144. Eric Ries & Ondi Timoner’s 10 Lean Content Rules to Launch A Successful Project

Eric Ries & Ondi Timoner of Lean Content's E Course

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As one of 9,677 Kickstarter backers for Eric Ries’ The Leader’s Guide, I was given complimentary access to The Lean Content Kickstarter Full ECourse.

Here are a few of my takeaways gleaned from this course. Click here to learn more.]

1. The Genesis of Lean Startup

“Ignorance is optional; there is no longer information you cannot get access to.” Eric Ries

2. Content As A Business

“Who is my customer and what problem of theirs am I solving?… Where do I find them, and how do I let them know what I’m doing?” Emily Best of Seed & Spark

“Write down who you believe your audience is, and how will you know that you got them? How will you know it’s a success? What do you want to accomplish?” Eric Ries

[EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn how to identify and understand your customer, read my interviews with Ivan Pejcic, Strategic Planner for Ogilvy and Peter Spear, Brand Listener as well as the talk The Next Revolution Will Be Psychological Not Technological by Rory Sutherland, also from Ogilvy.]

3. Creating An MVP – A Minimal Viable Product

A minimum viable product is “a product created with as little time and money as possible in order to test the market appetite.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how to create your miminum viable product, watch the ycombinator lecture How to Build Products That Your Users Will Love by Kevin Hale and Growing From Zero to Many Users by Adora Cheung.]

Learn from your failures. Originally beginning as The Point and spending a year and $1 Million trying to become a website that organized social movements through petitions, Groupon pivoted and offered a “Buy One Pizza, Get One Free” Coupon as a minimum viable product. They sent this coupon out to everyone they knew and found their first 20 customers to redeem the coupon. This important pivot and first coupon is what turned Groupon into the company that made them the fastest company in history to reach $1 Billion in sales.

Always add from a place of success. You can always add to and deepen your customer base, but to do this you must add from an existing customer base; a place of success rather than trying to learn from something that is half done.

Movie trailers are the main way people decide whether or not they will pay to watch a movie. For every successful movie, somebody had to see it first. Not because their friends saw it and said it was cool, but because they saw an advertisement or a trailer for it that made them say ‘Yes, this is a movie that I really want to see.’” So before you make the entire movie, consider shooting just the trailer. If nobody wants to see the trailer, then why make the movie?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how Netflix and Amazon test movie and series releases, watch the TED talk How Netflix and Amazon Pleasure You through Data-Driven Algorithms.]

Test customer reaction. The film Dear White People by Justin Simien began as a simple twitter feed (@DearWhitePeople) from the voice of one female main character, and the twitter fan’s reactions formed what would become the film which would premier at Sundance Film Festival.

Emily Best of Seed & Spark

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist uses his blog postings and comments section can become a feedback loop which serves as your minimum viable product.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with William Channer of Dorm Room Tycoons that he prefers to forego a comments section because most comments tend to be noise – they don’t really add anything to the quality of the initial content. And when you’re sitting in front of someone really wise, you tend to prefer to be quiet and listen to what they have to say. Therefore DRT is designed to have the attention fully focused on the person being interviewed.]

A value proposition is “an innovative service or feature that makes a company or product attractive to customers.” How is what you’re creating valuable, impactful, and meaningful to your audience? Ondi Timoner

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more in identifying and building upon your value proposition, watch the ycombinator lectures Create A Successful, Long-Term Company Culture by Brian Chesky and Alfred Lin.]

One idea can turn into one 140 character tweet which can turn into a lead to a new book, painting, or idea which can turn into a blog post which can turn into a full fledged book. Austin Kleon of Steal Like an Artist

What are ten different minimum viable products you could create to test the validity of your business to reach who you believe your target audience is?

4. The Build, Measure, Learn Feedback Loop

With your minimum viable product created, now it’s time to hone and expound upon it. Google analytics and other measurement software allow you to track the evolution of your product and business idea in real-time.

