The Brink of Chaos

Empathy and the Organic Startup

by on Apr.16, 2010, under User Experience

Paul Graham, an essayist and also entrepreneurial investor, wrote an article called “Organic Startup Ideas” that indicates two different types of startups: Organic (which build something for themselves and then find others that are interested), and Inorganic (which build something they think someone else would want).

His essay is excellent and essentially states: Building something small for yourself because you desire it, is likely to be more successful than building something for someone else.  He doesn’t name the reason specifically, but it’s clear to me that the problem is empathy.  When you build something for yourself, you know what itch you are trying to scratch.  When you build something for someone else, you are only guessing at their itch.

Empathy is a topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately because it is core to building something that your customers desire. While Paul focuses on Organic companies in his essay with some excellent examples. My guess is that many Inorganic companies start from a group enamored with their technology. As a result, they become a solution looking for a problem.

In the end, we all empathize with ourselves perfectly, but it is not so with others.

Other good reading on this subject:

  • What’s Your Problem? Build software for yourself – from 37signals ebook “Getting Real”
  • Steve Blank – Why understanding the customer is so critical. Plans are made, but they don’t survive the first customer contact.

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