When faster horses are the right call

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
(probably not) Henry Ford

This quote is on every intro slide of a boomer on a speaker circuit in a hotel conference room full of white-haired white men.

It's a tired attempt to get these lifer CEOs out of their comfort zone. To force them to think: how do I disrupt myself?

I would argue that sometimes faster horses are exactly the right answer.

When starting a brand new company, one starts with the fundamentals. Someone has a problem, and current solutions don't work. So let's think outside the box. People don't want a faster horse. They want a car.

This mentality then becomes part of the company's DNA, where anytime a customer asks for a new feature, rather than just shipping that feature, the suggestion is brought back into the "faster horse" equation, and typically rejected. "No, we're not going to build that feature for you. It's not innovative enough. But thanks for your feedback!"

Over time and at scale, it just means your company gets further and further away from what the customer actually needs from you.

Once a business is established, its ideal customer found, and initial scale is in full swing, the best thing to do is build what your customers are asking for.

It's not quite as simple, of course. We still run all customer feedback through the RICE model to prioritize.

  • Would all customers find value in this, or just one?
  • Is this a super-valuable thing, or just iterative?
  • How confident are we that this is the real problem/solution and not a symptom/vitamin?
  • How much effort will it take to ship?

Still, all of the feedback is valid, and most of it should be built eventually, even if it only helps one customer.

Once your company is established, it's your raison d'être.