Telling one story a day about the people who use what you create

Building a company from scratch is exhausting. 

Entrepreneurs need various kinds of support to stay afloat —understanding friends and family, tough advisers / mentors, a good reading list to encourage contemplation, these are all important.

But the best source of support is the people actually using what you build. Their stories are the ones that open up your world when you’re thinking too narrowly, and provide inspiration to keep going. While solving a problem for one person typically doesn’t justify a stable small business or a rapidly growing startup, it’s the starting point for everything else. 

To borrow a phrase from my co-founder:

“At the same time that investors are looking to ride a unicorn to victory, most of us would be just fine with a horse. Horses look just like a unicorns, except they are missing that billion dollar horn. They are the everyday solutions that make our lives better. Local restaurants that feed us, businesses that serve our needs humbly and honestly, friends and family that help us solve problems, whether they are fundamentally scalable or not.”

For the past 81 days at we’ve been talking about those workhorses, the everyday solutions directly inspired by the people around us. With at least 919 more to go, on some days it’s a daunting task creating them. But it’s also a tremendous source of support…the daily conversations we have with people who care about what we’re building is what keeps me going.

Over time the way we measure success will shift. Once we launch the beta this summer we’ll have to start digging into the numbers, including which channels provide our strongest referrals, the geographic areas that are growing most quickly, and how many times new patrons (which we prefer to the term “users”) log in before they become regulars. 

Some of it will be new and some of it will be things I’ve done before. Having had experience designing frameworks that are both quantitative and qualitative will help. As we’re doing now, we’ll keep talking to a broad range of people to help inspire us and also to keep us honest.

*Sidenote — Alex Turnbull over at Groove wrote a great piece last year about customer development even after you've got plenty of customers

Investors and entrepreneurs often talk about and praise the concept of being obsessed with solving problems. That’s close, but a better way to phrase it might be: obsessed with solving people’s problems. 

And the language matters. Being obsessed with a problem over being obsessed with the people you’re solving it for is different. Startups too often say “we’re changing the world!” when what they really mean is “I’m changing my world”… and the quality, longevity, and yes even scalability of what they create suffers as a result. 

Call it product market fit, call it finding an audience — the point is that the people showing up to interact with what you’re creating, they’re the ones whose problems matter, whose stories matter, and who are the living, breathing people behind any data you collect big or small. So why not start telling their stories from the very start?