Brandon Builds #4
How to identify your dream customers: 30 people today, 100 million tomorrow, 1 billion people 400 years from now...
🙋♂️ WHY You Should Start With The Minimal Viable Audience
In Seth Godin’s book This is Marketing he discusses the idea that before you create change, you first need to decide who you are changing. Seth continues this point by that we should choose people based on what they dream of, believe, and want, based on their worldview.
See you can try to change everyone with what your building, but that rarely ever works because their are to many worldviews. When you cater to everyone, you actually end up catering to no one. As a result you idea, product, or service becomes generic. It becomes a commodity. Something that is easily discarded and forgotten.
So instead of catering to everyone, you have to have laser like focus on those you wish to serve. When you address a particular groups needs, based on their worldviews, they become your early adopters. They are your evangelists. The people that will champion to your service into the masses. What is the minimal amount of people you can profoundly serve that would make your idea successful?
30 People before 100 million
Discovering this idea, I reflected on how much change I wanted to create. In my hubris, I want to help change the world. But the “world” is so esoteric. So intangible. And how the hell could I help the entire world (hello imposter syndrome…)
I decided to take Seth’s idea of the minimal viable audience to heart. How many people would I need to serve in order to make my idea a success? Millions? Thousands? Hundreds?
Doing a little research, I’ve benchmarking other successful education institutions and the minimum number of people they needed to reach their milestones. What I discovered was another innovative university, Minerva, enrolled only 29 students in their first program in 2014. Minerva’s mission is to nurture critical wisdom for the sake of the world. But that mission began with only 29 students. Now they have served thousands, are fully accredited, and have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
So what are my other benchmarks? What is the minimum viable audience I need for each milestone leading up to helping the world? Here is what I have come up with:
0 years: Pilot Program - 30 people - Benchmark: Minerva’s first students
1 year: Full Program - 100 people - Benchmark: Minerva’s first graduating class
5 years: Full University - 1,000 people - Benchmark: Minerva becomes accredited
10 years: Accredited University - 10,000 people
15 years: Full Learning Lifecycle - 100,000 people - Benchmark: Amount of students Western Governors University serves
25 years: Mass Personalized Education - 1 million people
35 years: Influence - 10 million people - Benchmark: Coursera is serving in the 10’s of millions
50 years: Societal Evolution - 100 million people - Benchmark: Amount of Apple users in 2011 during Steve Jobs death. Steve jobs undoubtedly change society with his ideas.
400 years: Death & Legacy - 1 Billion people
Benchmark 1: Harvard, the model other universities have copied, began 400 years ago. Now the system needs updating. The cycle is due to repeat itself with any new institution created now.
Benchmark 2: Plato, who is believed to have created the first university to influence the western model, has influenced society for thousands of years. There is no way to officially measure, but I like to think that after all those years he has influenced a billion lives.
See my thesis is that I don’t need to solve every problem in the world. Instead I only need to give the education, knowledge, and skills to others so they may go on to solve those problems. So if I can significantly impact 30 people then maybe, just maybe, they can reach the rest of the world. Now the question becomes which 30 people?
🚀 WHAT I Built This Week
I recently joined Transcend Network’s Explorer Lab, a community of idea and early stage founders in the education or future of work sector. This week we focused on the idea of customer > market. Rather than knowing what the market is doing as a whole, and basing all your decisions on those data points alone, founders should intimately know their customers pains, wants, needs, desires, dreams, and aspirations. Founders need to spend time directly talking with their future customers. Alberto Arenaza from Transcend advised us that founders should be like anthropologists who study and embed themselves in their target customer group to understand their motivations and challenges.
Based on previous customer interviews and on going development of personas for Plato University, I developed 3 core customer groups:
Non-degree holders in low-income jobs: these are the people that the current college system just could not serve because cost, commitment, or other life circumstances. These individuals are most at-risk of job displacement, and have the greatest need for skills development to access new higher-paying jobs in fast-growing industries.
Recent graduates who are unemployed or underemployed: about 41 percent of recent college graduates -- and 33.8 % of all college graduates -- are underemployed in that they are working in jobs that don't require a college degree, and another 3.9% are unemployed. This group requires additional support, guidance and/or skills development to secure their first job at a graduate level or equivalent.
