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It's OK to Build to Learn


I write a lot about product, startups, and market validation. But I'm also a developer who is constantly learning. So, it's important, in my mind, to recognize that not everything we build has to find a market. Not everything has to make money. It is 100% valid to build something because you want to and because you want to learn, then see if there is a market.

The trick here, of course, is not to fool yourself into believing that just because you build it, people will come. If you set out to learn something new or to build an app just because you want to, you should expect that it will not be used by many people. You should expect that you will not make money from it. That said, you can absolutely put it out there and see if it finds a market, even a niche market.

I am building an application called Perligo. The idea behind it was two-fold—learn new programming concepts and build something that would help the creative community based on my experiences as a writer. If I were going to build this as "my next startup", I actually wouldn't have written a line of code yet. I would have been out interviewing people, finding friction points, verifying a willingness to use software like this, and most importantly verifying a willingness to pay.

I have not done any of that with Perligo, and that's OK. If you read IndieHackers or Hacker News or Product Hunt or any number of sites dedicated to building and shipping products, you may come away thinking that building something without confirming there is a market and a way to make money is pointless. Fortunately, those sentiments are absolutely not true.

Justin Jackson, a well-known indie hacker and podcaster said on Twitter recently that building something without verifying there is a market, demand, and willingness to pay is not building a business, it's making art.

"I only want to bake pies." That's fine, but that makes you an artist, not a business. A business person, who discovers that 9 times out of 10 people prefer cake over pie, will switch to selling cake. — Justin Jackson (@mijustin) September 3, 2020

He's absolutely right, and like he indicated in his tweet, making art is perfectly valid.

I want to take this sentiment a step further. There's nothing wrong with being an artist and making art. But there's also nothing wrong with selling that art. Even if you haven't validated demand. Building something you are proud of is enough incentive to at least try to sell it. As long as you understand what you're doing.

Understanding is the key. If you make art, expect that art to sell a ton and make millions, but you didn't put the leg work in up front, you're kidding yourself and setting yourself up for disappointment. However, if you make something because you want to learn or make art or just want to pass the time, and then you decide to try to sell it knowing there's not likely to be a huge influx of cash from what you made, that's totally fine. In fact, it's something to be encouraged. Learning by doing doesn't just apply to those who pre-validate markets and build to demand. You learn almost as much by shipping something that you built from passion.

You just might not make any more doing it 😉.