they magically believe exist when they couldn’t be more self-deluded.
Here’s another way of asking the same question (without being an asshole, maybe):
If you took away your own product today, how badly would that hurt your business?PRODUCT VALIDITY TEST
If they could stop using their own product today and if that would have zero-to-minimal impact on their core, fundamental business and operation, then, you know they haven’t figured out what they are supposed to build because they don’t even use it themselves!!
There is nothing more powerful than seeing an early-stage team so desperately, authentically, in-like / in-love with their own product that they would be unable to function without it. That’s how you know you can both trust the product as well as the team — you know that they aren’t lying to you when they tell you that this is something important to pay attention to.
You know that they speak the truth because they are using it themselves and you can actually verify that behavior empirically — you can literally see them using it, growing it, finding value from it, and succeeding more than without it. You see the fruits of their labor without obfuscation.
This is both Proof-of-Work and Proof-of-Stake. It’s proof that we’ve built something that warrants attention through an incredible amount of investment (human capital, financial capital, production capital) and that we have real buy-in and ownership in what we do and can show that effort (i.e. provenance) over a long-period of time.
The point is that there is an overwhelming amount of real, verifiable proof that the team is who they say they are and that what they say is functionally and behaviorally-true as the history can be reviewed and sit under “due diligence” without friction or burden.
You see, where there’s an abundance of evidence, there’s also the possibility of creating an abundance of real, useful, trust within the larger system.
So, for example…
One of the most important things that I’ve done in my career as a software programmer, amateur game designer, and writer is simply document my process as I build. You can review my entire history of most of my major projects by simply checking out any of the
archives and following the weekly progress.
Over 18 months I documented the project’s progression from the very inception and early-concepts through the many ups / downs, through hirings and firings and re-working architecture and design concepts and everything in-between. And every week I published one to two posts, like clockwork.
Why? Because I wanted to ensure that we had proof-of-work available for folks to see, verify, and test against. I wanted to show folks that we didn’t just “appear” out of nowhere and that we’re not just a “fly by night” project by a fanciful (and odd) software developer. This wasn’t just a “pet project” by any stretch of the imagination.
No, I wanted to show that we were sophisticated, dedicated, and that we were committed to finishing our quest and mission even in the face of great and difficult odds. I wanted to have that as evidence so when we finally got to “final boss” I could point back and show folks: “See? We’ve been grinding (in the dark) for years. You just didn’t know about us back then.“
There’s something deeply satisfying about all of that.
But also I wanted to show folks that building something meaningfully-large isn’t rocket science! What is required is a clear vision of the future, the right folks around you, and the grit / determination to not quit. This is what I try to teach / model for my own three children and so it stands to reason that I’d do the same for my friends on the internet.
Consequently, I can do things that most folks can’t:
- I can literally show the pathway by and through which we’ve built this project, from the ground-up. I can prove that we didn’t “cheat” or “fake” our way to the goal line; we just showed up for work, day-in and day-out, and never forgot our mission.
- I can provide the strongest case and the deepest defense for what I’ve built than anyone else. In fact, the story itself paints an obvious picture for justification.
- It completes the narrative that what we’ve built is truly exceptional and is so good that it is does, in fact, outright replace existing tools, workflows, and behavior.
It’s really about the 3rd bullet point and brings us back to the larger focus of this post: Does the founding team / founders actually use the product that they have built? Does the over-arching story make sense? Does it resonate in such a way that demands the audience to reconsider their own position?
This is how you change people’s behavior: You have to show them that you believe so that they can, too.
So, here’s my evidence (finally).
For those that have been following for any meaningful amount of time, you know that this blog —
john.do — is my personal playground, my own little world. I run this website and blog like it’s my day-job and I care more about this little technology more than my own apartment and office!
It is, for me, the most important representation of my digital identity that I have. It isn’t hyperbole to say that this is who I am; it is, authentically, me. I have been writing and publishing blog content to the web for over 20+ years. It has made this small blog super-powerful and it carries a huge “digital” stick when it comes to SEO and general search-engine recognition.
(I would provide you with some mouth-dropping — and recent!! — examples, but, that’s unnecessary to push this narrative forward.)
And I get it — some of you might have problems with all of “that” but I love you anyway (hit me up in The YENIVERSE and we can talk through that dynamic).
So… when I shared that I’m shutting down this blog in 100 days (everything btw) I think that should carry a bit of water weight with all of you. Literally, I’m never coming back. That’s how certain I am about the future and how much I believe in what my small team has put together.
See, that’s the point.
I have built not just a wonderfully-useful product that I will soon-ish begin to use full-time and will outright replace every digital property that I currently publish to but I have also provided hard, reviewable evidence that what I say is true!
It’s kind of like when Jesus said that he was going to die and then in three days resurrect and people were like “Okay, whatever Jesus…” and then he actually went and did that shit. He provided not just a verifiable, historical evidence for his prediction but then that guy went ahead and did precisely what he said he was going to do and everyone was like: “OMFG, he actually did what he said he was going to do… dayam.“
You know, kind of like that.
Now, I’m not saying I’m Jesus or anything like that, but what I am saying is that you should always test and verify the stuff that you use and that you invest your time into. You should demand evidence, especially for early-stage — super-risky — investments that may not have had that much time to prove themselves out.
And you can easily do this by just asking the founder(s) whether they really use their own products in a way that’s existential and how their actual life and behavior has changed as a direct result of what they’ve built.
If they can’t provide you with any evidence to show — clearly — that they not just believe that what they’ve built is worthy of attention but that they are betting their lives and future on its already-proven utility.
If they can’t say “Yes!” to that then you should just walk the fuck away. They do not actually believe in the very thing that they are preaching or building. They are not “true believers” and should be ignored.
Trust but verify is a really good model for life, btw.
So, in less than 100 days I will finally leave this blog that I have loved for 20+ years and I will make my ascension to the future, the first real Web 3.0 application for the modern world.
It was built for creatives, creators, artists. It was built for people who love the internet and want to spend more time there. It’s for folks who no longer want the pressure of things like “FOMO” or even “notifications” that pressure you to come back.
(We don’t have any notifications in the
metaverse because we don’t actually need them! I’ll have more thoughts on this but it’s blissful to be hanging out with friends without feeling the pressure to respond immediately. Imagine!)
You really have to try and experience the future for yourself and with your friends; seriously! Try booting up a YENIVERSE community — it really is that simple! — and invite a few friends to just hang, chat, and build some connections. You can talk about anything you want, whenever you want. No FOMO required.
The future is already here; it’s just not equally-distributed… yet. And if you believe me then you know what I say is true: This is the future. This is it friends.
And I’m never coming back.