The point is not how fast you can make and improve your work, but how fast you can verify that you are on the right track to creating what customers want. If I keep putting my work out there and nobody is responding the way I want them to, am I really doing what I want to do?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on managing consumer feedback to improve your product offer, watch the talks:

There isn’t enough sharing of failures to be able to successfully create a broad, sweeping movement towards success. Emily Best of Seed & Spark

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall that Rory Sutherland’s argues in his talk The Next Revolution Will Be Psychological Not Technological that were the percentage of successful startups to increase by a mere 10% while the % of failed startups decrease significantly because we reached a point where we understand and predict humans well enough that we could just slightly increase the odds of success, the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could be increased by up to 2.6%. Rory posits that the next improvement in economic growth might actually come from improvements in marketing efficiency; particularly in our understanding of human behavioral economics.]

Vanity metrics are “data collected about a company or its users that does not help entrepreneurs make decisions.” With your minimum viable product, the total amount of people that have viewed your content isn’t as important a metric as how engaged the people who view your content are.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more great information on understanding your metrics and SEOing your website, read my interview with Data Consultant Benjamin Descazal.]

Split testing, or A/B testing, involves “comparing a controlled factor with a changing factor and putting them side by side in order to measure the customer’s reaction.” If you want the odds of success in your favor, then you want to know ahead of time what your target audience thinks of your product, so you’ll need to test and measure what they like and what lures them in, and then incorporate those features into your product.

Your goal is to interact with customers and fans, but not necessarily to listen to what they have to say because by and large customers don’t know what they want until it’s staring them in the face.

What are three different platforms you could use to not only distribute your work, but also to get feedback on? Choose one of your minimum viable product ideas from above and throw it onto the internet. How are people responding to it?

5. The Pivot

In business, a pivot is “a change in strategy without a change in vision.” It’s imperative to look at a business’s idea at it’s very first origins rather than where it is today because almost every company out there today initially began as something different, although you can see the chain of thought in the process.

“When people tell entrepreneur startup stories, they tend to tell them in a way that makes the entrepreneur look like a genius.” Eric Ries

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in Tyler Cowen’s TED Talk Why You Should Be Suspious of The Stories You Hear that stories act as an information filter allowing the storyteller to pack a lot of information and social power into a brief narrative by ignoring certain bits of information while highlighting others, and the more inspiring a story makes you feel, the more nervous you should become because the best stories are often the trickiest ones.]

Markets and technology change so fast that having a five year business plan is risky, if not impossible. Waiting until you’ve created the perfect, flawless product is risky because by the time you’ve gotten it ‘perfect,’ the market around that product may have already moved on, or another company may have come in with a less then perfect product and stolen the market, having “perfected” their product to consumer needs along the way.

Launch. Keep what works. Throw away what doesn’t.

You can’t write for two audiences. Choose one.

Early adoptors prefer to actively seek out new and unknown products and services, whereas mainstream adopters are consumers who prefer to hear about products and services from friends. The vast majority of consumers aren’t, and prefer not to be, early adopters.

When launching your business, target early adopters before trying to go mainstream. If you cannot find any passionate early adopters, then there are no mainstream adopters either.

Imagine yourself in a position as though your current business idea were a failure. What would you need to know in this moment in order to make a good decision about the future of your business? Now set a meeting 4-6 weeks from today where you seriously evaluate the viability of your business, and now spend the next 4-6 weeks leading up to that meeting answering the question of what you would need to know in order to make a good decision about the future of your business.

6. Building A Fanbase

No matter how obscure your passion is, the power of the internet is its ability to help small, niche markets find each other. Meaning that a lot of people can make a successful living doing what they love that is only appreciated by a small amount of people; you don’t have to be an international hit to be successful.

“What’s cool about having an embarrasingly small number of followers is that you can get to know them extremely well.” Eric Ries

Whatever work you’re doing, as long as you’re able to at least slowly grow your list of followers, you’re gaining traction and getting closer to making your business viable.

There is no distinction between your product and your marketing. Everything about your customer’s experience is fundamental to your product.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how to build a wireframe for a product or service that is intuitive and customer-centric, watch the Step-By-Step User Interface Workshop by Janne Jul Jensen.]

