Use the Lean Startup Model to Build Better Products

Alliance SBDCI recently attended an all day conference in Fresno, as a consultant for the Small Business Development Center. In this role, I work with small businesses to help them with their website development and online presence. This service is free to business who register with the SBDC. It’s is a nation-wide program, mostly funded by the Small Business Administration and ours is one of six regions within California. It was great to meet other consultants from Monterey/Salinas and San Luis Obispo, along with our Fresno neighbors. For more information about the program, visit

One of the highlights of the day was a panel discussion about the Lean Business Model. This model explodes the idea that a business must be fully formed and producing their product or service, before becoming visible to the public. Instead, it encourages thinking about the business as a hypothesis to be tested. Once the business owner has developed their idea as far as they can, they take it to as many potential customers as they can find (ideally, about 100 of them) and conduct interviews to find out what is most likely to work and what won’t. The plan is continuously revised until it gets to the point where most people say that they would buy the product or service. Only then does the process of creating the actual product begin. This is often referred to as creating a Minimum Viable Product.

Taking the MVP concept online

Copyblogger Media is in the business of creating digital products, including online courses, premium WordPress themes and marketing consulting. They have been using the Minimum Viable Product model since 2006, with an interesting twist. They reach out to their potential customers online, to create aMinimum Viable Audience. CEO Brian Clark explains in his article 5 Ways a Minimum Viable Audience Gives You an Unfair Business Advantage:

You have an MVA when:

  1. You’re receiving enough feedback from comments, emails, social networks, and social media news sites in order to adapt and evolve your content to better serve the audience.
  2. You’re growing your audience organically thanks to social media sharing by existing audience members and earned media.
  3. You’re gaining enough insight into what the audience needs to solve their problems or satisfy their desires beyond the free education you’re providing.

In the “traditional” Lean Business Model, the feedback comes from 100 or so potential customers that are interviewed directly; a tall order for many start ups. The Minimum Viable Audience expands the pool through the use of social media and direct email. It also allows the business to deliver valuable content while soliciting input from potential customers.

Producing content for an audience allows you to make better educated guesses. Much better, in my experience.

The audience will tell you, unsolicited, about problems and desires that no existing product solves. They’ll tell you how existing products and services are missing the boat, or how the companies behind them are less than desirable.

Combine that with broader social media monitoring and competitive intelligence, and you’re armed with serious insight into a highly viable product. Or, at least the first version of one.

A huge added benefit to developing an MVA: The process of delivering quality content to an audience builds their trust and identification with the business, making them much more likely to be among the first paying customers when the product is released. They know that the product will meet their needs because they were engaged in the process developing it.

There’s much more in Brian’s article and I urge you to read the whole thing. And if you or anyone you know can use some help from a great team of professional business consultants, please talk with the Alliance SBDC and tell them that I sent you.

This article originally published in the Webdancers Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

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