Growth January 15, 2021

How true is the phrase "build it and they will come"?

Mark @dare0505

I've seen it mentioned in a lot of old-school marketing books. Is it true (at all) nowadays?

  1. 18

    I've been doing research on this topic (see Zero to Users), so I think I'm uniquely qualified to answer this question.

    "Built it and they will come" WAS true back when demand was much higher than supply. Let me explain.

    I got started in SEO back in 2005. I remember quite vividly how true this phrase was back then. I could build a website (often on a third-party platform like Weebly/Blogspot) and get it ranked on a medium-difficulty keyword within a matter of days. All I had to do is wait...built it...wait...and they (the visitors) came in.

    This is impossible in 2021 for 2 main reasons: Competition and market forces.

    1. Competition: If the phrase "build it and they will come" is true for an acquisition channel, then more and more people focus on "building" (i.e. pumping more content, remember content farms like eZinearticles/eHow/Squidoo/HubPages)?

    2. Market forces: After 1. happens, players are Google are forced to do something to sort through this vast data. They start rewarding quality over quantity, and look for "quality" signals like backlinks, social signals and so on.

    I've seen this happen over and over and over again. Even with ads.

    Back in the days, you could create a shitty FB ad (build it) and qualified people would still come in because the costs were so low.

    Then competition came in and things switches from "Create an ad" -> Wait for them to come in, to "Create an ad" -> Optimize, optimize, optimize everything -> Wait/hope for qualified visitors to come in.

    The only exception where the phrase "build it and they will come" still holds true are platform marketplaces (I wrote a post on IndieHackers) about this.

    Hope this helped!

    1. 3

      I can confirm that the phrase holds true for platform marketplaces. If you publish an app in the Shopify App Store then users are coming without significant marketing efforts.

      1. 1

        Thanks for commenting Lukasz, you seem to do quite a lot in the Shopify Apps space. What about fake reviews though, I've seen many people complain about these in various Shopify Dev Facebook Groups.

        1. 1

          You can definitely find fake or doubtful reviews, although, I'd say there aren't very many of them. Some examples:



          Some time ago a guy reached out to me saying that he works with many shops and he offered posting reviews about my app. I rejected the offer, but I guess there are some developers who succumb to the temptation.

          I've also seen Shopify announcement that they are going to remove fake reviews and unlist apps with fake reviews.

        2. 1

          Fake reviews definitly exist but not really that big of an issue

    2. 2

      This is amazing, thank you.

    3. 1

      Hey, just an FYI - that Zero to Users hyperlink is incomplete. :)

      1. 1

        Thanks, just fixed it.

  2. 5

    Design thinking clearly defines that you start from customer desirability (https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/what-is-design-thinking). Not only in modern days, but its an age old thing that it's a wrong approach to build something and find customers for it. You should have customers already and build products around their needs.

    It is a typical "Man with a hammer syndrome". We software developers try and fix the world by writing software first. That is approaching technical feasibility first. I personally use to do the same mistake.

    Couple of years ago I got a job at Cisco in the sales department to build sales analytics dashboards. At first as a software developer I didn't quite fit in as I was the only developer, no agile approach and tasks handed down to me in a little piece of paper or excel and they wanted everything in a day or two. But what I realised is that they wanted to test the hypothesis with the users & management quickly and invest more and more on those dashboards if they worked. We got rid of lot of ideas and invested heavily on the once that worked. Now we have a small IT function within sales department grown from 1 to 6. IT and Sales working together? Crazy right?

    But I learnt a valuable lesson from my managers and peers is that never build anything if you don't already have users/customers for it. The maximum time you can spend on building something is a day or two if it is not validated.

    Cisco preaches design thinking to every new hire. This is not only true for software products. Here is an example of failed bridge project, even though it looked shiny, modern and environmentally friendly, it never seen light of the day because the residents never saw a need for it. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-47228698

    I can give lot more examples like these.

    One of my friends wanted to build a product like airbnb for hairdressers. He knew 1 or 2 hairdressers and decided to build it based on their inputs. He spent ages building it (and he wanted a very shiny clean design and a mobile app) and he listed those 2 hairdressers. Its been 6 months since going live he didn't make even a single booking via his site or app for those 2 hairdressers. Instead of building the website, if he did focus on getting customers' booking via traditional phone or email, he would have had a business by now. He didn't needed the website from day one. When he physically cannot take bookings via phone or email, it makes sense to have a website. It's again man with a hammer syndrome.

    Success Story
    One of my other friends make amazing pickles (chitraspickles.com). She went and posted her pickles details and pictures on one of the facebook groups. The same day she had 3 orders. She took the payment via PayPal and mailed the pickles a day later. She did that continuously for 3 or 4 weeks and slowly word of mouth started picking up her business. At one point she had 15 order on the same day and couldn't keep track of who is who, at that point she wanted a website and I helped her with a readymade wix website (took me couple of hours to put up an ugly design). Now she makes about $100-$200 in passive income per month.
    Caveat: I might have made it sound simple, but it's a lot of effort from her part to generate this kind of passive income. My objective here was to explain her approach.

    You might think this approach worked because she sells food and not a SaaS product. But I would argue that you can start selling your SaaS product even before you start building it. Get a website and see how many people are interested to press that bloody "Call to action" button. You would be surprised! The only place this approach might not work is in the games industry. Any game developer can throw some light on this one please.

