Lessons from Sahil Lavinga, The Minimalist Entrepreneur
Sahil Lavinga tells us a story about entrepreneur Sol Orwell who, in 2009, was overweight and unhappy. He decided he needed to learn more about fitness and nutrition. He joined a Reddit community and the more he learned about the subject, the more he shared, he answered questions and posted about his personal journey of losing sixty pounds (27KG). Working with co “Redditor” Kurtis Frank, they built a community of 50,000 members. Kurtis and Sol noticed a common theme, many questions were raised around the subject of nutritional supplements. In 2011 together they launched Examine.com, they did not sell anything, just provided information. In 2013 they began to think about monetizing. By asking their audience Kurtis and Sahil identified a need for a single reliable source of information about supplements available in the market. They launched Research Digest a full four years after Sol started posting on Reddit. The launch exceeded their expectations, all built on reputation, trust, and word of mouth. As Sahil puts it, Sol is now healthy happy and wealthy all because he built a community, served its needs, and developed a business.
How can you build a community? How can you uncover the problems faced by your community that would suit a business built by a minimalist entrepreneur?
Communities are a fundamental unit of society, it could be your neighborhood, the gym classes you attend, the folks you hang out with at the local bar. For the minimalist entrepreneur communities are the starting point for a successful business.
This does not mean that you should seek out a community to join just with idea of building a business around that community. What it does mean is that many businesses fail because they are not built with a particular group of people in mind. One way of defining the community that will be right for you is to consider who is your ideal customer. Which community do you know well and what knowledge can you bring to the table? This process cannot be rushed because it comes from authentic relationships built on a willingness to serve.
To help you find the right community ask yourself the following questions:
- If I talk, who listens?
- Where and with whom do I already spend my time, both online and off line?
- In what situations are I most authentically myself?
- Who do I hang out with even though I do not really like them but its worth it since we share something more important in common?
It’s important to draw a distinguish between a community and a network. In a community there is a common set of values, its these values that tie the members together. The people you connect with on Facebook or LinkedIn may share your values, they may not, but at first you do not know if there is a shared interest. Networks have their place and certainly they will be essential as you grow your minimalist business but for now focus on joining a community and building relationships within that community.
The magic of being part of a community begins when you start to contribute. If you have attended any training in building an on-line presence, you will have almost certainly heard of the 1% rule. In any online forum, 1% create, 9% contribute and 90% consume. The 90% who consume anonymously are sometimes referred as lurkers. For me this is an inappropriate term When I post content online, I want it to be consumed and do not expect any recognition. When you contribute you are 10 times stronger than a consumer, when you create you become an invaluable part of your chosen community.
Creating does not need to be mind shattering originality. Share what you are doing, what you are learning and bring relevant material you have discovered to your community. If you are always learning, you will always have something to teach.
Nathan Barry the founder of ConvertKit has a signs in his office:
- Work in Public
- Teach everything you know
- Create Every Day
If you are not sure of the value of sharing and teaching, let me share with you what Nathan Barry learned. When Nathan first started and publishing e-books he struggled to build a following. In contrast a web designer that Nathan followed, Chris Coyler, had no such problem. Chris had a following based on his articles When he needed $3500 to cover his living expenses to take a month off to redesign his site, he promised recorded tutorials about the redesign project to anyone who contributed. Chris raised $87,000 via his Kickstarter campaign. Nathan asked himself “How can Chris do this, and I cannot? Chris and I started around the same time progressed at the same rate but Chris can flip a switch and raise $87,000 but not me. What’s the difference between us?”
Nathan was able to figure out what enabled Chris to be so successful. Although Chris and Nathan did the same work, Chris was sharing his learnings with his community, Nathan was not. I believe that is probably why Nathan has those three signs in his office. Work in Public, teach everything you know and create every day.
If you are wondering what to share, think about the intersection of what you want to do and what will help others. This will provide the most valuable content for your community. As well as developing connections sharing will bring you another benefit. I am trying to improve my writing skills so I am taking a Coursera MOOC to learn more. Let me share a couple of quotes from that course.
Don DeLillo, an American novelist and the Late Harvard Business professor, Clayton Christensen, who I have often quoted during my broadcasts for his concept of Jobs to be done. Both highlighted the way writing can be a form of discovery and problem-solving. Here’s how DeLillo puts it “I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them.” And Christensen offered “I never know how little I know about a subject until I try to write cogently about it.”
There is nothing like writing to teach others to improve your own understanding of a topic.
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