Nobody cares about what you're building

A dumb-simple mental model for being more efficient in building things

There’s a trap I see a lot of entrepreneurs (including myself) fall into. We care so much about what we’re building that we overestimate how much others care. When I was running my startup, I operated with the assumption that because I cared so much and had so much conviction about what we were building, others should care too.

This overestimation is exacerbated by the fact that most people want to support entrepreneurs who are taking risks, so they bias towards providing positive feedback. When people hear us talk about our ideas and put ourselves out there – whether it be prospective customers, investors, partners, or collaborators – providing words of encouragement feels like the right thing to do (and is also the easier thing to do). Even if people do have constructive feedback, they have little incentive to share it as they don’t want to risk coming across as an asshole or unsupportive.

The hard truth is that generally speaking, other people don’t care about what we’re building. People already have priorities in their lives. They have their own challenges and aspirations – both personally and professionally. Dealing with these challenges and pursuing these ambitions requires investment of time and mental energy. Getting people to care about what we’re building means we either need to displace someone’s current priorities, or we need to convince someone that what we’re building will address their current priorities with minimal effort from them.

People’s default state is indifference. And for 99% of people, regardless of what they may say, they will remain indifferent. Getting them to care would force them to change their behavior or change their own priorities – both of which are big asks. 

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, and I’ve found a very simple mental model for being a better entrepreneur: Operate with the default assumption that people do not care about the things we’re building. This approach is more intellectually honest, helps us avoid distractions, and holds us to higher standards for what we build for the small-but-might group of people who genuinely do care.

If we assume that no one cares about what we’re building as a starting point, then the prospect of finding the 1% of people who care deeply would be a huge milestone.

When it comes to finding investors, early adopters, partners, and collaborators, we often underestimate the value of finding a few people who care deeply about what we’re building, and overestimate the value of finding a bunch of people who care a little bit. If we assume that indifference is the default state, then “caring a little bit” rounds down to not caring at all. Responses like, “I like it,” “this is cool,” and “really interesting” are really just “I do not care.” Most startups die before they find a single customer who genuinely loves their product, as they get distracted by building for the people who care a little bit rather than the people who care deeply.

This is true with fundraising and hiring as well. Investors with high conviction can get to a “yes” really quickly. And to successfully raise a seed round, we don’t need to get hundreds of investors to like us, we just need a handful (i.e. the 1%) to have high conviction. Founders who struggle with fundraising spend too much time trying to get the indifferent 99% of investors who are saying “maybe” to get to a “yes,” rather than focusing on just finding the 1% who will get to a “yes” quickly. When trying to find the 1% who care deeply about what we’re building, anything other than a “hell yes” response should be considered a “no.”

Accepting indifference as the default position also helps us avoid expecting too much of others. We often expect too much of people who care a little bit, as we mistake their positive feedback as genuinely caring when it’s actually indifference. And when someone is indifferent, they’re not going to be able to invest the mental energy or time that we want from them. Acknowledging how difficult it is to get someone to genuinely care means we won’t expect too much of people who are indifferent, and we won’t waste too much energy trying to get them to help. We can just keep them updated and they can hop on the train once it’s moving and it’s the right time for them.

But this isn’t all about finding the 1% who care – it’s about building something that the 1% of people love. If we can find the 1% who care, then they can help us find product-market fit. The best thing about those 1% of people who care deeply about what we’re building is that they have exceedingly high expectations. While somewhat-positive-yet-indifferent people will continue giving somewhat positive feedback on what we’re building, the people who care deeply will be ruthless with their feedback. They will be disappointed if what we build does not deliver the value that they expect, and they will push us to do better and build something they truly love. Feedback from indifferent people is just feedback for the sake of feedback, and therefore it won’t result in an outcome. Feedback from people who care deeply gets us to a point where we’ve built something that they love, helping us find product-market fit.

Of the people who we think care about what we’re building, there’s a good chance that over half of them actually don’t care. And that’s ok. Accepting the hard truth that almost no one cares about what we’re building is surprisingly liberating and can help us focus on the right things and be more efficient entrepreneurs.