The first 20% or so of your business funding will be your team and your friends and family. Next comes your social media network: schools and organizations you were involved in, etc. Beyond that you have complete strangers and those ouside of your circles of influence.

How quickly can you find five people who will give you their email address and join your list of supporters?

7. Financing Your Creativity

Today you don’t have to own the means of production in order to create high-quality products. You can rent them.

Create your own store and diversify your income as much as possible; don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Finance your business using multiple streams of income. When people understand and can see an actual list of what needs to be purchased, rented, outsourced, and managed as well as the estimated costs associated with each item on the list, people will more readily support you financially, or if not financially be able to provide the services and products you need.

Accelerators are organizations or investors that offer entrepreneurs mentorship, office space, and financial investment in exchange for a percentage of your business’s revenue.

Don’t be afraid to ask directly for contributions and sell your products for what you feel they are worth.

8. Approaches To Distribution

Uploading your content to be distributed online is easy. Getting people to actually want to consume and use your content is VERY difficult. The trick is building an audience once you’ve gotten your product/service distributed.

Niche markets are “highly specialized markets composed of customers that are like-minded and have similar interests.”

With thousands upon thousands of advertising impressions per day, how can you break through the noise and get noticed by your target audience?

Simple mathematics: the entrepreneurs who spend more time talking about their brand, product and service are the ones consumers will hear more about.

Making long-form content more digestible is important in today’s culture. Short content must be an element to your marketing plan.

You are as much your own distributor as you are your own marketer. Uploading your content and then doing nothing, nobody will see it. You have to make noise. Make alliances.

9. The Keys To Monetization

For every dollar you make, be prepared to give away a thousand times as much for free. Doing so builds the trust and reputation they need to feel comfortable giving you their money.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with entrepreneur and community manager Kevin Knight that “80% of what I do doesn’t bring in any immediate revenue. But if it weren’t for all of that unpaid work I wouldn’t be able to launch the next products. Everything you do should build upon what you’ve created before. Starting my simple blog gave me just enough followers to launch a successful event, which turned into a string of successful events which attracted even more followers, which allowed me to unite those followers into one successful Facebook group, which allowed me to launch a second, then a third… Having organized such a large community of 18,000+ followers allowed me to launch the Expatriates Magazine publication and sell the advertising space. If I had tried to launch my magazine without already having 18,000+ readers, it would have been much more difficult to sell the advertising space in the magazine.”]

Don’t make your best quality information available for free. Charge for it and then give away for free those remaining bits and pieces; the snippits on the cutting room floor. Doing so provides the back story to your paid product and further immerses your fans, making them all the more interested in what you offer and feel a connection with you, your morals and philosophy, and your world.

“If you make it convenient for people to give you money, they will.” Also, make the checkout process as streamlined as possible. You will always have those who steal and find ways to access your content without paying, but those who love and respect what you do will be willing to financially support you. Even those who don’t pay will become evangelists for you, telling others to check you out.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more informaiton on managing piracy, watch the documentary How to Ru(i)n A Business: Streaming & Filesharing Better Absorbed Than Fought and read my interview with entrepreneur and editor in chief of Ever Magazine Roc Chaliand.]

10. Going Back to The Gatekeepers

For more information & enrollment in this Lean Content ECourse, click here.

72. William Channer on How to Build a Successful Podcast & Reconsidering Your Comments Section

imageDesigner, founder and journalist, William Channer has +10 years experience enabling and inspiring startups through apps, books and podcasts on advertising, business, design and technology.

How and why did you start Dorm Room Tycoons (DRT)? My co-founder and I started DRT while in university in order to get my hands on information we normally couldn’t find in text books and in class – hence the name Dorm Room Tycoons. We started by following and reading popular blogs such as Ryan Singer at Basecamp and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, but after a while we thought “Instead of just reading these blogs, why don’t we actually interview the guys behind them: speak to them first hand and see what they have to share?”

