Build it and They Will Come — The Best Way to Fail

The term ‘build it and they will come’ was adapted as a mantra from the 1989 Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. Costner’s character is falling upon hard times and rushes into a business decision which, at the last minute, pays off. He ignores all advice and doesn’t stop to question things at any point on his journey — he goes with his gut instinct and it works.

In my opinion, however, a better phrase would be ‘Build it and they will not come’. Whilst it may sound brutal, there are thousands of entrepreneurs and founders who could have saved themselves defeat, had they heard this version.

Do people believe ‘build it and they will come’ works?

A short answer, is yes. But why do people choose this strategy, when all of the evidence suggests the contrary?

It is often a combination of naivety and faith in a world where research and facts prevail. Once their startup has failed, it is not uncommon to hear a founder say ‘it was just a risk’, but it would be more accurate to describe it as a mistake. Even more frustratingly for the founder, it is a mistake that is easy to avoid.

Founding a startup requires skills that are not synonymous with business acumen. Having a business background does not mean you have the skills to build, market, and sell a product — and unfortunately, listening to marketing podcasts is not going to solve this issue. Combine this with the fact that most startups begin as side-hustles alongside full-time work, and founders would rather go ahead blindly on their own path, putting off the end product with excuses.

What stops it from working?

As visionaries, most entrepreneurs have their sights set on the end-goal of their tangible product, filling gaps in the market, and saving the world. However, taking your product from a thought process to this point is not a two-step plan. To avoid failure, entrepreneurs and startup founders need to implement business processes and seek out the market fit through research.

Unlike for Kevin Costner in the 1980s, word of mouth is no longer enough to make your product sell. It is vital to be iterating on your idea by researching your customers: interacting with them, unearthing their problems, receiving feedback, and discussing features and solutions. This is what will give your product the necessary depth.

When something new comes to market, consumers are naturally tentative to invest money and time into trying out a product. If you have conducted the research necessary, you will find breaking into the market much easier — but this will not happen if you simply build it and expect people to come.

How can you avoid falling into this trap?

It is down to you, as the founder, to ensure you keep your head above the sand. By inputting processes and building a business plan, you will avoid leaving your product to the fates.

Here are three things you can do to prove the market for your product:

  1. Develop consumer stories As mentioned previously, the key to a successful product talking to your consumers — and not just once or twice. Before you do anything, it is imperative to know what people want and need. Once you’ve established this, you can see where your product will fit.
  2. Don’t rush to release all features at once How will you know what features your consumer likes and dislikes, if you release all of its features at once? By staging your release and adding features, you can decipher the response to each aspect of your product and enhance it for future releases.
  3. Be lean Being lean is not one tactic, it is a business mindset to adapt from the off. A lean business will be open to feedback and listen to their customer to eliminate waste through being dynamic and optimising their product.

As a product manager, I work with tech startups to ensure they don’t fall into the ‘build it and they will come’ path to failure. If you have a tech product and are looking to optimise your processes and methods for success, reach out to me on Linkedin or via email: alex@thetechgorge.com .

Alex Weekes is a Digital Product Manager, Associate Lecturer, and Startup Consultant working with some of the world's most innovative startups and technologies.

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