I’ve always been fascinated by Kevin Kelly’s legendary 2008 essay arguing that you only need 1,000 True Fans to make a living, which he recently updated.
Here’s how the math works. You need to meet two criteria. First, you have to create enough each year that you can earn, on average, $100 profit from each true fan. That is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it is a good creative challenge in every area because it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans.
Every thing made, or thought of, can interest at least one person in a million — it’s a low bar. Yet if even only one out of million people were interested, that’s potentially 7,000 people on the planet. That means that any 1-in-a-million appeal can find 1,000 true fans. The trick is to practically find those fans, or more accurately, to have them find you.
This is a very exciting and potentially liberating idea, but how can mere mortals like you and me put it into practice? Learn from those who’ve cracked it. Dianna Allen figured out how to take the first step—get 1,000 subscribers—in two months with Monthly Budget Planner, a no-code project.
Every Friday, she sends her subscribers a weekly meal plan that they can use to eat for only $5 a day. What I love about this story is that she has taken a series of simple steps, always focused on providing the core benefit her subscribers value:
When I first started Budget Meal Planner at the end of March this year, it was actually only a newsletter sent through Mailchimp. After all, that’s the basis of it: a new meal plan every Friday.
After two months, I noticed there was a demand to have the previous meal plans accessible. That’s when I found it was time to upgrade the project and introduce a website.
I wanted to get something up quick, so I went with Wix. Sure, it’s a more costly option than if I were to code it myself. But, in this situation it was a matter of time is money and I didn’t want to spend much time on coding.
This is a master class in launching an MVP and validating it while also exploring the right way to reach a community.
You may scoff that she’s not charging yet, so it doesn’t count. But she has a plan to follow up:
If I can get 500 people to pay $2 a month for this content (which I know I can, thanks to Patron proof) then that’s $1,000 a month. For me, that’s ramen profitability and then I can finally begin to work on Budget Meal Planner full-time.
I’m betting she will make it. The point is that all of us are capable of thinking of something that 1,000 people will value enough to pay us for it. All you need to do is figure out what you know that will help others. And then you need to get off your arse and actually start!
Antifragile Planning: Optimizing for Optionality
If you’re struggling to follow Dianne’s example, Taylor Pearson has some interesting ideas about how to address one reason so many people never actually build something: the tension between focusing on one project and not knowing what the right project is. Which I see as analysis or research paralysis.
He is trying to develop a system to develop “optionality” as a way to cultivate Nassim Taleb’s concept of Antifragility:
If you “have optionality,” you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight…For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself…and recognise favourable outcomes when they occur.
Low-cost mistakes, with known maximum losses, and large potential payoff (unbounded).
The article is long and rambling at times, but I recommend it for his 90-day sprint planning system which forces you to commit to shipping something every quarter, while doing a clean-slate, blue sky evaluation of where you are going before defining and committing to the next sprint.
Every 90 days (quarterly), I re-evaluate what I want (my long term vision), what people will pay for (the market), and what I’m good at (my strengths) on a high level basis. I then set a single, falsifiable (yes/no or quantifiable) goal which I hypothesize to be the most impactful move towards that objective.
Personally, I’ve found that 90-days is not necessarily the magic number and do 45-day sprints instead. But you can experiment to figure out what the right rhythm is for you. As the saying goes “your mileage may vary.”
We Don’t Sell Saddles Here
The latest FFWDLondon cohort started last week. Every time we start the programme with an intro to the job-to-be-done concept. And every time I give that talk, I’m asked the same question: “do customers actually know what they want.” I usually answer that they don’t necessary know what they want, but they do know what frustrates them, etc.
Stewart Butterfield has a more expansive answer to this question in this 2014 post about the start-up he co-founded. It’s called Slack, and they just went public at a valuation of $24 billion, so it’s probably worth checking out what they thought they were doing back then at the very beginning.
Our position is different than the one many new companies find themselves in: we are not battling it out in a large, well-defined market with clear incumbents (which is why we can’t get away with “Other group chat products are poisonous. Slack is toasted.”). Despite the fact that there are a handful of direct competitors and a muddled history of superficially similar tools, we are setting out to define a new market. And that means we can’t limit ourselves to tweaking the product; we need to tweak the market too.
We are unlikely to be able to sell “a group chat system” very well: there are just not enough people shopping for group chat system (and, as pointed out elsewhere, our current fax machine works fine).
What we are selling is not the software product — the set of all the features, in their specific implementation — because there are just not many buyers for this software product.
However, if we are selling “a reduction in the cost of communication” or “zero effort knowledge management” or “making better decisions, faster” or “all your team communication, instantly searchable, available wherever you go” or “75% less email” or some other valuable result of adopting Slack, we will find many more buyers.
That’s why what we’re selling is organizational transformation. The software just happens to be the part we’re able to build & ship (and the means for us to get our cut).
We’re selling a reduction in information overload, relief from stress… We’re selling better organizations, better teams.
Most luxury brands sell something that comes down to “being better than you are” (richer, better looking, more attractive to those you find desirable, etc.)
Confirms that the first step in building any business of any size is to identify your minimum viable segment. Get to know a set of people who have the same notion of “what being better than you are” means in a specific context of their life, and help them do it.
Quite a few clients, ex-students, and FFWD alumni have been in the news this month. Here’s a quick roundup.
Afrocenchix were part of FFWD last year. They just raised £510k. Rachael Twusami-Corson just published a great post to tell others how they did it.
Maria Moreno Pinart took my Business Design course last summer. Since then, she’s left her corporate job and launched two businesses. Her newest one is bat2go, a very original portable battery renting service in Madrid, which looks rally cool.
James Harford-Tyrer went through FFWD in 2015. During the programme he completely pivoted away from his original idea to found cudoni.com which sells pre-owned luxury goods. You can read more about it in the June 30th issue of The Sunday Times (paywall).
Finally, if you know anyone with a MedTech startup idea, the MedTech SuperConnector is taking applications for its next cohort.
Let me know if you have any announcements you’d like me to include in next month’s email.
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