The Ultimate Startup business model: Build a Minimal Viable Audience

Kris Trinity
Apr 30, 2017 · 15 min read

Here is a simple test:

You are about to embark on a journey which will require you to travel a few miles to a small tomato field, pick the freshest produce and deliver it back to your home.

You have two aids to assist you on your journey: a horse and a cart.

Question: Which one pulls the other? The cart or the horse?

The answer is simple, right? Or is it?

Let’s look at this another way…

One day, a guy comes up with an idea for a really cool teeshirt. Let’s call him ‘Cool Teeshirt Dude’.

He thinks to himself…

“Man… this teeshirt idea is awesome… I mean, Darth Vader delivering his wife’s baby while saying ‘Baby, I am your father’ is hilarious!

If I’m in love with this teeshirt I’m sure hundreds… I mean thousands of others would love it equally as much and buy it!”

So, Cool Teeshirt dude decides to:

  1. Pay a graphic designer to design the tee
  2. Pays a graphic designer to design his logo and stationary.
  3. Purchases and registers a domain name
  4. Pays for website hosting
  5. Has his site developed by a web designer
  6. Purchases a shopping cart plugin for his site
  7. Opens up social media accounts for his new brand
  8. Prints off a run of 100 t-shirts. (he figures that bulk purchasing is cheaper and his product will fly off the shelf)
  9. He registers his company and incorporates it into a Limited company.

All of these activities have two things in common: Time and money.

6 months later and with a layout of £2,000 (to be conservative) his business is ready to roll.

His site is launched and he uploads pictures of his Tees in various colours to Facebook and Instagram and asks his family and friends to share them.

2 weeks later…


Why hasn’t the shopping cart app on his phone been pinging like crazy! Where is all of the support and love that he expected to recieve?

Here are the two mistakes he made:

  1. Beyond his immediate circle of buddies, where did he go for product idea validation?
  2. He launched his business into a non-existent marketplace.

Yes, Cool Teeshirt dude well and truly put his Cart (Idea’s, money, time, effort, etc) before the Horse (his customers).

The universal lesson is that it’s customers, not idea’s which propel any and every business forward.

Sadly, this mistake is made by aspirational entrepreneurs and business owners every single day.

What’s the solution? How do you too avoid the rot, get more customers and build a self-sustaining business?

Build a Minimal Viable Audience.

What is a Minimal Viable Audience?

In his 2011 bestselling book, “The Lean Startup” (great read BTW) Eric Ries coined the phrase Minimal Viable Product.

A Minimal Viable Product (MVP) means developing a product (or service) to an ‘acceptable’ standard and bringing onboard customers before developing it into a more enhanced version of the original concept i.e. the finished version.

This is a very well-worn business model; it allows the business to be flexible and adaptable to the audience’s needs and wants. The business can then make iterations of the product using the customer’s feedback to perfect it.

Minimal Viable Audience is a term which Brian Clark of Copyblogger came up with after reading Eric’s book.

Brians business model was different to what Eric was advocating; Brian focused on deciding which product to build once he had ban audience first.

By creating a business model which focused on audience first, Brian has gone on to build multiple 7 figure businesses and is one of the most respected thought leaders in the content marketing space.

“We started first by building an audience, and that’s how we found our scalable business model and became a “real” company.

Serving that audience with valuable free content revealed loads of useful insight into the problems and desires not currently met in the broader market.

This (business model) led to better initial sales momentum, higher customer satisfaction, and ultimately more profit.

Using this process, we’ve never launched a product or service that’s failed. This is why I advocate you start first with a minimum viable audience.”

- Brian Clark, The Unfair Business Advantage

Content creation is the key to building a Minimal Viable Audience.

This means blogging, vlogging, podcasting and other types of audio programmes.

Who has successfully built a Minimal Viable Audience?

Here is where things get exciting…

Brian is not an anomaly.

In fact, there are THOUSANDS of successful businesses which are being launched every day who use this exact same business model. Here are some examples of the best of the best:

  • Entrepreneur On Fire
John Lee Dumas Entrepreneur on fire
John Lee Dumas Entrepreneur on fire

Launched by John Lee Dumas in 2012, Entrepreneur On Fire is a daily (7 days a week) podcast.

