Build a system, not a product

The turtle has an idea. He thinks it is so great he doesn’t tell anyone about it because he is afraid they might steal it. He keeps it locked in a box, waiting for the perfect opportunity to get funding and make the idea reality. He is waiting and he is waiting and he is waiting…

The grasshopper builds a product. He knows that the idea in the box will never build itself. What matters is action and getting started. So he builds and he builds and he builds…

The master grows a system. She knows that no matter how good she thinks her idea is, what matters is only what the customer thinks. That is why the master builds her startup as a learning system that can adapt to new findings – evolve. She knows that in a startup, both the problem and the solution are unknowns. The idea is useless until proven otherwise. The product is useless until proven otherwise. So you must always be learning.

Unlike the turtle, the master is not afraid to talk about her idea because that is how you learn.

Unlike the grasshopper, the master is not afraid to release an early beta product because that is how you learn.

The master is not afraid of failure because that is how you learn.

The master builds her product and her entire company like a living system, an organism with eyes and ears, agile and adaptive.

Because that is how you learn.


  1. Leah R. Garnett

    I agree with this: “the master is not afraid to talk about her idea because that is how you learn.” The most successful places I’ve worked had a policy of open communication. The least successful ones ones kept knowledge from others on a “need to know” basis. I am trying to work via the former model. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; very helpful.

      • Jim Cottrell

        Not so much stolen but copied – especially best practices. Sometimes these ideas or practices can give you a competitive edge. I no longer list my process and expertise on my web site because my competitors paste and copy into their web site. So I have come to the conclusion that for me my web site is now a glorified business card. When potential customers call me I pre-screen them to make sure they are who they say they are and then direct them to a secure http address for more detailed information on the services I provide. This is a big issue for entrepreneurs operating in a legacy cloud where process and best practices can make the competitive difference.

  2. Vishal Kapur

    Love the style of this post: sort of folktale-like. I also like how you framed everything the master does in terms of learning.

    I just wish you would have found an animal to be master 🙂 turtle -> grasshopper -> ?

  3. Anthony

    I like this post. I feel like the “building a system” part needs its on post, I feel like you have a lot to teach me about that. Will u teach me?

    • Erik Starck

      I am still learning myself – I am far from the master in the tale. Will use this blog to write down whatever I come up with. Hopefully it’s valuable to others as well.

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  5. Colonel Nikolai

    Very cool. And very retro: this is essentially what Peter Drucker was writing 50 years ago. The reason is sounds like such new and coolness again is because of the continuing influence of F. W. Taylor’s theory on management practices that hark back to the early 20th century. Most management still thinks in profoundly Taylorist terms in spite of how many years (and how much real evidence) has accumulated otherwise. I think the reason Taylorism is alive and well twofold. First because of the simplicity of Taylor’s thesis, its lust for hierarchies and the illusion of control it promises. Second because of the litigiousness of our culture, control and consistency is valued far beyond how quickly an organization can respond to change and innovate (in spite of all the lip service otherwise).

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  7. Mitchell

    Juvenile crows are going to a computer science conference. Owl suggests “be open, share and flock, for you are limited by foraging efficiency”.

    Mockingbird is going to a cellular biology conference. Owl suggests “be secretive, territorial and aggressive, for you are in a ‘first to post wins all’ competition”.

    Sunbird is entering an unknown field. Owl suggests “be observant and thoughtful, for only by knowing nectar availability can you choose appropriate behavior”.

  8. Amarjit

    Hi Erik,

    Brilliant Post. This is exactly my idea of building business. It’s realy about the mindset. I find many business owners think tactically rather than strategically. They always seem to find themselves in the same set of problems day-in-day-out. They just do not divide the business into delegatable and improvable processes and tasks which hampers their growth and profits.


  9. Mattias Östmar

    I strongly agree! I´m right now contemplating how I best can share the rest of the journey with the evolution of the Typealyzer into Digital Media Analysis. As a strange coincidence my blog at got kidnapped so I presume that there will be in some new form. And is in some sort of sleeping mode… Let´s see what happens!


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  11. credo luke j

    this is an amazing theory.A theory that needs to be practiced by many that strive to become leaders in the economic sector.thank you so much for the insight.i need to be one of those that never forgets this.

  12. Sudhir KS

    Great post !! Simple and conveys the concept

    I have been reading these and similar ones and now we have a startup that is just launched. I dont’ want to be shy talking about it so here I go.

    It is a platform like an but for coaches be it coaching entrepreneurs or sportsmen or musicians or for that matter any category. We do feel there is a lot of talent amongst all of us, so called Gurus, and they like to provide that for a fee or free. There is also a lot of others, so called students, who are desperately in need of those. We are providing the platform to connect the two.

    Please feel free to check out if this interests you and provide your valuable feedback.

    Sudhir KS
    Founder, SeekYourGuru, Inc.

  13. Lyle

    I like this article because while it seems simple it touches several areas.

    The idea that failure is not a bad thing, but a way to learn. Applicable to life and business. Fear of failure prevents so many from growing and achieving.

    The idea of creating systems. Seeing your business as a system of systems.

    The idea that creating successful products, services and businesses means listening and learning from others.

    The idea of taking action. Plans and ideas are just plans and ideas until work happens.

    Can you think of other areas?

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  15. Irene

    Thanks for this lovely post.
    This adds to me being courageous and being on the right track with building my blog first and then releasing my e-book and other products around what I am doing and experiencing on my travel around the world and with my drastic change of life.
    I like it when people – like you – are coming to point quickly.

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  18. Nicolai Wadstrom

    Good words;

    As an serial entrepreneur I would say that startups are not but organisms, but organism that need bootstrapping (no not the “business bootstrapping” – shoestring budget model – but… ) the original sense of the word, a system need to initial criticai mass and parameters to start working like an organism…

    That is what the entrepreneur does, force the catch-22’s into a critical mass that starts growing like an organism.


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