Minimum Viable Niche: Defining Your Target Audiences

The Growth Report - #19

What’s up, What’s up?

For us it’s moving time next week and it’s super liberating to go through all the stuff I own and part from all the things that I never knew I even owned (I am looking at you, neon-glowing shower head).

Moving always has this “new-chaptery vibe” doesn’t it? We change the environment that we spent years working, sleeping, cooking, dreaming, and loving in, from one day to another.

I love that. These big life changes bring new wind into our lives and the opportunity to use this momentum to change or remove other things that have bothered us for years or no longer serve us well.

But one thing does not change: Like clockwork you still get a new edition of The Growth Report into your inbox every Friday 😘

So here we go…

Today's topics include

📈 Marketing:
Minimum Viable Niche: On Defining Target Audiences

🚀 Productivity:
The power of the weekly review (+ my process)

🧠 Personal Growth:
Discipline Equals Freedom

📈 Brand Marketing

Minimum Viable Niche: On Defining Target Audiences

Most of us who work for or own a business are engaged in constant pursuit of one or both of the following two things:

  • Create, optimize and deliver a product or service experience that is superior to what is currently on the market in some shape or form.

  • Grow the company, aka maximize our revenue or profit bottom lines.

And especially if you are a marketer, the latter often takes precedence because after all that is our job. So as we try to grow the company, we invariably need to think about what customers we want to market to. And that's where I see most marketers make the cardinal mistake (and one I have made myself) of defining the target customer way too broadly. It's our natural inclination. If we have an amazing product that we believe in, we see it being "usable" in all kinds of situations and for all kinds of different industries and people.

A comically narrow audience to maximize growth is counter-intuitive for most people. The thinking usually goes, "the more people that try the product, the better the chance for growth." However, especially in the early days, this has grave consequences that are as far reaching as being able to make or brake a business.

What happens if we sell to everyone?

Think about this for a second. Every time you are expanding your target group to another segment, you are making it less specific and less relevant for all the others:

  • You dilute your marketing message, your product features and overall story of why they should buy from you (sales pitch).

  • Your marketing and sales costs explode, because you now need to create landing pages, content and sales funnels for every single persona or target market you have defined.

  • Your customer service will take a hit, because when the same product or service needs to serve a multitude of different scenarios, it's inevitably going to hit its limits on several fronts at once and the complexity of customer complaints/issues/feature requests will multiply quickly, leaving your customer success team struggling to keep the service quality high.

Despite all these problems, you obviously also can't take it to the extreme of niching down so extremely that you end up being relevant to only a handful of companies or customers. And neither can you deny your sales team to have only one customer segment forever. So what do you do?

Defining your Minimum Viable Niche and Expanding From There

How do I find a niche that's both not too small — where I'm customizing features to a single client — and not too big — where I'm becoming a wandering generality?

Andy Johns, ex growth manager at Facebook offers advice:

When entering an existing market you must think through two key questions:
(1) Who is the precise customer I am attempting to serve?
(2) What can I offer them that is 10x better relative to the alternatives?

He offers the early days of Tesla as an example:

I also found some great advice from Reforge founder Brian Balfour on the topic:

In his article How to Launch a Product or Feature To Maximize Growth, he outlines the following REPEATABLE process:

  1. Scope - Define a very specific audience hypothesis.

  2. Access - Figure out how you are going to access that audience.

  3. Filter - Filter for that audience during sign up.

  4. Success Signal - Gather feedback and data that shows signals of success.

  5. Leverage - Leverage it out to the next adjacent audience.

Cycling through this loop should lead you to expand into adjacent audiences. You can think about it as layers of concentric circles. Understanding this in order of operations is key.

I have to emphasize the following though:

Having the restraint to do this is very difficult!

Companies I've seen do this well recently are Haus (Beverage), Superhuman (Email Client), Notion (No-Code Tool), Roam Research (Research tool), and Clubhouse (Dev Colab tool).

🚀 Productivity

The power of the weekly review
(+ my step by step process)

The ever-wise James Clear has graced us again:

"Where you spend your attention is where you spend your life."

A very true statement. However, in order to spend our attention wisely and to where it matters most, we need to develop the awareness as to what is actually going on in our lives and how it all fits together. Every week we get hit by an onslaught of (planned and unplanned) tasks, obligations, errands and projects. If we don't regularly evaluate what's going well, where we can improve, and whether we spend our attention where it’s most meaningful to us, the daily grind will inevitably take over. And if it does, life feels more like it’s happening to us, rather than for us. We are no longer in the director’s seat, but are merely watching a movie.

And since I personally don't like this reactive mode for too long, I have decided years ago that I take 10 minutes to an hour every week to answer myself a list of pre-defined questions and do some mental house keeping. I look at it this way: If you have a garden, inevitably weed will grow among your beautiful flowers and plants. Now if you take the time to pluck out that weed once a week, it's still manageable. But with every week that you wait, the weed will spread.

