Making and Shipping

From making custom tools to product design

Making and shipping product(s) of your own spare you some of the work on assignments traps, with the additional benefit of being compatible with doing client work. Another advantage is that developing a product that you use yourself puts you in the client’s shoes. It makes you consider problems from other angles. Solving an issue that you experience firsthand reinforces your ability to solve it on behalf of a client later. Companies like Basecamp, iA, and Gumroad, found their special calling once they started developing products on their own. Basecamp started as a web design agency (37signals), developing tools to ease their workflow led them to writing software that became their core business. iA, while still working for clients, shipped and maintain the minimalist yet highly polished iA Writer, initially to remedy their frustration at the lack of a simple text editor. Gumroad’s founder wanted a simple way to sell a product online. That did not exist, so he designed his own.

Creating unique tools for yourself, working on a product, or a range of products is beneficial, whether you keep working for clients later on or not. It is a good idea to start by designing something that you need and would use. Something simple or even incomplete is good enough for a start. Entrepreneurs types call this a minimum viable product, or MVP. The idea is shipping fast to assess if there is a demand, and if that’s the case, you can improve it gradually.

For example, the first Jekyll project I released was super minimal, not even a complete theme, but that first step was useful to learn. What is interesting is that each tool or product you build and release informs the next. My second Jekyll project, Supply, is a complete e-commerce site with Gumroad integration built with Jekyll and Tachyons. You learn from trials and errors, and you never know, but there is a good chance that something useful to you will be to someone else.