John interviews business owners, coaches and thought leaders from around the world.

Famous past guests have included Tony Robbins, Russell Brunson, Michael Port and many others.

Since its launch, John has become one of the most diverse entrepreneurs on the planet. He is an author, a well recognised public speaker, he has created several online courses and he is also the co-founder of Podcast Websites, which is a SaaS business specifically for thriving podcasters.

Take a look at some of his eye-watering monthly income reports.

All of this came from a simple idea- a podcast which interviews entrepreneurs 7 days a week.

From the beginning till today, his audience profile has not changed- he focuses on helping small business owners and solopreneurs from around the world.

  • Hypebeast
kevin ma hypebeast
kevin ma hypebeast

Kevin Ma was a teenage sneaker enthusiast, living in his mum’s house when he launched Hypebeast.

The site started as a sneaker blog, reviewing the latest Air Jordan’s or Adidas.

Since then, Hypebeast has become a dominant global eCommerce store, selling the latest fashion items from designers like Raf Simons, Hood By Air and Adidas.

They have also launched a creative and design studio which works with brands like Gucci on advertising campaigns.

In 2015 the fashion giant had over 8 million visitors to their network of websites per month and had a turnover of $7.2 million.

Who was Kevin’s original audience? Teenage sneaker fanatics like himself.

  • Arsenal Fan TV
Robbie Arsenal Fan TV
Robbie Arsenal Fan TV

Arsenal is one of the world’s largest football clubs, playing in the British Premier League.

In 2012, ex-reggae singer Robbie Lyle aka Robbie Crucial, launched his channel, Arsenal Fan TV which has since become a viral phenomenon.

Each weekend during the football season, Robbie travels across the country to interview Arsenal fans before and after the games.

Depending on the team’s fortune that week, the outcome of each fan interview varies from passion and joy to graphic rants.

Here are some of the funnier clips (NSFW):

Robbie now sells merchandise on his own website. The channel is sponsored by one of the largest online gambling companies in the UK (Ladbrokes).

He has 445,000 followers on YouTube and his videos have received a mind-blowing 228,646,744 million views.

But Robbie isn’t stopping there… he is a content machine, producing 5–10 new videos every single week!

His original audience was Arsenal Fans based in the UK. He now has a massive global following.

  • Trap Kitchen
Trap Kitchen
Trap Kitchen

Trap Kitchen is a catering company based in South Central L.A. by two former gang-bangers, Spank and Bad News.

Both qualified Sous Chef’s, they started the business by creating exciting and mouth-watering BBQ meals and uploading pictures of their creations to Instagram.

The feedback to their pictures was so overwhelmingly positive, they decided to start making and delivering food to the local community- all of which is sold exclusively via Instagram.

Trap Kitchen Instagram
Trap Kitchen Instagram

Since joining Instagram, they have consistently uploaded videos and pictures of their food creations attracting an audience of over 185,000 fans.

Today, they are a fully fledged catering company who are about to open their first restaurant in South Central.

Their audience? Foodies from L.A. who love BBQ and creole fusion food.

How to Build a Minimal Viable Audience.

So, there are a few things we need to focus on in order to create a strategy for building an MVA.

Thing #1: How big should your initial MVA be?

Some people may be put off by the above examples. Keep in mind that those content creators have been building their audience of millions of fans over the period of several years…

The good news is that building an MVA may not even require a fraction of some of the above numbers.

In a recent interview on the Smart Passive Income Podcast, Clay Collins, the founder of Leadpages discussed how he built his MVA:

“Building a product first is absolutely not the right way to go. Building an audience is hands down the best business education you can get. Let your communication with that audience dictate where you go with your business.

It should take between 3–6 months to get an audience of 2,000 email subscribers.

The truth is that if you cannot get 2,000 people to subscribe to your content then, the odds of getting people to buy your products are slim to none because you just won’t have the marketing chops to make that happen.”

Clay knows what he is talking about. He used his MVA as a springboard to built Leadpages from the ground up and go on to own a multi-million dollar software empire (last year, his group of companies turn over $27m).

