Are You Building a Project or Product?

As a developer, I often see problems as projects. These projects have a problem statement, steps to resolve the issue, and target completion criteria. It seems like a simple approach. Often, I see a potential product that can be built upon it.

In fact, I can determine how much it will cost to complete the project by performing the due diligence to determine overall cost of materials and labor. I may even apply some filters to determine if the project is worthwhile, what the timing should be, and set some smaller milestones to see success along the way. At the end of the project, I can look and see the fruit of my labor.

The downside is that we have less money, but perhaps more comfort, security, or knowledge as a result of the project. As a result of the project, I now need a way to refill my wallet so that I can tackle the next project. That is why home ownership is costly and perhaps why many people are now renting (even though it is more affordable than 10 years ago).

Occasionally, you hear about a startup that just started as a side project. The founder may say, “I just started this weekend project, and after a few weeks I felt I had something that could turn into a business.” Those founders that take their project into a product do so intentionally. They don’t let a project linger around, eating their time and money. If they start to see that something isn’t working, they pivot or move to something new.

While many of us may see projects as a great way to start a business, we lack one fundamental focus: revenue. Without revenue, you cannot sustain the business. Instead, the business takes money from your pocket (or the pocket of investors) but never replenishes it. An entrepreneur’s job is to turn resources (knowledge, people, capital) into profit, creating a sustainable business. While it might start as a project, it eventually has to become a product.

If you want to build a side project to learn a new technology or skill, go for it. Gordon Koo has a great post on how to make time and get started. However, if you want to build a business, you must make sure that revenue is part of the equation. Otherwise, it is just a project.