Why Build Products?

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My grandfather had his 85th birthday yesterday. He lives 3,151 miles away from me but we talk on the phone and Skype every week. This time we had an especially long talk with his b-day and all. He asks me many details about my work and of course doesn't fully understand what I do. He is starting to get the hang on the Internet though. For the past few years he's been asking me the same question on an off: When you're my age looking back on what you dedicated your life to, will you be proud of it? What will you regret? Did you change the world in some way?

It's a big question. It hits you right at the heart of what you're doing right now. What is the product you're developing? What is the web app you're trying to promote and sell subscriptions to? Is what you're doing actually helping people in the world live better? Is it changing the world? Is it just generating money? How will you look back on it 40 years from now. What will you think about this very product you're working on currently.

Steve Jobs said it best in his commencement speech:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

There is a simple reminder here: we all have an obligation to create things of value for other people. This is what keeps the pace of innovation moving forward. To keep our efforts focused on this, we have to ask ourselves everyday whether we feel connected to people's needs. In the words of Seth Godin:

To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing. ... You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment -- just one second -- to decide.
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