Over time, it will take away the space for new seeds and beautiful flowers to grow. And within a year there might be very little left of your garden. I personally observe a similar pattern with our minds. If we don't do a minimum of maintenance every now and then, all kinds of loose ends and open feedback loops will accumulate and cloud our thinking, which can lead to ever surmounting anxiety.

So let me share with you my super simple process for a weekly review. I personally do them on Sunday evening, but you might prefer to do them on Friday before you leave work. If everything fails, I make it my duty to do it first thing Monday morning before I touch anything else, no exceptions!

My Weekly Review Process

First I do some housekeeping:

  • Review last 2 weeks and upcoming 6 weeks in calendar - are there any meetings that I need to follow up on or upcoming events that need preparing?

  • Process Email Inbox - get to Zero, meaning no more emails in the Inbox. Anything either is answered immediately, filed as a task or deleted/archived.

  • Review and close all open browser tabs - I oftentimes have several tabs open that I wanted to get to eventually during the week. Now is the time to either put them on my reading list or take a deep breath and close them ;-)

  • Process Physical Inbox - Look through all letters, papers and magazines lying around, in loose folders, desk, floor, bags, bed drawer. Pay bills, note any tasks that are due or need a follow up.

  • Process To Do List - For every todo on that list define if I still want to do it, if I need to make it a project, and what the immediate next action is.

  • Process Project List - I have a list of projects that are currently ongoing. I go through them and ask myself where I am stuck, if the next step is clear and what its relative importance is compared to all the others on the list.

Secondly, I ask myself a bunch of questions:

  • How did my previous week go? The good and the bad.

  • What did I do well? My wins.

  • What did not go well? What didn't I do, who didn't I reach out to?

  • Any significant events. Great moments with friends, family or breakthrough at work.

  • What are my plans for the following week?

  • How do I intend to take what I have learned from my previous week and do better next week?

And lastly, during the whole process, I look through this curated list of prompts and see if anything strikes a chord or is applicable to a certain project, task or challenge:

  • Do you really need to think more, or is it simply a matter of doing the work?

  • Look at each item on your to-do list and ask, "Is this truly necessary?”

  • What would this look like if it were easy?

  • What if you only had two weeks to finish this project?

  • Think of the ultimate outcome you are hoping to achieve. Is there a path to accomplishing this where you would encounter less resistance?

  • If we were meeting three years from today, what would need to have happened during that time for you to feel happy about your progress?

  • What do I spend a silly amount of money on? How might I scratch my own itch?

  • What are the worst things that could happen? Could I get back here?

  • If I could only work 2 hours per week on this project, what would I do?

  • Could it be that everything is fine and complete as is?

Now, I make it a point that I do the absolute minimum of at least doing my inbox zero, organizing all my tasks and projects and roughly plan the three most important things for next week. I never miss doing at least that. Sometimes the above takes 10 minutes, sometimes it takes 3 hours (especially if I haven't done a longer one in a while or there are a lot of moving parts in my life).

The consistency is important. Tend to your mental garden my friend 🌿

If you'd like to go deeper, I really like Tiago Forte's in-depth guide on weekly reviews.

🧠 Personal Growth

Discipline Equals Freedom

Freedom is born of self-discipline. No individual, no nation, can achieve or maintain liberty without self-control. The undisciplined man is a slave to his own weaknesses. - Alan Valentine

I am not disciplined by nature. In fact, I am struggling anew every day to deal with the tension between what I know I should and planned to do and what my dopamine-crazed brain is excited about right this minute. It runs counter to my nature to box myself in and build routines into my life. And yet, every time I muster up the discipline to follow a practice or exercise a habit consistently in a certain area of my life, the result is liberation and a feeling of expanded freedom.

It's completely counter intuitive. How can strictness and constraint lead to more freedom? Discipline is the antithesis of freedom, its structure and rules and rigid restraint. Freedom is… free! No structure and no rules and no restraint. Do what you want, when you want, how you want. Right?

But then when you think about it:

The modern world, with its requirements and obligations and endless demands, begins from a default starting position that is anything but free. You don’t lose freedom, because you never had it in the first place. You have to create it. You have to earn it.

We earn it through work and effort. We earn it through thoughtful planning and careful selection amid competing options for our time. The central ingredient to all of that is discipline.

And August Bradley, one of my favorite thinkers in productivity and systems thinking writes:

Success in business and in life is often associated with taking risks. But discipline does not involve risk. The results are predictable. So many things we want in life are expensive, but not discipline. It’s free.

Worry and stress over money, work obligations, and family/social engagements are constraints. Worry and stress rob us of whatever personal time that we do have. Structured, disciplined approaches to life relieve us of that strain by getting priorities done and carving out genuine time off, giving us back ownership of personal time.

Discipline puts us on the right path. How we feel about our lives is not determined by our absolute standing, but by whether we feel we’re making progress. Discipline produces progress, and along with progress comes the byproduct of feeling good about our lives. Fear and guilt fade in this state.

Discipline indeed does make us free.

That's it for this week.

Enjoy your weekend 🏡

See you next week,