The Minimalist Entrepreneur
The Minimalist Entrepreneur—Sahil Lavingia
Year Read: 2022
Summary: “This book, part manifesto, part manual, will help you design, build, and successfully grow your own right-size business.”
Purchase on Bookshop.org (affiliate link).
Start as soon as you can. Start before you feel ready. Start today. You don’t learn, then start. You start, then learn.
Most people don’t start. Most people who start don’t continue. Most people who continue give up. Many winners are just the last ones standing. Don’t give up.
That’s not what minimalist entrepreneurs do. We are laser focused on profitability from day one, in order to get to sustainability soon after, so that we can serve our customers and our communities for as long as we wish.
You don’t have to bring your whole self to every community you join, but you do have to bring a slice of yourself. And that part needs to be authentic to its core. It’s the combination of time and vulnerability that leads to relationships and growth.
Every big idea was small first. If you don’t start small, if you can’t help people one by one, you will struggle to build a business around your idea. Leave your ego at the door, set aside your concerns about funding and software, and focus on your first customers, using your time and your expertise to solve real problems for real people. Now that people know you, trust you, and perhaps even turn to you for expertise, it is time to start helping them in a systematic, repeatable way that allows for continuous improvement and iteration. As you fulfill the first customer cycle, document each part of the process so that with every consecutive customer you have a playbook. This document will be the true MVP of your business.
That’s another reason to do as little as you possibly can: to be honest with yourself about how useful your product actually is. A product that is beautiful or has great marketing behind it may feel more useful than it actually is. But if your product is incredibly minimal and useful, and people look past the lack of polish and use it, you will know you are on to something.
Like me, Ryan doesn’t believe that founders should start with code. “Do shitty work people love at first,” he says.
Even though selling to strangers is inefficient, people are still desperate to avoid the awkwardness of telling their community what they’re working on. Sorry, but it’s still absolutely critical to start there.
This is about building relationships. You will be doing business for a long time, and it is much easier to keep a customer than to find a new one. Never oversell. Be honest, open, and always kind. Show them how you most recently improved your product. Tell them a recent failing. Don’t sell them on your product, educate them on your journey and learnings.
Instead of spending money, spend your time. Build relationships, have passionate customers who spread the word, and then think about spending a little bit of your profits to slightly expand your horizon. If you can do that, you will stay lean and grow at a comfortable rate that never overextends your business. But paid marketing should never get in the way of what really matters: talking to and selling to customers.
Marketing is not about making headlines, but making fans.
Start by educating, then inspiring, then entertaining.
Your customers do not want you to get bigger and grow faster. They do not care how rich you are, if you were on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, which venture capitalists you raised money from, or how many employees you have. They want your product to improve, and your business to stick around.
If you stay focused on what drives sales and what excites your customers, then you’ll know how to grow; they’ll tell you. And if you pay attention as you go, even as you do unwittingly make unforced errors, it will be your customers (or the lack thereof) who will show you how to get back on track, far before you would have otherwise noticed.
As some Navy SEALs say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
In 2017, Chris Savage, CEO and cofounder of Wistia, and his cofounder, Brendan Schwartz, realized that their efforts to scale and grow quickly had not only made their work less creatively interesting, but had also made them unprofitable. By slowing down, they figured out how to trust their instincts again—and wound up more profitable than ever.
How to spend less: Do less. Don’t move too fast, don’t move to Silicon Valley, don’t get an office, don’t get too big. Grow as fast as your customers want you to—and are paying you to.
Our goal should be to bring together our passions, our missions, our professions, and our vocations. This is the Japanese concept of ikigai, which aligns what you love, with what the world needs, with what you can be paid for, and with what you are good at: When you are in ikigai, you feel at peace, and you can work to improve the world at the same time. You can live in the present while working toward a better future.