But rather than asking your typical ‘generalist-generalist’ questions you see quite often, I asked questions that myself and, I assume, a lot of people specifically wanted to know more about.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In my interview, Hervé Godard of Blake Magazine likewise suggests meeting the owner(s) and the people in charge as often as possible because often times there’s an interesting story behind how the company or product came into existence. Perhaps two people who normally should never have crossed paths, but somehow did and it turned into the company they represent today.]

This is how I discovered advertising and was really inspired during my interview with John Hegarty, and decided that I wanted to work for somebody like him. So I used DRT to get my foot in the door and interview the top ad guys (Rory Sutherland, Dave Trott…) at the advertising agencies in London. I leveraged my interviews and was smart about it, and as a result of my interviews I did get a job as a copywriter for BBH London and creative for AKQA.

I’ve also written on technology for sites like The Guardian and Designmodo. My publications as a journalist established my credentials in the technology sector, which then gave me access to these thought leaders and innovators, and experience taught me ways of approaching them and getting them to sit down with me, answer my questions and honestly opening up to me. Once you’ve an interview with one big name, that further establishes your credibility and others are then more willing to make time for you.

It also comes down to the quality of the copy in your emails. Everybody wants something. I can invest hours researching and finding out exactly what the person I want to do an interview with wants, and then crafting the email the right way to cut through the thousands of interview requests they likely receive and get them to respond to mine. This all comes down to the quality of your copywriting.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The most thorough and well-written book I’ve read on copywriting so far is *Copywriting: Successful writing for design, advertising, and marketing by Mark Shaw.]

In the beginning, DRT was a weekly publication and required a ton of work. Nowadays I can’t post interviews on a regular calendar anymore because it’s quite difficult working around the schedules of such high-level and busy people and securing a big name every week. Additionally, I’m now juggling a few startups and apps myself:

  • Panda is a free newsfeed dashboard for designers, developers, and entrepreneurs
  • Podcast Gift is a weekly curation of the best podcasts in business, design, and technology
  • Ways to Connect is a book I co-authored with Ryan Singer of Basecamp

So to summarize:

  1. Establish your credentials
  2. Get your foot in the door by contacting people who already know and trust you
  3. Perfect your mission, product/service, and quality of your copywriting
  4. Use the people you already know as a springboard to contacting more difficult to reach people who don’t yet know and trust you
  5. As you expand your network, be open to and actively seek out collaborative projects and business ventures that further establish your credentials and let you do what you enjoy doing

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In a presentation at UC Dublin, Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York dissects his personal step-by-step method for convincing complete strangers to not only let him photograph them, but also to open up and share deep personal insights into their lives:

Tell me more about how you designed the copy for your emails. It is really all about your approach and positioning. If you approach them as a fan, I think that generally turns them off. They may respond to you and thank you for following their work and emailing them, but they probably won’t take your request too seriously.

But if you come on the level with them and approach them objectively and professionally, like:

“Hey, I interview the world’s influential innovators in the _______ sector. I’ve interviewed a few of your peers, and I’m interested in what you have to say. What do you think?”

Then you’re much more likely to get a ‘yes, it would be a pleasure’ or at least a ‘Sounds interesting, tell me more about it.’

Your podcasts sound as though they are done in one take, no editing. How do you manage that behind-the-scenes so that both you and your interviewee sound so unrehearsed – lacking grammar errors, perfect clarity and flowing logic of thought…? That is all down to the editing in post-production. People want and expect a certain level of quality; therefore it’s very important for creating a useful high quality product that

  1. Your listeners want to continually follow, listen to and download
  2. The people you’re asking to interview trust and want to be a part of

On some of my interviews on skype I’ve even had to reschedule interviews so I could mail them one of my own personal mics so that the best quality recording possible. The content you’re putting out there is going to be there forever – as a signature of your credibility and competence, and also for the person you’re interviewing; and you want to get it right the first time.

