August 10

Minimum Viable Projects: How to Apply Lean Startup Principles to Creative Endeavors

Creative people are often paralyzed by the curse of knowledge, fear of public opinion, or other internal problems. One way around this to to apply lean startup principles to creative endeavors by starting a minimum viable project.

This approach to creative projects that’s beneficial to both the creator and his or her audience. With the right attitude and mindset, a minimum viable project can become something that changes your life and career.

Why You Should Start a Minimum Viable Project

apply lean startup principles to creative endeavors
Photographer: Bench Accounting | Source: Unsplash

When you start a minimum viable project, you apply Lean Startup principles to creative endeavors. You climb a hill before you attempt to climb a mountain. Start small

– helps you learn from what happens as quickly as possible.

– Reduce time, risk, and effort so you don’t get to the top only to find you hate the view.

– Teaches you to weigh the possible with the probable.

A minimally profitable project is a small bet. Even if you fail, small bets shift your focus from what you lost to what you learned.

If you have an idea that you’ve wanted to pursue for years but can’t find the time or are paralyzed by fear, a minimum viable project is a good first step.

The Minimum Viable Project Mindset

apply lean startup principles to creative endeavors
Photographer: Andreas Klassen | Source: Unsplash

I’ve written books that no one has read, started courses that no one has bought, and planned conferences that we’d have to cancel because we didn’t sell enough tickets. The ONLY reason I’ve ever created something worth consuming is that I’ve created so much.

If you’re wondering how to keep going when so many projects fail, there are a few things to consider.

  • As Seth Godin says before every project “this might not work“… Your date, your startup, your charity, your creative venture, your attempt to raise your child. In life and business, nothing is guaranteed and anything is possible. The only way to find out is to try.
  • If you take enough risks, you’ll end up being right about something. Great creative work is risky, uncertain, and unpredictable. But you only have to be right once
  • Creative ideas that fail are detours, not dead ends. We forget that for every project that never saw the light of day or was commercially unsuccessful, we produce knowledge assets that we can use at any point in a creative journey. As Robert Greene once said to me, “No experience in your life should be considered wasted.”

When you focus on a minimum of viable projects, curiosity frees you from attachment to the outcome. If your only goal is to learn something, you’ll learn valuable lessons from each project that you can apply to the next.

5 Steps to Apply Lean Startup Principles to Creative Endeavors

apply lean startup principles to creative endeavors
Photographer: Per Lööv | Source: Unsplash

Step 1: Capture Your Ideas

No one lacks ideas, but they do lack the discipline to capture their ideas. Amazing ideas never see the light of day because people don’t write them down.

It doesn’t matter if you record your ideas in digital or analog form. You can use a bullet journal, notepad, Spark file, or set up a second brain. The only thing that matters is that you have a central repository where you record your ideas.

2. Validate Your Idea

  • A true experiment follows the scientific method. It starts with a clear hypothesis that makes predictions about what should happen. – Eric Reis, The Lean Startup

The goal of a minimal project is to develop a hypothesis and conduct an experiment that allows you to validate your assumptions with the least amount of time and cost.

  • First, you need what Alberto Savoia calls a “Market Engagement Hypothesis,” which Alberto says “identifies your main belief or assumption about how the market will deal with your idea.”
  • Second, you need an XYZ hypothesis, “X% is a certain percentage of your target market. Y is a clear description of your target market. Z is how you expect the market to engage with your idea,” says Alberto.

Validation gives you data points. With each positive data point, you raise the stakes and invest a little more time, money, and effort.

3. Beware of False Positives

“Creative people, naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t. Ideas that other people have ready had. Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas” says Ryan Holiday.

Minimum viable projects are the way to avoid wasting time on false-positive ideas. As Ryan Holiday says in his book Perennial Seller, “you can reduce the number of failures by getting at least some of your work in front of an audience. A book should be an article before it’s a book, and a dinner conversation before it’s an article.”

That way, you reduce the risk of writing a book no one wants to read or developing a product no one wants to buy.

4. Iterate/Abandon

“The value hypothesis tests whether a product or service really delivers value to customers once it’s used,” says Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup. A Minimum Viable Project allows you to test whether a product truly delivers value to consumers at low risk and low cost. This doesn’t just apply to tech startups.

Chris Rock’s national comedy tour is the result of a series of minimum viable projects.

  • He performs at open mic nights to test his material.
  • If some of his material flops, he may revise it or abandon it altogether.
  • By the time he’s on stage for a national comedy tour, he knows the material is funny.

Rock’s process is what Eric Reis calls a “build-measure-learn” feedback loop. Rock builds part of his program, gages audience reaction at open-mic nights, and learns from it what he should change or abandon altogether. Ultimately, what Chris Rock does is apply lean startup principles to creative endeavors.

