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3 lies I told myself that lead to the failure of

Inventorist and Indie Hacker. Building a business in public. Embracing risk and uncertainty.
・3 min read

Have you ever watched Hotel Hell? It’s a TV series starring Gordon Ramsay, who is traveling around the USA, visiting hotels that are poorly managed and in desperate need of his help. I enjoy watching it now and then, especially while having dinner. Somehow watching hotel owners being told the truth by Ramsay is oddly entertaining and even soothing. One thing I never really understood is how deep in denial some owners are about the state of their hotel.

Recently I had another episode on, in the background, while having dinner. I was about to stuff my mouth with Dutch fries, when Gordon asks: “who is the most important person around this hotel?”. The staff collectively answers: “The owner! The owner is the most important person around here”. At that point Ramsay loses his temper in typical fashion: “NO! The fucking guests are the most important people around here!”.

Though it was directed at the owner and his staff, it felt like he was talking directly to me. Much like the hotel owner was in denial about the state of his hotel, I’ve been in denial about the state of Likewise, the note taking app I've been working on. Reason for not catching my mistakes earlier is that I repeatedly told myself these 3 lies:


1. I’m serving an audience with my product

I did have an audience in mind while building Likewise. The problem was that I didn’t start with solving a problem for my target audience, but that I started building my product first and only then looked for an audience to market it to. The usual questions like “what is your target group?” didn’t really make me understand that I was lying to myself, because I could answer them quite well.

It was only after reading the 100th tweet about this topic by Arvid Kahl that I started to question if I actually got the order correct. Then Gordon Ramsay yelling through my TV-speakers that a business is about the customer, instead of the product and its owner, finally opened my eyes to this glaring mistake that I was making.

2. I’m building a product that solves a problem

Likewise was supposed to be a note taking app, focused on visualizing notes. The idea was to enable people to take notes and to turn them into graph overviews, to make maps, and build other visualizations. Basically I wanted to make a digital detective board, and I couldn’t find an app that does exactly that. I thought to myself: this is a problem that needs to be solved. And I was going to fix it myself.

So why didn’t Likewise solve any problem? The answer is that the problem I was solving wasn’t specific enough. With Likewise, I was tried to nail too many things: note taking, e-learning, data visualization, collaboration, digital whiteboards and much more. Trying to “bundle” all these things, only resulted in the tool falling spectacularly short in all categories

3. Competition only means that there is a market for my idea

No idea is truly unique, so you’re highly likely to run into competition. If there’s no competition, it probably means that there is no market for it, or that there’s an issue that you didn’t foresee. These are the things I kept telling to convince myself that all the competition in the note taking space was a good thing. I didn’t really think of the following:

  • You need to have a very compelling reason for people to switch note taking apps. Once you have a bunch of notes, whiteboards, small databases and tables, it’s a pain to switch
  • Too much competition is a thing...
  • ... especially when you are competing with all of them, because your tool is too generic and not specific at all.

What’s next?

I will “park” the idea for Likewise for now, and focus on a different idea. This time I will try to actually solve a specific problem for an audience, and spend more on validation and market research, before I dive in and build a SaaS. You can follow my journey here on Twitter.

Cover illustration by Storyset

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