If You Build It, They Won't Come: A Warning To Developers

Posted 5 years ago

That was one of the best lessons I've learned in recent years, something I like to call the Field of Dreams mentality. That if you build it, they will come. They being the critical mass, the teeming hoard, ready to blast your servers to hell. And it being anything your fingers could program, possibly something you thought of with a friend, and most likely involving social, mobile, geolocation or all of the above.

Some years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about building something for an audience. The conversation went something like:

"We should build something..."
"Ok, what?"
"I don't know, something that will get a lot of users."

I have a feeling that is how 90% of apps or websites are born. We decided to build a social polling application. The idea was that you could create polls, share them with friends and get others to vote on them. We thought if we included some juicy graphics, some sweet jQuery, fast server response times and Facebook Connect, then we would just need to sit back and wait for the benjamins to roll in.

How wrong we were. It took some years, and working at a startup for me to understand the effort and the roles it takes to build a successful business.

Developers often balk at marketing, or sometimes sales, suggesting that these people are not doing any 'hard' work. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you still think 'bizdev' is just someone who wastes your time with stupid 'features', then you might suffer from the Field of Dreams mentality.

This isn't just me, others feel this way too. Patrick McKenzie suggests coding is only 10% of your business and the rest is "dealing with pre-sales inquiries, marketing, SEO, marketing, customer support, marketing, website copywriting, marketing, etc."

So before you spend a ton of time on that next project, ask yourself why you are doing it. If it's just for fun, to learn something new, go right ahead. But if you are telling yourself you are on to the next big thing, think again. Maybe you will luck out and become the next Instagram, or the next Pinterest. But maybe you could've won that huge mega millions jackpot too.

About the author

Dev/Code/Hack is a technology and business blog by me, Par Trivedi. I'm a software engineer and I've been writing code and managing teams for over a decade. This blog serves as a way to share thoughts and ideas about the tech/startup community, and also to educate newcomers to software development.

6 Comments

  • Thanks a lot for the share. Keep providing such nice information. It helps a lot to developers like us.

    mrunal 1 week ago   Reply

  • I just found this article through a Reddit thread, and decided to give it a read...What you said in the article compared to what you said in your comment contradict themselves. You say in your article "if you think you're on to the next big thing, think again." What I get from that is "your idea sucks and you can never be as good as them." Do you think the creators of Pinterest or Instagram knew their projects were going to be "the next big thing"? Probably not, but they became that. In your comment, you then pretty much take back what you say in stating "no idea will ever be as good as theirs," to "people think ideas like pinterest just happened over night and they don't realize the hard work that gets put in to it." Making a profitable project is not anywhere near the same odds as winning the jackpot. I'd also have to disagree with you on the fact that you say many people are only in it to "get huge." I agree most people are in creating projects to make money for themselves and never have to work for somebody else again, but I don't believe they're making projects solely on wanting to get fame from it going mainstream, which is what "get huge" means to me. I will agree that 90% of peoples conversations start off with saying "lets create something that will get a lot of users," but those are the people who's ideas more than likely fail because they aren't in the correct mindset.

    What? 4 years ago   Reply

    • agreed

      3 years ago   Reply

  • Dude, Pinterest was NOT an overnight story, they worked hard to get where they are. They started Dec 2009, private beta March 2010, and only got big recently, <6 months ago. Which, kind of fits with your story. Marketing is very important :)

    Ayumi Yu 5 years ago   Reply

    • I definitely agree Pinterest was not overnight. But many people with the 'build it, get huge' mentality think sites like Pinterest blew up over night. They don't realize how much hard work and market fit goes on.

      par 5 years ago   Reply

    • Sorry, source here: http://www.beyond-snapshots.com/blog/2011/02/23/we-%E2%99%A5-pinterest/

      Ayumi Yu 5 years ago   Reply