smallest viable market, ivan jerkic

Find your smallest viable market

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Ivan Jerkić

Ivan Jerkić

What do I do? I build ventures – from the concept to product-market fit. And then I scale them.

In the startup world, they have a saying that you need to define your minimum viable product before going out to the market. Something with enough features to attract early adopters and their valuable feedback. It makes perfect sense. However, many founders skip over a more important step in launching their startup – properly defining their target market. Therefore, many products end up being nothing more than self-purposed creations.

The other phrase that we often hear is “Will it scale?” In the eagerness to onboard the scaling train, founders try to build products for the mass market since it will supposedly scale faster.

Scalability out of the box is nothing more than a myth. Your product is not for everyone– it is for someone, but not everyone. Focusing on everyone will make you dull and average. You will need to compromise and generalize, requiring a vast marketing budget to be seen. A recipe for disaster.

You cannot color the whole ocean with a bucket of paint, even if it’s a thief-detector dye that sticks. But, you can color the small pool, then a bigger one, and then step-by-step come to the ocean. Or even better, let your customers do it for you.” – paraphrased from Seth Godin, This is Marketing.

Start with your smallest viable market

What number of people would you need to influence to make it worth the effort?

Kevin Kelly argued in 2008 that you only need a thousand true fans to make a living. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo prove the point as we’re seeing projects that connect with their early backers succeeding in most cases. A true fan would support you and purchase anything and everything you produce. As you can see, this theory starts with a product or creation.

However, I would say that you don’t need a thousand fans if you start with customer needs, wishes, and pain points. The number can be much lower if you cater to their self-interest, desire for improvement, transformation, and exclusive access. In this case, you don’t need more than “a hundred fans” since your relationship is about them.

The challenge is keeping the connection and being there when they need you. A lot of startups fail at this.

smallest viable market, worldviews, growth marketing
Source: Unsplash, illustrative

Humans are social beings. We organize ourselves into different affinity, demographic or behavioral groups. The tribes are still present – not around a bonfire in the cave, but rather around inspiring ideas and leaders. Seth Godin put it nicely “people like us do things like this.” Marketing and growth are all about creating your tribe. Your smallest viable market.

The importance of “Why” and worldviews

Why do you do what you do? Why does your company exist? People don’t buy products. They buy stories and promises of a change for the better.

What is your story?

Just like you can group people by their age, gender, location, and other demographic traits… you can group them by their beliefs, biases, assumptions, and stories they tell themselves– their worldviews.

smallest viable market, story, why
Source: Unsplash, illustrative

Your “Why” needs to resonate with people’s feelings and perceptions of the world around them. If you manage to do it, your product won’t be perceived as a commodity but as an integral part of their lives. You will build a strong emotional attachment that will complement their individual identity.

But, to achieve it– you need to be specific.

Be specific

Being specific requires commitment, clarity, and focus. No false claims or efforts to be “good enough” for everyone. You need to be the best possible solution for the specific someone. Specificity revolves around defining the minimums– the smallest viable market and the minimum viable product. The key word here is “viable.”

Once you define your minimums, find a position where you, and you alone, are the perfect answer for all the wants and desires your customers might have. Overwhelm them with clarity, care, attention, and focus. Tell a story that creates a change so profound that people can’t help but talk about it.

And just then – scale it!

Guide your customers to do the work for you. If you found that “hundred” true fans, your smallest viable market, they’ll be more than happy to tell stories and help others with similar worldviews. Step by step, you can scale your product to the mass market. Let me return to the quote I wrote above:

You cannot color the whole ocean with a bucket of paint, even if it’s a thief-detector dye that sticks. But, you can color the small pool, then a bigger one, and then step-by-step come to the ocean.

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Inspiration for the post

Works of Seth Godin, Kevin Kelly, and Simon Sinek.

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