Successive Approximations

Troy Hunt on Scratching Your Own Itch

Troy Hunt on Scratching Your Own Itch

Troy Hunt is the creator of about Have I Been Pwned, his website that can tell you when your email or password is included in a data breach when a company gets hacked. It has become the biggest player in the market. Now, it's grown so large that he's having trouble managing as a one-man project and he's started looking for a company or non-profit to help take over managing it. On his weekly update podcast this week, he took a little time to recap the history of the project, starting at about 3:30, but I'll excerpt a bit (emphasis added):

Let's talk about Have I Been Pwned. Now, this was a pet project. I started this, in fact, I launched this, in December 2013. I started it really only the month before, and this was after the Adobe Data Breach.


So the data breach stuff and the wanting-to-build-stuff stuff all came together into Have I Been Pwned. And I've often said my rationale building it was equal parts the two. I'd like to have a data breach service, and I'd like to build some stuff. And that's what became Have I Been Pwned.

And in fact, a lot of Have I Been Pwned I built in a hotel room in Manilla in the Phillipines, because I was travelling there for work, and I had downtime, so what else ya gonna do?

So Have I Been Pwned started out as a very simple idea. So I put it out there and I thought a few of my mates will use it, it might be fun, and very quickly it started getting a lot of press.

Now I didn't even know at the time that there were other data breach notification services. There wasn't a lot, there was a few of them, a few of them have since disappeared, others have come along, some of those have disappeared as well. And I didn't care, because that wasn't my motivation. As I said before, my motivation was I wanted to build something, and I wanted to have the service.

I don't think it's an accident that Troy set out to build something good to scratch his own itch and that turned out to be a recipe for success. People like Seth Godin talk all the time about how you have to scratch your own itch, to make the thing you would want to use, because if you try to make something that you think that other people will want to use, you're always guessing. If you scratch your own itch, you know exactly what the customer wants.

He also never set out with a goal to make it mega-huge. That is just the result of doing good work and letting momentum build over five years since launching it. He wasn't in a hurry and he wasn't out to be famous, but now he's managed to become a household name in security circles.

There's a lesson in that.

Ben Berry

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