I've been working as a designer for more than a decade. I initially started out working for others, offering my skills as a service while running my own design studio. It was the most natural way I could think to turn my skills into money and make a living.
But even early on, I kept having this urge to do more. I wanted to build my own products, have my own customers and move away from billing hours to selling a product. For me it wasn't so much about making more money (chances are you will make less, especially early on), but I liked the idea of freedom and autonomy, something I thought I'd find by building my own product.
But I didn't know how to start. Whenever I talked to other people who were running their own companies, it seemed so overwhelmingly complex to get started.
Everyone told me about writing a business plan. They told me about focus groups and market research. They told me about product-market fit and how I needed to figure this out first before creating something I could sell. But all this seemed nearly impossible to me. It made it even harder to come up with an idea of what I could build, let alone sell to others.
It took me a couple years to understand that there's another way. A way in which you can skip almost all of the boring stuff. You can skip the business plan, you can skip the market research, the focus groups and the surveys.
Because in the end, you are the market. If you think something should exist, you'll find someone else who thinks that it should exist. Chances are, if it's something that itches you, it's itching somebody else.
There are three categories for building a new product:
1. You're not the market, and you need to find the market. This often means you're not within the target audience and you're trying to understand what the market wants. You do this through research, focus groups and testing. It's the more traditional approach to business, and often how it's taught in academia.
2. You create the market. This means the market doesn't exist just yet, but you're powerful and creative enough to create a new one through sheer vision and persistence. It's not the easiest way to get started, but it is possible.
3. You are the market. Something bothers you. Something is itching you. There's something you want that doesn't exist yet, and chances are, someone else who wants it too. Of course this doesn't mean it will be an outrageous success, because you could still be just the only person who wants it, or your target audience could be just 10 other people. But depending on your idea, there may be a sizeable chunk of people who feel similar to what you're feeling. And that's your market.
I've always subscribed to the third way of doing things. There's something I want to exist, so I'll go ahead and build it for myself. And in the process, I'm also building it for others.
Semplice.com was born out of the need have my own website and portfolio. I disliked all other portfolio tools and website builders, so my co-founder and I sat down and built our own. There was no research, no grand plans or anything. Yet here we are, 7+ years later of running a company and selling a product that thousands of other creatives love using as well. I use Semplice almost daily, building not just my own website with it but many other websites for my other projects as well. It's easy to continue building Semplice, because we do it for ourselves first and foremost.
The same happened with mymind.com. I always wanted a tool that works as a natural extension of my mind. Somewhere I can just dump all the things I care about, and let the tool organize itself. I've tried countless of systems in the past, from folders to more complex ways of organizing my notes, images, bookmarks and so on, but nothing stuck because it just didn't suit my way of working. I love organized chaos. So we built mymind.com, mainly to satisfy our own needs. We wanted this tool for us, so we built it for us. Turns out, many other people love it too, and now we have a product. Similar to Semplice, working on mymind comes naturally. Everything we add to it is something I'd want myself.
And the same happened with Semplice Supply. We needed better mockups and assets for our internal presentation, so we created them and started offering them to others as well.
The idea is simple: Do something that is close to you, and everything will come easily and naturally. Plus, you'll never run out of ideas of what to do next.