    This approach of having customer desirability to your product from day one also helps you to finish your product that you started. I had a lot of ideas, I would start working on them and the boredom hits and loose interest after like a week later and the cycle repeats every 3 months. The important ingredient to not hit that boredom is to have customers waiting to use your product. Trust me, it's a better problem to have. And don't worry no one will copy your amazing idea while you are building it :).

    Finally, don't worry about the look and feel of the initial website. Mr. Ling is famous for selling secondhand cars with his great looking website (https://www.lingscars.com/links). I guess he makes more money than any other car dealers in England.

    Sorry for the long post and apologise if I discouraged anyone who is working hard on their side project. My intention is to share my experience also to help remind myself to stop making the same mistakes again. It helps even more when I write it down :)

    Keep hustling then keep building ;)

  3. 4

    this phrase is helpful to create scenes like this in tweet. 😂

    feel free to continue watching, since @8bit explains a bit further

    For the full episode of me talking with John, check it out here
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxQChoXX7EE

    1. 1

      lol. that's neat!

      building is fun, but, it can waste a lot of time if you're not certain of who you're building for.

      i am old so i don't have time to waste on just building and hoping.

  4. 4

    Another way to frame this could be: Build what? And who will come, where?

    If you build something that no one can get anywhere else, and is extremely valuable to them. This is more likely to be true. If you never tell anyone it's there, how would they know? Like anything, it depends.

    Speaking of marketing books, there's this one called "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing". In it, they say specifically the quality of the product doesn't matter, only the "perception in people's minds".

    🤷‍♀️food for thought

  5. 3

    Not true at all. Source: built lots of things, nobody came.

  6. 3

    I'd change it a bit into, "Build a thing certain people need, make sure they know about it and that it's for them, and that the benefits of adopting it clearly outweigh the cost of adoption, then they'll come."

  7. 2

    I think it's untrue.

    Just imagine building something amazing deep underground. How would anyone ever know it exists? How would anyone know to come?

    The act of building alone isn't enough, the thing you build also needs to be useful.
    But even a useful thing won't suffice, there must be a path to an audience or distribution channel that could benefit from your product or service.
    You need something that's both useful and has distribution, and you must be able to convince the audience that the money they pay for your offering far exceeds the value it returns.

    That's the recipe I'm trying to follow

  8. 2

    This has never been true. If anything it's just the law of serendipity coming out to play (Lady luck favors the one who tries).

    Having something in the market is better than having nothing in the market. There are great examples of this where niche games(Among Us) or apps that serve a specific need(Signal) become popular almost overnight when the true value is found by the market.

  9. 2

    This might have been true in the past but certainly not true now. Most people in the comment focused on discovery by search [SEO] but this is just one part of it.

    I think that there are products that are not truly built if no one is using them. These are products that aren't easy to understand even by folks that might need it. At least this has been my experience.
    Looking at the first iteration of cloudlyn.com, I can almost guarantee anyone who lands on the page wouldn't sign up. Because, we got nearly everything wrong in the first release.
    Even if they do come they would probably not use it. So waiting for them to come would never have worked even if they came.
    So we have to talk them into coming, into using it and into providing feedback. I think nothing would have worked if we left any one of these three behind. Each was critical to repeating the others.

  10. 2

    The term for what this can look like when it doesn't work in real life, which is often, is "solution in search of a problem" (SISP)

  11. 2

    A simple approach to answering this would be to look at the ratio of products in the Indie Hackers directory that are over/under $1000 revenue. Almost all of the products with little to no revenue were built and people didn't come (or haven't come yet).

    1. 2

      What if people did come but the quality of the product on offer wasn't worth the money? So they left 😆

      1. 1

        Haha, that is a fair point.

  12. 1

    They are not telling you 1000s of people are building same thing too. So visitors have option to choose. They are coming but exactly where you want.

  13. 1

    I don't think so, not now that there's such a high volume of good products and demands for consumers attention. I think a distribution strategy needs to be built into the product itself (e.g., incentive to share or talk about it) to grow a user base organically, unless you invest time and energy into SEO.

    If neither of the above (incentive for users to share, or seo), then you'll need to invest time, energy, thought and execution into user acquistion.

  14. 1

    100% True.

    They'll come, they came. They search for it and land in your solution but it won't be sufficient enough to stay afloat. You have to keep rowing the boat.

    or not IDK. :)

  15. 1

    It's simply incomplete. It's more along the lines of "build it and you'll see if they come".

    This is what makes building in public so valuable. Instead of building in secret and then suddenly presenting something to the world, when you build in public you can begin to generate interest while you're building the thing you're hoping that everyone comes to.

    Building in public is also marketing in that you get to share WHY you're building what you're building and also give people an idea of whether or not it's for them.

    So when it comes time to launch, the people that have been following you know before you even have to sell them whether it's for them or not.

    Think of it like a store that is being built next to you that you drive by daily. At first you might not care about that store, but since you drive by it every single day and see it's progress you beging to start thinking about how useful that store is going to be for you.

    When it opens, you don't need any flyers or sales special. You know the store is useful so you walk in on opening day.

  16. 1

    Typically they don't come, as they don't even know your product exists.

    It is true (for some limited time window) in emerging, rapidly growing markets that has vast influx of buyers and relatively few sellers, such as iOS AppStore in it's early days.

  17. 1

    Build it(in public) and they will come.

  18. 1

    As true as you make it to be :)

  19. 1

    These days, not true at all.

  20. 0

    It's about as true as Trump's election claims.

  21. 1

    This comment was deleted a month ago.

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