I’ve soft-launched two startups in the past year…and I’m the only one that knows about it.
Many aspiring founders build a minimum viable product without a minimum viable audience. This is bad.
In order to truly understand market demand, there needs to be a feedback loop. For consumer web products, that feedback loop is people or an audience. Without one, it’s nearly impossible to test a product in the market…maybe that’s why we see people spend months building before they realize no one wants their product. There’s probably a group of lean startup disciples doing a golf clap somewhere.
The audience I used to test one of my “MVPs” was my blog’s readership.
For people that have read this blog over the past year, you may remember a section that was entitled “Britton Public Library.” I replicated it on my current tumblr below.
I dedicated a page of my blog to expose all of the digital content I had purchased and downloaded during my entrepreneurial journey. It was pretty vast considering my bank account had an on-and-off relationship with AppSumo. They no longer speak (learn why)
On the top of this page, I indicated that you could borrow this content from me for free. All you had to do was email me with a small ask, a provision I put in to limit hoarding.
The startup idea I was testing surrounded the notion of creating surplus from the digital assets that were collecting dust on my hard drive. I had hundreds of dollars of compelling, high quality content just hanging out. There’s absolutely no reason I should not be putting this capital to work in some way. My return could be recouping a very small monetary amount, or maybe just the good karma that comes with providing value to others. The bottom line was that anything was a higher return than I was receiving then.
I put this page up on my tumblr blog for two months and even tweeted it out a few times. Using Google Analytics, I determined that over 600 unique visitors viewed this page. Guess how many people emailed me about borrowing something? 1. And when I went to follow through, that person never even got back to me.
600+ people turned down free content that I had paid hundreds of dollars for. This was enough evidence for me to shelf this idea.
Beyond learning that maybe we’re not all ready to be cutting ribbons in front of our digital libraries, this experience taught me the value of an audience. Writing 60+ blog posts before this experiment provided me with a test bed to understand whether the market demanded my “MVP” (in its current state). Observing their interactions helped me to determine something that would have been otherwise very challenging and time consuming to do. This was invaluable and just one example of the many excellent benefits an audience provides.
The time to start building an audience to test your idea is not when you launch, but far before that. Why? Because audiences can provide you feedback prior to launching that will improve your odds of success as well as many other valuable things.
I don’t have a startup idea I’m pursuing and I’m very happy at my current job. But that doesn’t mean I’m not building for whatever’s next. Through blogging, networking, and engaging communities, I’m intentionally building a powerful asset in an audience. Maybe they’ll be early adopters. Maybe they’ll save months of my life by signaling lack of market demand. Maybe they’ll just be new people to grab beers with. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m much better off with them than without them which is why I continue investing my time to provide value to their lives.
Start building an audience folks.