Aspiring career changers in entry level or medium-income jobs: this group comprises predominantly degree-holders working in ‘traditional’ industries such as finance and professional services, who are seeking to transition into a career in tech. They have become deeply dispassionate and loathing of the work they do, finding it provides no fulfillment or meaning to their life. Current offerings fail to meet this group’s needs as they provide little flexibility for learners, have limited alignment with employer requirements, and offer little-to-no hands on experience for practical skills development.
In the spirit of Seth Godin’s idea on the smallest viable market, I need to choose a group to focus on first so I can understand their needs at a deeper level and be able to build products that truly address their needs. Who are my 30 people?
Other things I am working on:
The initial landing page for Plato University is ready for traffic. I will be sending people to the page soon to begin validating demand. For more about why I am doing a landing page to test demand, check out my breakdown in Brandon Builds #3.
Updating the website for the Evolve Podcast. Over the last year I have interviewed dozens of people creating solutions to the world’s greatest challenge. I didn’t realize it then, but I have essentially been doing research. Not the kind done by PhD’s in formal settings. But the informal kind that helps everyday people like you and me understand problems and develops real solutions. So I decided to help others start understanding problems like climate change, poverty, education, and others by creating thesis pages. As I continue to do interviews I will constantly update these pages on the problems and their solutions. The goal is to help my listeners understand the problem from first principles and how effective existing solutions are so they may contribute to those solutions or create new ones. These are not published yet but here is a preview:
🔨 HOW I Built This
In order to narrow down into the target customers I will be serving I developed a framework of a persons learning lifecycle. Over a person’s lifetime their are milestones that require different tools to help them learn.
By picking one milestone I can focus on on that group’s needs. After fully serving them, I can expand to serve the rest of the learning cycle. (Also if you don’t think you could help seniors learn, check out Carevocacy.)
I have decided to focus first on the underemployed to career changer milestone. Now how did I come to this decision? I focused on the group I understand most and am most equipped to serve.
Though we don’t always recognize it right away, we're often serving our former self through what we're building. I know firsthand what it feels like to be a career changer. I went to a university, got a bachleor’s and masters degree in architecture, worked 3 years in the field… and hated what I was doing. I was very depressed. I felt like my work had no meaning. I felt like I was making no impact in the world. So I quit. And after a long journey of self discovery, learning, and reskilling I discovered the mission I wished to embark on in this world. A mission to evolve others. To give the belief, willpower, & skills to change their life and discover a fulfilling purpose in solving changing others lives.
Tools to help you identify customer needs
In addition to Trancend’s frameworks, here are a few tools I used to help decide on which customers to serve first:
Value Proposition Design by Strategyzer - In Brandon Builds #2 I shared the Business Model Generation book which helped me to develop my business model. Value Proposition Design is the next book in the series. Inside they feature a Customer Profile Canvas comprised of customer jobs to be done, pains, and gains. Once you outline those, you start creating products and services that fulfill those jobs, create gains, and relieve pains. Here is my canvas.
Traffic Secrets by Russell Brunson - This Russell Brunson’s third book in the Secrets Trilogy. Inside he asks you to identify your dream customers and stresses that you need to know them better than they know themselves. You must become obsessed with them. When you do, it’s easy to identify the pains they are running away from and pleasures they are running towards. He has an exercise to list all the things your dream customer is thinking or saying to themselves as they move away from pain and towards pleasure.
How I will continue to develop my understanding of my customer group
I have already been doing customer interviews and ran a small alpha program to be close with the customers and see if this education would actually help them. However I want to be more in contact with my customers constantly. Part of my desire to move to Austin Texas is to be in contact with early college students and career professionals so I can understand them within their own environment. Additionally some other things I will be doing are:
Running the pilot program
Be the one doing discovery and coaching calls in the beginning to fully understand customer pain points.
Publish in public. I have started to gear my podcast more towards my customers. I am also recording my journey of building a startup in public in Brandon Builds. Additionally I will start publishing in places they frequent (like Linkedin).
Go on a tour! Which means for me, networking and spending time with my customers.
🔎 WHERE Are My Customers Congregating?
Once you have identified your smallest viable audience, your dream customers, the people you are most equipped to serve, you have to go find them. But where do you start looking?
Where they are already going to hang out of course.
Russell Brunson has used the concept of the “Dream 100” to make his company one of the one of the world’s fastest-growing, non-VC-backed SaaS companies in the world. The Dream 100 is a list of leaders and influencers who have already created communities of people that are your dream customers.
