The Minimalist Entrepreneur
Learn how to build a lean business that reflects your values and lifestyle from 'The Minimalist Entrepreneur.'
What do I actually care to change? If I could fix one thing about my corner of the world, what would that be? What kind of business do I really want to build, own, and run?
Building a minimalist business does not mean settling for second best. Instead, it’s about creating sustainable companies that have the flexibility to take risks to serve the greater good, all while empowering others to do the same. Being profitable, hopefully from the very beginning, means being able to focus and to stay focused on the reason you started a business in the first place: to help others.
Start as soon as you can. Start before you feel ready. Start today. You don’t learn, then start. You start, then learn. Now, let’s get to it!
Rather than trying to make a quick buck, he would build real businesses around domain names, asking himself with each one, “Do I feel inspired? Is there a real business here?,” and, most of all, “Can I be helpful?”
This is what being a minimalist entrepreneur is all about: making a difference while making a living.
founder committed to a new kind of startup, one that prioritized profitability over growth and positive impact over moving fast and breaking things. Instead of capturing as much value as possible, I was determined to create as much value as possible for our customers and our community.
PROFITABILITY FIRST Minimalist entrepreneurs create businesses that are profitable at all costs. Many Minimalist entrepreneurs aim to be profitable from day one or soon after, because profit is oxygen for businesses. And they do that by selling a product to customers, not by selling their users to advertisers.
START WITH COMMUNITY Minimalist entrepreneurs build on a foundation of community.
BUILD AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE When they do build, minimalist entrepreneurs build only what they need to, automating or outsourcing the rest.
They work side by side with their customers to iterate toward a solution, and make sure it’s worth paying for, before they take it to customers outside of their communities.
SELL TO YOUR FIRST HUNDRED CUSTOMERS Minimalist entrepreneurs don’t spend time convincing people—they spend time educating people.
opportunity to talk to potential customers one by one about their products while simultaneously educating themselves about the problem they are trying to solve for them.
GROW YOURSELF AND YOUR BUSINESS MINDFULLY Minimalist entrepreneurs own their businesses, they don’t let their businesses own them. They don’t spend money they don’t have, and they don’t sacrifice profitability for scale.
BUILD THE HOUSE YOU WANT TO LIVE IN Minimalist entrepreneurs hire other minimalist entrepreneurs. Minimalist entrepreneurs know that life is about more than just their companies.
“enough” is what you decide it is, not a specific amount.
why profitability matters. If you’re profitable, you can take unlimited shots on goal, virtually guaranteeing your success as long as you keep learning from your customers.
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.
Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures coined the term “unicorn” to refer to privately held startups valued at more than $1 billion, which are the lifeblood of venture funds. In fairy tales, people can’t help chasing unicorns—they are nearly irresistible, but they’re also rare, elusive, and nearly impossible to catch.
Narrow down who your ideal customer is. Narrow until you can narrow no more.
Define exactly what pain point you are solving for them, and how much they will pay you to solve it.
Set a hard deadline and focus fully on building a solution, then charge for it.
Repeat the process until you’ve found a product that works, then scale a business around it.
Before you become an entrepreneur, become a creator.
Painters need brushes. Writers need pencils. Creators need businesses. It’s key for people to understand that, because it lowers the cognitive barrier to starting a business, and starting is really important. You don’t learn, then start. You start, then learn.
- You don’t learn, then start. You start, then learn.
- Minimalist entrepreneurs focus on getting “profitable at costs” instead of growing at all costs.
- A business is a way to solve problems for people you care about—and get paid for it.
- Become a creator first, an entrepreneur second.
For minimalist entrepreneurs, communities are the starting point of any successful enterprise.
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.
If you’re reading this and wondering which communities you’re already a part of, ask yourself these questions:
- With whom do I already spend my time, online and offline?
- In what situations am I most authentically myself?
- Who do I hang out with, even though I don’t really like them, but it’s worth it since we share something more important in common?
but I believe that doing this regularly is a good opportunity to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and, most important, who you’re doing it for.
While it’s better to lurk rather than needlessly comment, it’s even better to add value into the community even if you don’t feel that you’re ready. If you struggle with this, as many do, remind yourself that if you have something to add, it’s selfish to keep it to yourself!
- Work in Public
- Teach Everything You Know
- Create Every Day
you’re always learning, you’ll always have something to teach others about their own next best steps.
If you’re learning every day, which you probably are, you’ll have something to share every day.
Picking the Right Community
Once you are part of a community, you can start to make a list of difficulties its members face, and you can think about how you could build a product or service to solve one or more of them.
