The Minimum Viable Network: Introduction

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A few months ago, I was discussing with my friend Jason Rowley how it seemed to me that so many people on Twitter talked about how to build and ship a minimum viable product, yet didn’t seem to be utilizing similar strategies to build their networks. A lot of thought appeared to be given to the prospect and process of building a product prototype, but little seemed aimed at cultivating the seeds that real networks take to germinate into robust synchronicities.

For those unfamiliar with it, the “minimum viable product” (or MVP) concept is a strategy for efficiently building, releasing, gaining feedback on, and improving a product and/or service with as few financial and personnel resources as possible. It’s become a mantra in the tech world, and there are whole books and courses dedicated to understanding how best to achieve this.

(Another friend, Andy Sparks, is currently working on a project compiling some of these great resources for founders.)  

During the course of our conversation, though, it struck me just how much people’s strategy seems to differ when it comes to building and maintaining one’s network. It occurred to me after some reflection that this is because building a network—cultivating relationships—is everything that the MVP strategy is not. Whereas the MVP strategy is barebones (bootstrapped), fast, clean, efficient, direct, and requires comparatively little personal nuance, building real relationships can be robust, messy, time-consuming, arduous, abstract, and doesn’t just require a human touch, but a touch all your own.

And as I thought more about it, I began to conceive of a new idea—a new strategy: the Minimum Viable Network.

How could one build a network without having the same benefits that others might have? What if you don’t have the “required” skills? What if you’re in a different city than many of the other people you want to connect with? What if you’ve studied something different in college? Or not gone to college at all? What if your passion and drive is in an industry that others already consider over? What if your overall strengths are different and sometimes hard to articulate?

A lot of these questions came from a place of personal experience. I’m in the startup tech industry, and yet:

  • I live in Atlanta, not San Francisco, LA, or New York
  • I studied history and art history at Brandeis, not engineering at Stanford
  • I’m a non-tech founder; I don’t code
  • My passion is music; my first startup was a music-tech startup
  • I still see huge signs that music—an industry many argue is already over—is still very much up for grabs
  • I don’t excel at code or designing, but I’m a good writer and I’m good with people

I began to think about all the strategies of the MVP process and how to augment them for the MVN process. Bullet-points and adages need to become more fluid—less rigid—and the length of time needs to extend greatly, from trying to build and ship within a couple of weeks to focusing on cultivating a persona and relationship over the course of a few years.

People, after all, are not products, and won’t act as such. They are irrational, emotional, passionate, driven, and abstract—everything which the MVP doesn’t account for. In the end, it’s all about the human calculation factor.

So this will be a continuing series on how to do just that: understand people and relationships, and how to build your own Minimum Viable Network.

Among other things, I’ll discuss:

  • How to approach people and broach new relationships
  • How to be valuable without being aggressive
  • The difference between reading someone and manipulating them (strive to understand the first, never do the second)
  • How relationships evolve over time
  • How to work with flighty or mercurial individuals
  • How to weigh potential relationships
  • How to match-make
  • How to create a personal brand as “someone to know”  

Life is relationships.

Let’s begin.

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Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business.

Be Stupidly Magnetic

Just about a year ago, Satya Patel posted a piece which I recently reread about raising money. His thesis, namely that making your audience really believe, is the key dynamic in raising funds. Among his main points, Patel points to the fact that emotion is a major factor for investing VC’s, and that emotional connection to a product, service or team can many times be what attracts their attention. This “emotional resonance” as Patel puts it, is what creates the belief; not only in VC’s, but I would venture so far to say in customers as well.

Emotional resonance is a human calculation. Despite the fact that some people like to think that they can “program” and predict the emotions and reactions of others, this is rarely (if ever) true. Humans are the very definition of unpredictable, and to think that you can “game” someone’s reactions is pure hubris.

Community Is the Angel of Loyalty and Second Chances

Patel’s post examines the “emotional resonance” dynamic from three angles within the context of fundraising, particularly at the seed level. The first, and by far most important of these, is the people angle. People are what your company is made up of, and what you build your community around.

Belief in a company’s prospects in the end comes down to the people running it and building it. It comes down to how they see (or don’t see) themselves and their customers. Community is the angel of loyalty and second chances; when something goes wrong (and many, many things inevitably will), community is the thing that will keep your wheels turning long enough to get past the potholes.

Arguably the best investment any team and/or company can make is in the development of their communal dynamics. In people-based industries like music, media, social, messaging, and even news, if your community sucks, you’re dead (Ello seems to come to mind here). When you’ve built a community that rallies around your team and your product/service, people take note, and it’s a lot easier to make them believe. Dynamic, loyal communities of people are magnetic, and groups of disengaged, fly-by-night users are not, it’s that simple. Be magnetic. Be so magnetic that people can’t stand not to be around you.

Potential Is a Human Calculation

The second point which Patel brings up is potential. Potential is a little more intricate because it’s based so much on the people factor. As per Patel’s argument, make VC’s (or anybody) feel that they need to be a part of the problem you’re solving. This in effect is an extension of the first point, as it’s a similar human calculation, understanding what types of things the VC/person identifies with. How do they see themselves outside the office, and what excites them? Identify the VC’s who will look at your company and get that fire in their belly. In the case of music, for example, find those people who are true fans. The ones who go to concerts, make musical analogies, and wanted to be rock stars at some point in their lives. Find the people who speak your language, that’s the real potential. Some people call this “targeting” but I just think of it as “who do I want to go to a concert with and introduce to the band afterwards.”

Proof and Magnetism

Proof is the last thing Patel brings up. He notes that as an early stage company you won’t have it anyway, so just accept that and move on. Proof is demonstrated by belief. Belief is exhibited less by numbers and more by people and emotional resonance. It’s a calculation that even if the numbers don’t look good, that person or team can figure out a way out of the quagmire. Magnetism is the child of positivity, vision, and tenacity. It is so attractive precisely because it creates in people’s minds a sort of fabricated exclusivity; a feeling that if they’re not the ones to surround you then it will be someone else, and that in itself is an attractive trait. Be stupidly magnetic, the rest will follow.