Your initial MVA should be 2,000 email subscribers.

Thing #2: What type of content should you produce?

There are 3 mediums for you to consider and your answer entirely depends upon which medium you feel comfortable creating content on and more importantly, what type of content your audience prefer to consume.

If you feel comfortable in front of a camera, your presentation skills are decent and you have an environment to create consistently in, a video is definitely the way to go. Creating video content does not have to be expensive, you can use your smartphone and get started with some other equipment for under $300. (hyperlink to download).

Creating video content does not have to be expensive, you can use your smartphone and get started with some other equipment for under $300. (hyperlink to download).

If you are not so comfortable in front of a camera, but you feel that your presentation skills are on point, you could focus on creating a podcast. John Lee Dumas is definitely the guy to check out to help you get started.

Alternatively, If your writing skills are good and you prefer communicating to your audience in written format then a blog is your best option.

Thing #3: What channel should your content be hosted on?

If you do not already have a website, a WordPress blog is a great place to start. It’s free and fairly easy to manage.

Medium is also a fantastic channel, with a built-in audience (i.e. they already have millions of visitors per month). However, be warned about building your house on rented land… which brings us onto the next thing…

Thing #4: What part does Social Media play in building an MVA?

Social Media is the coal to your MVA furnace. It gets the fire going!

The beauty of using Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. is that they all have built-in audiences. In other words, among the millions of visitors each channel receives every day, your ideal target audience most likely already occupy one or more of those channels.

The problem is, you do not actually own that audience- The social media channel owns the audience.

Owning an audience means to have direct access to those individuals which you control. In other words, if Facebook disappeared tomorrow (remember myspace?) then your audience are gone! Poof!

In order for you to own that audience you must be able to access them on your terms- Having an email address, telephone number, mailing address is how you begin to build an audience.

Use your preferred social media site as a vehicle to channel your audience back onto your own channel.

Thing #5: What should your content be about?

Assuming that your business or business idea is related to something you are passionate about, your content should focus more broadly on this topic.

Remember Kevin Ma from Hypebeast? His blog was originally focused on sneakers- more specifically Air Jordans. He then expanded it to start looking at popular fashion.

If you are passionate about productivity and would like to build a SaaS business which helps people to be more productive, create a blog which focuses on helping people to become more productive with there time, sleeping habits, family life, etc.

I have 5 exciting examples of different content ideas for different businesses from different industries. Whatever your business is, this will help you to get started building an MVA before you spend a penny developing a product.

It’s free and it’s awesome :-) Download it here:

Click here to subscribe” style=”box-sizing: border-box;”>Click here to subscribe” style=”box-sizing: border-box;”>

<script src="//" async defer></script> <a href="" data-leadbox-popup="1411e0873f72a2:122e7de49346dc">Click here to subscribe</a>

Thing #6: How do you build an email list of subscribers?

The good news is, this is fairly easy, but it does require a small investment- which will be worth it if you are determined to build an MVA of 2,000 subscribers in 3–6 months. (not affiliate links)

1. Leadpages- I personally Leadpages on my blog and for some of my client’s websites. It’s super easy to use and starts at only $37 per month.

2. SumoMe- This is a great and versatile tool which allows you to create email opt-in pop-ups. It’s free, however, some of the more advanced features come with paid options.

Thing #7: How often should you create new content

This is a tricky question to answer. The easiest answer to give is- it depends!

It depends on what type of content it is (video, audio, written, images, etc.)

It depends on which social channel you are using to build an MVA

It depends on how quickly and efficiently you can deploy that content

It depends on how good the quality of your content is.

The founder of the Content Marketing Institute and also someone who has built an international business off the back of the MVA business model, Joe Pulizzi, suggests that asking yourself these two questions every time you produce content is the correct answer:

“As long as the blog post serves these two goals it’s worth doing a post:

1. Is a compelling and interesting story to your target audience (the reader), and
2. Serves the objective for your blog

If that means five posts per week, great. If it’s one per week, that’s fine to. Focus on whether or not you have a story worth telling.
This, combined with consistency, is the key.

