Building a valuable software product

Principles and practical steps for building a software product

Building a valuable software product is like building anything else (such as productized services, which I wrote about a few times back in 2019): build it based on your expertise and a sense of empathy for whomever you want to help.

Except you should assume that if you do it the wrong way, it could waste a small fraction of someone’s life. And wasting even the tiniest fraction of someone else’s life may not be acceptable to you.

Ok, but how do you do that? Here are some bigger-picture principals or attitudes which it might benefit you to embrace:

  • Soft and tender when business-as-usual is hard and harsh
  • Fluid and flexible when business-as-usual is slow-moving and rigid
  • Melancholic when business-as-usual is forced optimism
  • Poetic when business-as-usual is explicit and numbers-oriented
  • Deep when business-as-usual is efficient
  • Ecological when business-as-usual is purely economical
  • Asking beautiful questions instead of having all the answers

Of course, that’s too abstract to be useful. Useful is best captured by YC partner (and c0-founder of Justin.TV/Twitch), Michael Seibel.


  1. (Re)-launch quickly
  2. Get initial customers
  3. Talk to customers and use their product feedback

(also: rinse and repeat)

That’s pretty much it. Simple and straightforward but hard and maybe a little complicated, in an emotional way at least. Because you have to talk to people. That’s sort of the throughline: can you talk to people and talk to them early, before you have something that you know they’ll like.

If there’s throughline #2 here, it’s infinite game but agile infinite game. Play not to win but to iterate quickly through the 3 steps, to make sure you’re in constant conversation with people. There are few kinds of software entrepreneurship in which conversation is not the central theme of your business.

Yet, you also want to talk about something – some product not just an idea of a product. For me at least – your mileage may vary but for me, to keep the principle of never wasting a moment of someone’s life, you should propose to discuss something that actually does something, anything.

This helps you be avoid hiding in creating a product. Fluid and flexible works here. So does soft and tender; soft and tender makes you receptive to what really hurts people, as does asking beautiful questions – but also to what hurts yourself.

Being deep when business as usual is superficial helps you get initial customers; it lets you package your introduction with some kind of substantial observation, invitation, or offer.

Not sure where to start? One option is to ‘return to start’: delete your website, replace it with one headline and one blurb, and make a list of people to talk to.

Already have too much website to ‘return to start’? Make your homepage your about page, and simplify the home page per the suggestion above.

When the time has come for more detail, you’ll know.