MVC - Minimal Viable Cluster

Eric Ries wrote The Lean Startup. It had a pretty profound effect on me when I read it, even though I’m not an entrepreneur playing the startup game.

The big idea in the book is starting with the minimum viable product, or MVP. An MVP is the most rudimentary version of a product or idea that can be taken to market. The idea is to test your product hypothesis as quickly and cheaply as possible, while fine tuning future development through ‘build-measure-learn' feedback loops with your early audience. MVPs are about releasing more products more often, making failures cheap and fast, and beating your competitors by completing more feedback loops in less time (even if your competition is smarter and better resourced).

I think this thinking applies as much, or even more, to thought leaders running a practice as it does to entrepreneurs running startups. We encourage students to launch four clusters (four different offers to market, four different programs) a year. This means we have to go much faster than we’re used to, and possibly launch before we’re really ready (or before we think we’re ready).

A cluster is a combination of a message (a domain of expertise), a market (someone to buy it), and a method (speaking, authoring, training, mentoring, facilitating or coaching).

Cluster Model.png

And the minimal viable cluster looks like:

  • Minimal viable message – make sure you have enough intellectual property, enough thinking, to be relevant. To be able to solve someone’s problems. To make a contribution. That’s enough to get started. Beyond that, don’t use thinking to avoid selling.

  • Minimal viable market – start with the smallest, narrowest market possible. You’re not Coke. You don’t want to reach everyone. What’s the smallest slither that you could sell $10k a month to? Start there.

  • Minimal viable method – you need to be competent as a speaker or trainer or coach etc. Good enough. The test is can you be of value, can you help solve a problem? That’s enough. Mastery in the delivery modes is a worthy object … after you’ve hit black belt. In the meantime pursuit of mastery could well be avoidance, and isn’t commercially smart.

Starting when it’s good enough, rather than perfect, gives you a chance to launch more often (ideally every three months). It gives you much shorter cycles, and consequently a much greater chance of success.