Any content marketing initiative is a promise to your customers. Once you find a frequency, such as two times per week, you need to stay with that frequency to keep your content promise.”

Keep those two questions in mind every time you think of pressing “Post” “Publish” or sharing with your friends and family.

Speaking of which…

Thing #8: How do you respond to feedback?

Firstly, your content does not have to go “viral” in order for you to build your MVA.

Your goal should be to ask your seed audience (friends and family) to share and subscribe to your content. Looking through your phone book and your friend’s list on Facebook, you should easily be able to get to 200 subscribers in a few days by simply asking them for their email address.

Looking through your phone book and your friend’s list on Facebook, you should easily be able to get to 200 subscribers in a few days by simply asking them for their email address.

Once you have their email address, you could either keep it in a spreadsheet or open a free Mailchimp account. Mailchimp is one of the world’s leading email service providers.

Your next job is to ask them to kindly share your content or to tag them into your latest post.

Clay Collins says:

“Every time you produce a new piece of content you are essentially launching a new idea into your market and learning which concepts take hold and which don’t.

It’s important to understand how your audience responds to concepts and ideas, calls to action etc.”

On your journey towards 2,000 subscribers, be sure to reply to EVERYBODY who comments, likes or shares your post.

It’s important to acknowledge your growing audience for their support and kind gestures. This helps to keep the momentum of your content spreading.

Always keep in mind that your №1 objective is to have those individuals subscribe to your blog.

Thing #9: What mistakes or pitfalls should you avoid at all costs?

The number one mistake people make when trying to build an MVA is giving up too soon.

The reason people don’t focus on working towards building an MVA is because it’s damn hard work.

It’s easier to think of an idea, then to actually do the work before hand to validate the idea.

Creating an MVA is essentially market research. You are throwing different types crap at a wall and seeing which animals crap sticks the best (apologies for the horrible visual).

Probably the second most likely problem people face with this is that they are scared to share their ideas and content with friends and family. They may feel that their content is not as good as it could be or that their views and opinions may not be popular.

To both of those things I would suggest you read Clay’s quote again:

“The truth is that if you cannot get 2,000 people to subscribe to your content then, the odds of getting people to buy your products are slim to none because you just won’t have the marketing chops to make that happen.”

To be a successful business owner you need to have a certain level of fearlessness. If you can not get over this hurdle it will be impossible for you to be successful. Nothing starts off perfectly. It takes time to become highly skilled at creating content.

Believe in the process and get to work.

Thing #10: How do you know when you are ready to start creating a business?

So, you have your 2,000 subscribers. Time to start thinking about building a business right?

But how do you take your experiences over the past 3–6 months and convert that into a business which your MVA will want embrace and support, by way of parting with cold hard cash?

Brian Clark says that there are 3 things which you should observe once you have built your MVA.

  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.

The last observation is probably the most crucial- You understand EXACTLY what problems your audience need to be solved or what desires they want to be fulfilled.

All businesses serve one of two purposes for their customer base, they either:

a) Solve a problem.

b) Fulfil a desire.

The best businesses in the world (such as Apple) are able to straddle both sides of the fence.

Think about the response that Apple gets every time they release a new iPhone- thousands of customers around the world queue outside for days in order to be one of the first people to own the phone.

What motivates these people to go through that drama to get that particular model of phone, when there is an infinite number of other smartphones available on the market?

Apple is tapped into its customer bases psyche:

Owning the latest iPhone means something to those customers. It says something about the individual.

It could be that they will feel like a leader amongst their peers.

The purpose of a smartphone is to help us connect with others (problem solved). It just so happens that Apple makes smartphones which are well designed and say something about the person who owns them.

Once you have built your MVA, the next step is to decide whether your business idea can serve two purposes at once.

If it can, you are onto a sure fire winner ;-)

You can start building your Minimal Viable Audience today.

There are thousands of successful case studies of companies who use this business model extremely successfully, but at the heart of it is the creation of content…

Your content is a gateway asset. Content marketing is the horse which pulls the cart filled with entrepreneurial ambitions and ideas.

Put it to work!

Originally published at Revolution Content Marketing.

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