First, get involved in those communities wherever they are, offline and online. Then, contribute, teach, and, most important, listen. Finally, use the filters above to make sure you are picking the right community to serve.
Then, your problem becomes: Which problem should I pick?
For example, millions of people buy McDonald’s milkshakes. Why? Because McDonald’s found out that the job to be done was to accompany lonely drivers on their trips to work. “Nearly half the milkshakes were sold in the very early morning. It was the only thing [the customers] bought, they were always alone, and they always got in the car and drove off with it.” This is one reason why McDonald’s milkshakes are so viscous: so they last a whole, lonely car ride.
There are only four different types of utility:
- place utility,
- form utility,
- time utility, and
- possession utility.
Place utility: Make something inaccessible accessible
Form utility: Make something more valuable by rearranging existing parts
Time utility: Make something slow go fast
Possession utility: Remove a middleman
business that farms coffee beans in Ecuador and sells them in San Francisco is changing the “place” property of the beans. Place utility is what you are paying the premium for.
a coffee shop buys beans from a wholesaler and grinds them up, their customers are paying a premium for form utility. (They are also, in theory, paying a premium for place utility if the coffee shop is closer to them than the distributor is. Of course, many businesses are a combination.)
If they also sell croissants that would take you three days to make, you are also paying a premium for time utility. Finally, if you decide it’s better for you to invest in a croissant-making machine to make your own croissants than to pay for them over and over again, that’s possession utility.
Finally, even though you have an idea you are excited about and are confident you can build, at some point you will have doubts. Surround yourself with colleagues and mentors who will not only tell you the truth but will also encourage you when the going gets tough.
After all, people need cheerleaders, not just advice.
When you have doubts—and you will have doubts—go back to the fact that you’ve already started the work. By now, you will have
- zeroed in on a mission-aligned problem to solve and
- generated feasible ideas for a bootstrapped business that can tackle that problem profitably and sustainably. All you need to do from here, is to keep going.
Check out “1,000 True Fans,” a blog post by Kevin Kelly.
Let me tell you a secret. Every founder, even the most successful ones, knows nothing at the beginning, and learns from there. This is about interests, not skills. Instead of focusing on the things you do not know, focus on the things you do.
Instead of skipping straight to software, stick with pen and paper.
Start with Process
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.
“If you want to make a movie recommendation service, start by telling friends to call you for movie recommendations. When you find a movie your friends like, they buy you a drink. Keep track of what you recommended and how your friends liked it, and improve from there.” Unfortunately, the English language does not have a word for this activity, so I made one up: processize (verb)
“Creating a product is a process of discovery, not mere implementation. Technology is applied science,” -- Naval Ravikant says.
- Selling your knowledge and teaching people via digital content (videos, ebooks, podcasts, and courses). Lynda.com
- Selling a physical product (merchandise or a unique product offering).
- Connecting people for a flat or percentage fee.
- Software as a service (SaaS).
Remember that you don’t have to know everything about what you’re doing at the beginning (or ever), and many people are wrong the first time about what they are building.
The fact is, it’s very likely that you discover the kind of business you should be building as you are building another business you thought you should be building.
Adam Wathan of Tailwind UI says, “Want to find a good SaaS idea? Start a business, literally any business. You will soon realize how bad every existing tool is that you have to pay for to run that business, and you will quickly become overwhelmed by the number of things you feel you need to build yourself.”
you make a false start, just go back, reset, and begin again. Nothing you’ve done or learned is ever wasted. A sustainable, growing business will take years to fully develop, and because you are growing as the business wishes you to, you have the time to make adjustments and learn the skills you need to know to succeed at
And if you’re not rushing, you have time to talk to customers, time to iterate, and time to test your hypothesis.
“quantum of utility: when there is at least some set of users who would be excited to hear about it, because they can now do something they couldn't do before.”
Do One Thing Well
Name your business.
Build a website and create an email address.
That means you need to start shipping, and shipping means you should start with almost nothing, because the job is to start delivering value for your
community/customers as quickly as possible. And they don’t want to wait!
goal is to get less wrong as quickly as you can. This is why shipping early and often is so important.
Your goal is to move away from being paid directly for your time. This is important because your time is far more valuable than your money, and so you should almost always welcome the trade.
what matters is not just the processes you build for your business; it’s also the processes you build for yourself.
Do you have any questions, or simply wish to contact me privately? Don't hesitate to shoot me a DM on Twitter.
Have a wonderful day.