The critic Toby Litt could have been talking about all bad art and bad products when he said that “bad writing is almost always a love poem addressed by the self to the self.” Bad startups are the same. They aren’t actually businesses, they are self-indulgent playthings that do nothing for no one.
In my library I have a little book called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. Unless you’re a permaculture nerd, there’s no reason you’d have heard of this book. That’s the whole point — the book is for permaculture nerds, or at least aspiring ones. This might not seem like a big niche but this indie-published engine-that-could has gone on to sell some 165,000 copies (more than most books will ever sell) and is still in print some thirty-five years after publication. It’s on its second expanded and revised edition — the first came fifteen years after initial release, the second twenty years after that. It’s the kind of perennial seller that all authors aspire to — indeed that creators of all types should aspire to. The author made something that lasted and she made something that will continue to last (unless society suddenly stops producing garbage).
This kind of success doesn’t happen accidentally, and it’s not the result of marketing either. Her book, like many other perennial products — from Craigslist to Pixar movies — is a conceptualization success story. They didn’t bump into their audience or lasting success, they aimed for it. They built around it.