Personally, I use Logic Pro – a software specifically designed for music. I’m more into seamless sound and fluidity that lets you cut out the ‘ums’ and ‘uhhs…’ and blanks in our conversation. Also, some interviewees record their answers on their iPhone headphones, where the sound quality isn’t that great and so I must boost certain sounds while suppressing other sounds. I’ve found that Logic Pro lets me add a little extra finish that listeners don’t realize while their listening and in the end creates a more well-rounded interview.

Why doesn’t DRT have a comments section? Most comments tend to be noise – they don’t really add anything to the quality of the initial content. When you’re sitting in front of someone really wise, you tend to prefer to shut up and listen to what they have to say. Therefore DRT is designed to have the attention fully focused on the person I’m interviewing.

How do you monetize DRT? When I started DRT, it wasn’t monetized. Today I do earn a little income though advertising while my podcasts continue to be free to listen to and download. I do this because I think this sort of information that is already readily available in some form or another and should be free. Charging for that information isn’t something I want to be known for. Even today, DRT has limited advertising on its site, and each podcast is sponsored by a company, but again the focus is on the person I’m interviewing.

Even today, DRT itself isn’t a significant source of income, nor is it meant to be. It is instead a way for me to find paying jobs and entrepreneurial projects with people. I am sometimes approached by brands and companies to do consulting work for them, but that isn’t my main focus right now.

That being said, if you’re providing specialized knowledge and solutions that is not easily found and readily available, and requires extensive research and a unique solution to each individual problem, then it’s understandable that you charge for it, and consumers would understand this and be willing to pay for it.

Have you found Ad Blocking software cuts into your revenue to the point where you’re working for free? Not yet.

After +108 interviews, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned? You have to have a name. People put a lot of emphasis on the product. Your product is important, but it is absolutely insane the amount of products that are created every day!

Therefore what’s more important than the quality of your product is the reputation and credentials of the person behind the product.  Consumers will buy a product if they are convinced it will help them or make their lives easier, but consumers will also readily buy or invest in a product – sight unseen – simply because a person they know, trust and respect created it or is publically investing  in it.


Consider for example the Paypal mafia – The group of guys who co-founded Paypal and then went on to use their name and reputation to start and utterly dominate many other industries. They created a network exosystem for themselves. Now when these guys speak, people listen.

What are a few of your favorite advertising campaigns?

I have a small advertising budget, any advice?

1. How does your target demographic want content to be available to them? In a printable pdf document? A blog post? A podcast? Or do they want the option of all three? Create your content and then transfer it into the format that your target audience wants.

2. Self-publishing on Amazon is almost as easy as launching a blog, plus you have Amazon’s algorithm and sheer visitor volume working for you. You might not get rich on it, but it’s one way of earning money and a great way of gaining exposure and building credibility for future projects.

3. Invest in networking and creating a high-quality social ecosystem. Get on a plane and go to San Francisco – or wherever the financially backed and well-connected industry leaders and innovators are. But don’t just go, organize your trip dates, then spend the next few months emailing and packing your schedule so full of meetings that by the time your plane lands at the airport you’re already 15 minutes late to your first meeting, and then EVERY meeting after that!

Apply  to Y combinator, a site that provides seed funding for promising startups. If you can become y-combinator alumni, you’re well on your way to building your reputation and network.

I’m a startup, what are your top 4 DRT interviews I must listen to?

  1. Patrick Collison of Stripe on what makes Silicon Valley special
  2. David Karp of tumblr on the importance of startup mentorship
  3. Sam Altman of Y-combinator on funding the next visionaries
  4. Jason Fried of 37Signals on why copy is more important than design


When you have a large number of customers, you can’t get to know all of them intimately and so you must make certain assumptions about them. But when you have a small startup your customer base is smaller so you can get to know them more intimately. That is an extreme asset to have!

For any particular piece of advice, I can find somebody who:
1) Followed that advice and made a lot of money
2) Didn’t follow that advice and made a lot of money
3) Followed that advice and didn’t make a lot of money
4) Didn’t follow that advice and didn’t make a lot of money

A pivot is a structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.

Wikipedia: Pivot