I build a lot of products. In the past 15 years, I’ve had more projects than I can count on my fingers and toes. Some have been successful, some have been spectacular failures. Some (most?) have been somewhere in between – but they’ve all been useful, and I’m glad that I took the time to make each and every one.

I’m writing this post for all of the people who ask me:

“Why do you build so much stuff?”

…Because I Need It

I’m very motivated by frustration. I like to build solutions to problems that close friends or I have. It’s a win/win: I get to learn and create something cool, and I get to use the thing I built. Sometimes other people use it too. And sometimes they pay me for it. I recommend this great post by the patron saint of startups, Paul Graham, about scratching your own itch.

…Because I Like to Learn

When people ask me how to learn to code or learn to build cool stuff, I feel like I always disappoint them with my ‘learn by doing’ answer. I’m not being disingenuous; I’m just one of those people who learns best by breaking stuff. I’m not very good at learning from a random smattering of articles online. If I really want to learn something, my process usually is something like this:

  • Buy a paper book on the subject
  • Take copious amounts of notes (handwritten)
  • Build things
  • Break things
  • Get frustrated
  • Google / Stack Overflow specifics
  • Learn from my mistakes

That process, what I call failing forward, does an excellent job of moving information from short term memory to working knowledge.

I try to do something new with every product I build. New technology, new UI style, new process… something. Most of the stuff I make is small, non-commercial and niche.

…Because Building Cool Stuff is My Best Networking Tool

Need/Want wrote a great post on this. The bottom line is that this works. Can’t recommend enough. Few things in life make you feel as good as getting an email from someone about how much they enjoy the thing you built.

Some of my best friends and collaborators have come about because of something I made. Nearly all of the opportunities I’m presented with can be traced back to some tiny tool or marketing campaign or something from years ago.

I think execution is the single most important characteristic of a strong entrepreneur, and nothing says execution like a big list of great things.