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Building a Better Product: Finding Your Minimum Viable Audience

When new ideas and technology are first introduced, the adoption lifecycle is shockingly protracted. Why is that?

Why didn’t Google Glass take off after they were first introduced in 2012? 200 years ago, the glasses would have been labeled sorcery. How often does extraordinary technology get built yet struggles to find customers?

For the next several weeks, we’ll dive deep on building products and services that customers want to buy and discuss how our goals, mental models, and the way we are designed influence product and service adoption lifecycles.

We’ll begin by talking about one of the biggest impedances for adoption — trying to build something for everyone. Often the desire to build for many is fueled by the desire for a large market share. Money is an easy unit measure, so we use it as a yard stick for the value we create. Unfortunately, not everyone finds the same product or service valuable.

Here’s how we decide on what to build.

Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, says that the easiest way to build a billion dollar company is to help a billion people. What would a billion people agree to exchange for a dollar? In 2015, Google reported that they had 900 million active users. Today, Facebook says it powers two billion people around the world. None of Google or Facebook customers pay for their base service. This means a company would need to build a product or service more valuable than the most popular email service or social media platform to get a billion people to adopt something for $1.00.

When we find ourselves at the crossroads of creating a product or service, we have two options — try to create something for a billion people or create something for the smallest group possible. The idea of creating for the smallest group is highlighted by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired Magazine, in his blog post 1000 True Fans. In his article, Kelly highlights the idea that creators do not need billion customers but instead can survive on one thousand truly devoted fans who are willing to buy anything that creator produces.

The temptation to create for the masses is alluring. Unfortunately, if a problem cannot be solved for a few, the likelihood of getting it right for many quickly diminishes. A better place to begin, is not on the side of the populous, but on the shores of the most value for the smallest group of people.

The idea of focusing on the smallest customer segment may not feel bold in-between conversations dominated by billion-dollar unicorns that operate under the minimum viable product model. However, one could argue that the minimum viable product model is incomplete without a minimum viable customer.

Seth Godin, a hall-of-fame direct marketer, suggests that creators should focus on creating remarkable products for remarkably small groups of people who in turn might advocate for that product. This idea has a strong connection to Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans post and echoes the sentiment that it is much better to find the highest impact for the smallest group of people.

Most ideas that I plan to share and discuss here are not new. However, I hope they are a constant reminder of what’s important. Before anything is built, start by asking who it’s for and why they might find it valuable. If you are a founder, tech entrepreneur, or someone simply obsessed with creating elevating experiences, I hope you are asking these types of questions. In the next post, we will discuss how to start thinking about the smallest group of people who might be willing to buy our products and services.

Sangam Napit
Sangam is a UX Research Manager and loves to create human-centric products. If he’s not spending time with family, mentoring at Gener8tor, or volunteering at Rotary, you can find him sharing ideas about starting new businesses over momos.