Before Selling, Start With Why

Before writing code, before shipping anything, before testing the market, it's crucial to find your "why."

This "why" will guide you to building a great product, it'll inform your marketing strategy, and it'll isolate the core product value that should be sold to prospective customers. And eventually, the why will help you ship new products and features.

Far too often, we start with "what". This is natural because ideas are almost always "what"s, and very rarely "why"s. Many times we fail to even consider why we're building the thing we're building.

So what's a good "why"? A why is the purpose your thing exists. It's the mission you're striving to accomplish, and the problem your "what" solves.

A good "why" is specific. A good "why" justifies your product's existence. And when you start with your "why", it grabs those who believe the same thing as you. It pulls them in. And it makes them believe that your "what" is the product manifestation for that "why". What's the point of your product? Your "why" is the point.

"We built ABC so that you can do XYZ" is a bad start. So is "XYZ innovation makes your life easier." The problem is the phrasing: starting with "what", and you're expecting your audience to implicitly understand the "why." In an age with novelty everywhere, people have become trained to dismiss new "what"s instinctively. We first need to tell them why they should care.

(By the way, "makes [your job, your life, etc.] easier" is not compelling. Who cares? Go deeper.)

Instead, start with "We believe..." This way you're forced to start with "why", and it pulls people in, ears open. It's captivating.

"We believe XYZ is true, so we built ABC."

Now, if someone else also believes XYZ is true, your "what" becomes an easy sell. You create evangelists for your "what." And if they don't believe XYZ is true, then they shouldn't care about your "what" anyways. They're not your target audience.

If you choose a good "why", it can guide your product roadmap, your marketing strategy, sales process, branding, and so much more about your "what." And, perhaps most importantly, it makes you stick out from the crowd. Few people find a good "why."

Start with "why" so that you have an opportunity to share your "what."

(If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching Simon Sinek's Golden Circle TED talk)

The Month of Hermae

29 days ago, I launched Hermae.

To say those 29 days have been a light-speed roller coaster would be an understatement. I launched a new website (twice), conducted demos for billion-dollar companies, introduced conversational memory to the assistant, trained on a public design system, created a new demo page, talked to investors, developed sales processes, a pricing model, created new logos, and even began compliance certifications.

What started as a fun experiment blossomed into a fireball. I can't believe that it hasn't even been a full month since launch.

My favorite part about all of this isn't the tech or accolades, though. It's the people. Since launching this project, I've been able to meaningfully connect with so many old friends, past coworkers, and even strangers who I now consider friends. That, to me, is what makes this so much fun. The support has been incredible.

I can't wait to see what happens next month. Let's make some money.

On Chasing New Ideas

I have a few active projects. I'm working on Deco, I'm tinkering on Cortelou (haven't talked about this one yet), as well as Interweave and this personal website. All while searching for a new job.

Yet, today I had a new idea. And I built a rough version of it.

It's tough working on so many different things concurrently. I'm extremely focused when I work, which means focus is a limited resource that I spend sparingly. That also means that projects not in the spotlight will not get the attention they deserve.

At the same time, new ideas are always flowing in, filled with all of the excitement that are inherent with new ideas: potential riches, respect, and regard. We see new ideas explode overnight all the time. Maybe this new one is the one?

Unsurprisingly, this creates a natural tension in my life between new ideas and old ideas. The prevailing question seems to be: how do we know when to switch focus from an old idea to a new one? Sometimes businesses take years to develop. Sometimes the business would never work, no matter how long we spent on it. And sometimes, maybe it was just passion-driven, and never was meant to be a business.

I don't have an answer to the question of when to switch. Before the ideas I'm working on now, it was all about BarHop, Gatsby, Arcade, Pluto, HotTub, and even more before that. Switching focus was not always easy, sometimes some are harder than others.

In the end, I do what feels right. I produce my best work when I enjoy it, and if it's a new idea, who cares? Nobody really uses what I build anyways, so might as well have fun building it.

I'm reminded of a post I wrote a few years ago: Living For The Journey. Achieving riches, respect and regard may not be all that it's cracked up to be.

Good advice, I think I'll take it.

2024 Resolutions

I forget my resolutions from last year, so I'll write them down this year to keep me honest. Also, happy three(!) year anniversary to my personal website and writing in public.

Connect More

First, connect more. This is purposely broad; I want to touch base with old friends that I enjoy being with, as well as meet new people. This can be a phone call, grabbing casual coffees, dinners, drinks, walks, whatever! I feel happiest after socializing, so I'm making a point of putting in the effort to do so.

Exercise More

Classic. Need to get back to regularly lifting weights and exercising. It's been tough to maintain a schedule as I travel between friends in Philadelphia, home in Princeton, and my apartment in Hoboken. Hoping a more regular schedule will make regular exercise easier. Less sugar too, but that's nothing new.

Listen More

Sometimes I have a hard time listening. I often get distracted mid-conversation by random thoughts, which pulls me away from being present. Not a fan of that. I recently deleted social apps from my phone as a way to reclaim my attention span, which has shown very positive effects, so I'll keep that up. I hope connecting more will help with this too.

Help More

Related to the first resolution, I want to use my engineering skills to help others. It makes me feel really good, and I consider myself an effective teacher. I'm not sure how I'll manifest this; pro-bono work may be a good option. If the work can help me connect with someone, especially another business owner, then that would make me feel amazing.

Want Less

I'm always reminded of this quote. It's a good one.

Everything you "get" becomes something you "have". Learn how to be happy "having" things instead of "getting" them.

Deco: A Solid-Adjacent Approach to Decentralized Linked Data

I started some discussions on Reddit a while back to understand a little bit more about Solid. I dove into the spec and formed opinions. I was not fond of the developer and user experience that patterns in the Solid protocol created.

Since then, I've been pursuing a project that I consider Solid-adjacent. It's called Deco. I think it can achieve the same goals such as linked data and decentralized, individually owned servers.

However, I believe the plugin ecosystem provides a better experience for extending server capabilities. I'm also leaning into the benefits of individually owning and storing data, specifically in regards to training personal artificial intelligence profiles and networking them between servers. I've leaned into many traditional web technologies, like using JS as the plugin delivery method and traditional JSON for data formatting. I believe these patterns will decrease the difficulty of joining the decentralized network, and increase adoption. I see a future where every business and person has some instantiation of a Deco server.

Check out the repository:

And here is the repository of core plugins:

I've also done some writing on the topic here on my blog:
Practical Decentralization

Bidirectional Interactivity Limitations of AI Tools

Navigating Organizational Growth with an Interaction Record and LLMs

Originally written as a Reddit post for /r/Solid

View More Posts