Micah June 11th

Designing for the Hopeless

Entrepreneurs are hopelessly hopeful. Given the disposition to always see the world as it could be, it’s impossible for an entrepreneur to be anything less than hopeful.

Mix that with never-ending optimism, and you have someone who can change the world and motivate the people around them to join them in that battle.

And, given that entrepreneurs are often taught to solve problems that they have, it’s not surprising to hear creation myths that include some roadblock that the entrepreneur experienced and which inspired him to start a company to build a product to solve a problem.

But here is the part we all miss: The people we are building for are inherently hopeless.

Before you stop reading and curse me under your breath, follow my reasoning.

Most people chase the American Dream. the American Dream is a happy marriage, with kids. It’s owning a nice house, in a good neighborhood with solid schools. It’s having a great job and being able to take a vacation every year. Oh, and how could I forget the dog.

To achieve that dream, you must first give up hope. You must stop looking at the world as it can be, and accept it for what it is. You have to realize that the path to achieving that dream is straight, and while may have its challenges, has been traveled so much, that the path itself is worn clear, and the majority of the difficulties have been removed.

To achieve the American Dream, you have to remove hope and replace it with acceptance. You take away malleability and replace it with a plan.

And, for most people, that’s an awesome outcome.

So why, when we develop products, we think about adoption in two stages: the early adopters and then the ‘normals’? Aren’t they, by definition, two completely different types of people with two completely different sets of needs and desires?

Early adopters, which tend to have entrepreneurial tendencies, want to accept that the world could be different. They may not be able to see it themselves, so they hold entrepreneurs, folks like Steve Jobs, in high esteem, so they can see the world through their eyes. They love products that are new and different and exciting. Products that redefine categories. Products that they can show their early usage with pride.

But the normals are different. They are folks that are chasing the American Dream. They only want to use or spend money on something that helps them achieve that dream.

We are building products that get a lot of attention by our peers, mostly early adopters. We care what the tech press (which is basically the Early Adopter News) thinks and chase the latest thing, and the products reflect that.

If the mainstream is chasing the American Dream, what benefits are we building into our products that help the hopeless achieve that dream?

We don’t. We assume we can convert the hopeless to care less about the American Dream and more about a changing world. We build apps and services that inject hope into a psychological/sociological system that demands that hope gets removed. You cannot focus on changing the world if you want to achieve the American Dream, as the American Dream exists only in this world.

Products and services are easy to build, and as such, we spend less time thinking through them. We believe that marketing — viral or otherwise — will overcome any product shortcomings and that downloads or users are the real success metric when the truth is that we should only be measuring if our products are making it easier to achieve the Dream.

Design for the Hopeless; Ignore the Hopeful.