Do most products sit unused like the old dusty guitar in my bedroom closet?
For 5 years I was one of those people—the ones who buy a guitar with a dream in mind and then never play it.
I’m going to be straight with you: I’ve had a few failures lately in my product business. And maybe out of frustration, the metaphor of selling guitars has been dominating my thoughts.
See, teaching to start a product business is a lot like selling guitars. Both offer up a glamorous dream. If you build a product business or startup, you are master of your own destiny, can pick your projects, and make a lot of money. If you play guitar, you could write songs, join a band, and get a record deal.
Of course hardly anyone gets to be a rock star or billionaire CEO—that’s obvious. But there’s an uglier truth:
I sometimes sell products to people who are themselves building product businesses, so in a lot of ways, I’m like a guitar shop or a little boutique luthier.
At first, I love that analogy because it sounds like I’m helping people achieve something good. What’s better than selling a product that brings something so good for people as music into the world? If my products in turn help my customers make their own great products, that sounds meaningful.
But what if I’m just selling a dream? What if my customers never ship and end up wasting their money on a product they never use?
A few other founders I’ve spoken to lately have this same concern, and they’ve tried to take action by building a feedback loop into their products: things like scheduled reminder emails to keep you accountable, etc.
But no amount of nagging can motivate you enough to pull that guitar out of the closet and play it until you can’t feel your fingers. Nobody can ship your product for you, either.
When I read business advice, my cynical nature kicks in. Maybe the people teaching us to build a business are preying upon our dreams. They know that not everyone will succeed, but they sell products anyway. How many guitars hang on walls and go unplayed? Is teaching people about business the same?
I worry that I do the same to my customers: I sell them on a way to get a great design made to launch a business, but what if they don’t launch?
If you’ve one of my products or hired me, I hope you get an amazing result.
But building your product is like playing guitar. You can pay for a teacher, buy the best gear, and daydream about finding success all day.
But tone is in your fingers.
If you don’t show up and do the work, you’ll never get good. You’ll never write a song. You’ll never ship.
You have to show up and try even when your fingers hurt. Even when you’re scared no one will buy your ebook. Even when the last thing you shipped earned little traffic.
You get cynical like I am prone to, and blame your teachers for your own failure. Say they’re selling snake oil.
Or you could get out your guitar and play.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
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