Building the necessities

August 22, 2018

I am in investor in Jefferson Lofts. It's a real estate project that's turning an unused school into condominiums.

I love this project. Why waste money tearing something down when it's reusable? Plus, quirky stuff like this—you live in a school?—makes places interesting.

To my surprise, I learned a thing or two about technology product management from the (real estate) project, by way of comparison.

To invest, or not (tech edition):

  • Do people want what we're making? How do we know?
  • Can the team get it done?
  • What are the competitive dynamics? Concentration? Network effects?

I can't say exactly what the real estate version would be, but I suspect location (demographics, income, population growth), interest rates, and cost control play a part.

What surprised me was the absence of tech's "make something people want" attitude, which emphasizes user research and measurement. The reason is simple: people can get along without Twitter, but shelter is a basic need, a matter of life or death. That means, worst-case, you'll miss the market a bit, perhaps overbuild, but if the price is right, someone will buy it.

Whereas in tech, if you build something people don't want, you'll spend millions of dollars with absolutely nothing to show at the end. That's quite a different outcome, which demands more rigor in ensuring people want what you're making.

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