5. Raise the Stakes and Execute

Nobody gives a shit what you’re going to start. The only thing that matters is what you finish. Think of all the people who announce they’re writing a book, starting a business, or launching a podcast. To protect the identity of these people, I’ve obscured their names and faces.

Even if you make the effort to validate your idea and improve it based on the feedback you receive, it’s all for naught if you don’t implement your idea.

Examples of How to Apply Lean Startup Principles to Creative Endeavors

Photographer: Green Chameleon | Source: Unsplash

Below are three examples of how to apply Lean Startup principles to planning a conference, starting a YouTube channel, and launching the Unmistakable Creative Podcast. In each example, you’ll see how to apply Lean Startup principles to a creative endeavor

The Instigator Inexperience

Photographer: Alvaro Reyes | Source: Unsplash

The biggest mistake you can make when planning an event is to invest money before someone buys a ticket. My mentor Greg had a cardinal rule: “The only money you should spend is the money that comes from ticket sales.” If you book a venue for $5,000 and no one buys a ticket, you’re screwed.

The Market Engagement Hypothesis

To plan the Instigator Experience, I created a landing page in June 2013 with the following text:

This isn’t your typical business conference: none of the usual suspects, no hotel ballrooms, corporate offices, or conference centers.

Below the text was a form where visitors could enter their email addresses. The landing page was a little bit; it took two minutes to create and didn’t cost me a penny. My market engagement hypothesis was that people want to attend a unique conference with speakers they haven’t heard a million times before.

XYZ Hypothesis

Over the next 6 months, I shared this site with people at other conferences, mentioned it in our newsletter, and talked about it on the podcast.

  • When speakers confirmed, I didn’t publish their names. I added a silhouette and description of them. The puzzle was a way to use gaps in knowledge to create curiosity and generate interest
  • Our XYZ hypothesis was that 60 people (x) on our email list (y) would spend $1300 for a ticket to our event (z).

On launch day, 600 people were on the pre-launch list, speakers emailed their lists, we received over 130 applications for 60 seats, and the event sold out within 2 weeks.

The lesson: Even if it takes you 2 minutes to formulate your hypothesis, it can take 6 months to confirm it.

Turning $5.00 a day into a 7-figure business

Photographer: Carlos Muza | Source: Unsplash

My best friend Gareth Pronovost is the founder of Gap Consulting, a company that helps individuals and businesses automate tedious and repetitive tasks. He started his business by recording a ONE youtube tutorial on how to use Airtable. The description included a link to a simple landing page for people interested in hiring him. By the end of the first month, the business had made $10,000.00 in sales.

The Market Engagement Hypothesis

Gareth’s market engagement hypothesis was that people wanted to automate repetitive tasks and design workflows for people to stay in their zone of genius.

XYZ hypothesis

Gareth’s XYZ hypothesis was that X percent of people who watched his videos (y) would sign up for an initial consultation (z).

Since he only spent $5.00 per day on advertising and started recording a video, he was able to validate his hypothesis with as little time and money as possible.

Today, he has one non-negotiable habit: posting a video on his YouTube channel every week. He’s built a business that will generate seven figures in revenue by 2022. But it all started with a single YouTube video, and to this day, that video generates leads that eventually turn into paying customers.

The Minimum Viable Podcast

Photographer: Amr Taha™ | Source: Unsplash

In 2009, I plugged a microphone into a laptop, recorded a conversation, and uploaded an mp3 file with a few bullet points to my blog. 13 years later, I’m making a living with what started as the Minimum Viable Podcast.

The biggest mistake aspiring podcasters make is spending a fortune on recording equipment, fancy websites, and other unnecessary resources before recording a single episode. There are two reasons why this is a bad idea

1. You might find that you don’t enjoy recording a podcast

2. Maybe no one wants to listen to what you produce.

The Lean Startup methodology helps you avoid both.

A few years ago at Unmistakable Creative, we aired a special that explored Mandi Len Katron’s 36 Questions and the Mystery of Love. In a way, that episode served to test the viability of another podcast I was considering, which I describe below.

How do you know when love is real, is there such a thing as love at first sight, and how do people who’re building lasting love make the most important decision of their lives? In each season, we talk to 7 couples who tell us their story of how they met, how they overcame their challenges, and what tips they’ve for building lasting love.

If this sounds interesting to you, enter your email address on this page.

The landing page is the first small bet that will help me validate the market opportunity with minimal time and effort. If thousands of people sign up, I’ll know I’m on to something and that it might be worth producing a few episodes. If not, it would be a waste of time.

When you apply lean Startup principles to creative endeavors, you reduce risk and get closer to your goals. You’re also less likely to get frustrated and give up when something doesn’t go the way you envisioned.


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