The Founder's Paradox: Loving What Is Broken
August 27, 2020

The Founder's Paradox: Loving What Is Broken

by Brian de Haaff

I seek the "new-new." Developing new ideas, digging into new projects, solving new problems — these are the things that fuel me. It is easy to stay energized because building is a rewarding loop. When you get it right, you create value for yourself and others. It is not as easy to love the defects that you and others create along the way.

Engaging with broken things is not easy — even by builders who are driven to improve what you have crafted.

I also think it is natural to focus on the good. Most people want to put energy towards what is going well. It takes real determination to put that same level of energy towards seeing and fixing what is wrong. And it is even harder to keep pressing and pushing to understand why something is broken and hunt for the best solution.

For company and product builders, this paradox is critical. We have to keep working and building until we have delivered what is right. And this vigor is not something to reserve just for long-term efforts or big launches. The same gritty attention is needed daily to drive value in everything you work on. So, how do you do this?

You can do it with a mindset of gratitude — feeling fortunate to be able to create and solve problems no matter what it is you are working on.

I have written a lot about the idea of lovable products. In 2013, I first proposed a counterpoint to the Minimum Viable Product — what I call the Minimum Lovable Product. The idea being that you should aim for your product or service to be loved, not merely tolerated. To do so, you need to be grateful for the opportunity to try and be proud of whatever it is you are working on. Building something lovable requires that you cherish all of it. Even the defects.

We have had a few of these experiences at Aha! — in a way, the company itself embodies that spirit of all-in pride. You can see it in how we previously built businesses and the very different approach we took with this company. No venture capital, no salespeople, no offices. We saw what was just not quite right with our previous efforts, kept working until we got the company really right, and the results are uniquely Aha!

But more tactically, I have seen this play out in other ways. A specific example is how we realized a number of years ago that we needed a better way to support our largest and most demanding customers. We got it right by being open to the level of service they kept telling us they wanted.

We added the Enterprise+ plan and offered a concierge service to ensure we could support sophisticated teams as their usage of Aha! expanded across the company. Over time, the scope of exactly what we delivered became more refined — custom onboarding, training, and ongoing check-ins. But we kept working at it until we got the right model.

Deep inspection of what can be better ultimately leads to adjacent insights and new opportunities.

I always appreciate learning what is broken and having the opportunity to work with exceptional people to make it great. Surrounding myself with people who are intrinsically motivated to do their best — so much so that they cannot help but keep working until it is right — is the best path to success.

As much as the new-new excites me, I have realized that newness can only thrive when brokenness is given equal attention. Call it a paradox — seeking the new while honoring what must be refined. I think more of both is what every one of us needs to be our best and make products that people value.

Read more of The Founder's Paradox.

Brian de Haaff

About Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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