I’ve written about not forgetting the future you dreamed of to settle for the present you’ve made.
On the way to building something great, we inevitably build other (hopefully useful) things. We’re swayed by what customers claim to want, what engineers say can or cannot be done, what we can figure out how to market and sell, what investors think will make money, what the press gets excited by, etc.
It’s challenging to keep in mind where you intended to go when you’re working hard to just take the next step. Here's a way to think about it.
The top left is where we’re starting. Z is the vision. The y-axis is basically features or sub-capabilities that add up to something. The x-axis is what they add up to: products or capabilities that are in and of themselves valuable. The bar for something belonging in the leading row is being a minimum usable product subset of Z. Everything in the column below an MUP is what's needed for it. Where the line is for being able to declare that we've built an MUP (the depth needed in a column) may be different per column and needs to be called out. Where the line is for something that has go-to-market viability per column may be different still. All of which is different from the depth we want to go to. Z is realized when the whole matrix has been built.
Everything’s a hypothesis:
- Is each of the “products” sufficiently valuable that someone would pay for them on their own?
- Is the minimum usable depth we project actually sufficient for someone to experience value?
- Is the minimum usable depth sufficient to get the product to get the product to the point of go-to-market viability — we can market, sell, and close business against it? If not, how much further?
- Is going any deeper than that worthwhile for the customer or the business?
- Are these the right capabilities in the best order?
To some degree, the order doesn't matter. The ideal case is to get to something in each column that provides enough tangible value and positive experience that someone would pay for it before moving on. But as long as we don’t leave the matrix, we’re still progressing towards the vision.
At every step, we need metrics for success and failure. In my view, it’s more important to know what constitutes disconfirmatory evidence than confirmatory—so we know when it’s time to cut our losses and move on.
There's also an existential question: is Z the right thing. Are we building it for its own sake, or to solve some specific problem in the world? Assuming we’re driven to fix something, to make someone’s life better — what happens if there’s a better way to do it than this one? How do we even know? This is impossible without actively seeking disconfirmation.
This is where going to market matters the most. It’s the sensing mechanism to discover how the map compares to reality.
A final note: what we build today limits what we can build tomorrow. We can go deeper and broader. And we can stop where we are; discard everything that might follow, build a new vision to a new place. But that new place has to be reachable from where we are right now. Every thing we build closes some doors and opens others. It’s near impossible to do something completely discontinuous.