This sound bite, picked up by a reporter for Inc Magazine when she interviewed me last month as part of her story on Carbonite (we came in as the 9th fastest growing private company in the US, and #1 in technology) has been tweeted and retweeted by scores of people over the last few days. Since it seems to have struck a nerve, I thought it might be a good idea to add a little color to my comment.
I'm sure you've heard the expression "A solution looking for a problem." Unfortunately, a lot of products get built before their inventors really stop to think about who's going to buy them, or even why anyone would buy them. My mantra to engineers — "Write the ad!" forces them to think about who we're going to sell our product to, what problem the product solves, and why someone would want to buy it. If you can't figure out how to convey this value proposition in a limited number of words, your odds of success are slim.
I'm not saying that engineers should turn into advertising copywriters. But I am saying that if you can't explain what your product does and why I should care in a few words, how on earth are you ever going to sell it? One good thing about writing the ad first — when you run it by people, you'll know pretty quickly whether your product is worth building.