For example let’s say that my product is a special pet food formula for pugs. My customers are pug owners. So who do pug owner’s follow? DOUG THE PUG! So, Leslie Mosier, Doug the Pug’s mom, would be on my Dream 100 list because she is congregating all of my dream customers in one place on instagram.
To help you identify where your dream customers are congregating and your dream 100, here are some questions to ask yourself:
What are the top websites my dream customers already go to?
What forums do they visit?
What Facebook groups are they a part of?
What influencers are they following on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ect?
What podcasts do they listen to?
What email newsletters are they subscribed to?
What blogs do they read?
What channels do they watch on YouTube?
Your job is then to list out these places and the leaders who are bringing them together. Create a column for each major platform (Facebook, Instagram, podcasts, email, youtube, etc) and write down as many places you can think of. Here is Russell Brunson’s picture of this from Traffic Secrets.
Once you have your Dream 100, then you have two options for putting yourself in front of their audience:
Work your way in: this requires you joining each of these communities and spending time giving value to it’s members. As you begin to build trust by serving them, they will start to be come interested in you and what you have to offer. Then you can begin to share your idea, product, or service. This requires a lot of time.
Buy your way in: this option consists of going on to each of these platforms and buying advertisements targeted at these communities. While this is a fast way to get your product in front of people, it requires money and does not have the same level of trust as working your way in. However, Russell explains that eventually you should be using both methods.
🧠 WHAT I Learned This Week
I’ve already discussed much of what I learned in this weeks Build breakdown. Much of my time has been focused on the Explorer Lab and meeting the people in it so I get the most out of the opportunity. But of course my favorite pods from the week are below.
Podcasts I Listened To This Week:
I REALLY love podcasts. I listen to roughly 20-40 podcast episodes a week. This is the cream of the crop from this week:
Anthony Pompliano on the Future of MONEY | Impact Theory - Over the last 6 months or so I have been listening to a lot about crypto, blockchains, bitcoin, and Ethereum. This episode is an excellent explanation of just how ubiquitous this technology is going to become. I personally invested in Bitcoin and Ethereum after selling my home and continue to do so every month. Honestly, I still can’t entirely wrap my head around owning a NFT. But it does not matter if I value it. Everyone else does. And as Tom says in this interview, “everything you think is cool is going to go to zero, and everything that you think is dumb is going to moon.”
Niels Jorgensen: New York Firefighters and the Heroes of 9/11 | Lex Fridman Podcast - Neil shares his profound story of the events that took place on 9/11 for him and all of the other first responders who he worked with that day. One of the most shocking parts was his retelling of his battle with leukemia years later. Many first responders came down with cancer years after 9/11 from the exposure to toxic chemicals at ground zero. Neil shares that he has watched many of his friends die and how he went through immense pain during his own battle.
🤝 WHO I Met That You Should Meet
Alberto Arenaza & Michael Narea, founders of Transcend Network - Their newsletter and open theses (image below) on the future of education and work have been so valuable in helping me understand the higher education market. Now, I am grateful to be part of their community, because being a founder can be a lonely journey.
Victoria Ransom, cofounder of Prisma - Prisma is an innovative online school for 4-8th graders who want an education tailored to their interests, abilities, and goals for the future. I will be interviewing her about Prisma to help contribute to my Evolve thesis on K-12 education.
Shauna Anderson, cofounder of Uschool - Uschool partners with your family to create personalized, remote learning paths built around your child’s distinct passions and goals. Just like a financial advisor recommends the best investments based on your financial situation, Uschool provides one on one learning advisors to create a personalized curriculum based on your child’s interests and learning abilities. Shauna is a fellow member of mine in Transcend’s Explorer Lab and has been a wealth of knowledge about curriculum.
📦 WHEN I Am I Leaving Spokane?
I am ONE WEEK from moving day! My wife and I are excited to be embarking on this new adventure. I recently got a hitch installed on our vehicle to tow a small trailer full of our things. We plan to take a week for the move to Austin because we are stopping in Colorado and Nebraska to see family. If you are in the Austin area, drop a comment below! Would love to chat.
✊ WILL You Take This Call To Action?
Who is it that you want to serve? Who is your minimal viable audience that would make your idea successful? Who is your dream customer?
Identify that group of people. Then study them. Understand them. Know them better then they know themselves.
Get out from behind the computer and have some real conversations with them. So this week, if you know who your customers are, setup some times to chat with them over zoom or in person. Find out what their pains are. What they are afraid of. What they desire most. What they dream about. What they NEED most.
Then simply build something to fulfill that need.