A few months ago, I was discussing with my friend Jason D. Rowley how it seemed to me that so many people on Twitter talked about how to build and ship a minimum viable product, yet didn’t seem to be utilizing similar strategies to build their networks. A lot of thought appeared to be given to the prospect and process of building a product prototype, but little seemed aimed at cultivating the seeds that real networks take to germinate into robust synchronicities.
For those unfamiliar with it, the “minimum viable product” (or MVP) concept is a strategy for efficiently building, releasing, gaining feedback on, and improving a product and/or service with as few financial and personnel resources as possible. It’s become a mantra in the tech world, and there are whole books and courses dedicated to understanding how best to achieve this.
During the course of our conversation, though, it struck me just how much people’s strategy seems to differ when it comes to building and maintaining one’s network. It occurred to me after some reflection that this is because building a network — cultivating relationships — is everything that the MVP strategy is not. Whereas the MVP strategy is barebones (bootstrapped), fast, clean, efficient, direct, and requires comparatively little personal nuance, building real relationships can be robust, messy, time-consuming, arduous, abstract, and doesn’t just require a human touch, but a touch all your own.
And as I thought more about it, I began to conceive of a new idea — a new strategy: the Minimum Viable Network.
How could one build a network without having the same benefits that others might have? What if you don’t have the “required” skills? What if you’re in a different city than many of the other people you want to connect with? What if you’ve studied something different in college? Or not gone to college at all? What if your passion and drive is in an industry that others already consider over? What if your overall strengths are different and sometimes hard to articulate?
A lot of these questions came from a place of personal experience. I’m in the startup tech industry, and yet:
- I live in Atlanta, not San Francisco, LA, or New York
- I studied history and art history at Brandeis, not engineering at Stanford
- I’m a non-tech founder; I don’t code
- My passion is music; my first startup was a music-tech startup
- I still see huge signs that music — an industry many argue is already over — is still very much up for grabs
- I don’t excel at code or designing, but I’m a good writer and I’m good with people
I began to think about all the strategies of the MVP process and how to augment them for the MVN process. Bullet-points and adages need to become more fluid — less rigid — and the length of time needs to extend greatly, from trying to build and ship within a couple of weeks to focusing on cultivating a persona and relationship over the course of a few years.
People, after all, are not products, and won’t act as such. They are irrational, emotional, passionate, driven, and abstract — everything which the MVP doesn’t account for. In the end, it’s all about the human calculation factor.
So this will be a continuing series on how to do just that: understand people and relationships, and how to build your own Minimum Viable Network.
Among other things, I’ll discuss:
- How to approach people and broach new relationships
- How to be valuable without being aggressive
- The difference between reading someone and manipulating them (strive to understand the first, never do the second)
- How relationships evolve over time
- How to work with flighty or mercurial individuals
- How to weigh potential relationships
- How to match-make
- How to create a personal brand as “someone to know”
Life is relationships.
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