There are two classes of products.
The first is technology. This is building things that don’t exist. 0 to 1. Examples: the Bitcoin whitepaper.
The second is distribution. This is making things that exist more widely available. 1 to n. Examples: writing an open source blockchain in C++.
If the first is scientific research, the second is building institutions for science.
No product is built in isolation.
But what about the React to-do list app you built last weekend? That’s a project. Not a product.
A product is a response to a problem. It is an attempt at solving a problem. Successful products are solutions. Failed products dissolve from our memories.
These two methods - 1) Technology and 2) distribution allow us to reshape reality.
With technology, you start with a theory of action. You build novelty from bits and atoms. You are not aiming towards a specific end goal, instead, you let your intuition and models guide you in the pursuit of craft. Your masters are aesthetics and truth. In the best cases, you end up with penicillin. In the worst, the atomic bomb. Your spirit animal is the software engineer. Technology is about the journey.
With distribution, you start with a theory of change. You know where you want to get to. The question du jour is - how? You leverage existing tools and ideas. Your secret weapon is glue. You turn to serendipity as your goddess. You are able to take what is obscure and make it abundant. Scale is the name of the game. Your spirit animal is the product manager. Distribution is about the destination.
This article is an unfinished product.
For now, I’ll leave off with a question:
What kind of product are you building today?
Acknowledgements: This article is a product of conversations, content, and my subconscious. Inspired in no particular order by ideas from Dhvani Patel, Aaron Swartz, YCombinator, Peter Thiel and others.