AI + Communities, The New Startup Playbook
How you can start a business at 1/10th of the cost that delivers 10x the value.
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Ok, the last newsletter was a little bit Sci-fi. The singularity, Von-Neuman probes colonising the observable universe, infinite life. While I think this will all happen earlier than we think, it’s probably still not going to happen in our lifetimes.
What will happen in our lifetimes though, is incredibly successful businesses being built on the back of a couple of key megatrends. Namely community (like this newsletter) and AI (like ChatGPT). In fact, it’s already happening. Twitter is ablaze with solo founders, making absolute bank off relatively simple AI-powered community-backed products.
If you’re subscribed to this newsletter, you’re probably curious about how you can use these new tools to make a dent in the universe.
In this article, I’m going to share the playbook. This playbook isn’t written by me, it came from a Tweet by a bit of a legend called Greg Isenberg. Greg has a track record of building successful startups, such as Late Checkout, 5by, and Islands, and he has become a leading voice in the community-driven startup movement.
Let’s break down each point in this tweet and provide specific examples to assist in growing your business and community.
MVP speed (1x per month)
Some people like to focus all their energy on building one really great thing. Think Gates at Microsoft or Patrick Collison at Stripe, some like to build a few great things, think Elon at SpaceX and Tesla or Jobs at Apple and Pixar.
Greg is a different kind of builder. He likes to build loads of small, but really cool things, and that’s exactly what he’s advising in this tweet. Deliver products rapidly, at the throughput of once per month – if you’re going slower than that, you’re not releasing fast enough.
The beauty of this approach is it enables you to throw a wider net (although not too wide as we get onto the next point) and validate solving a tonne of different pain points. Then, after getting some feedback you can decide which pain points are really worth solving.
Reading this for the first time, you might be thinking Greg means to launch 1 business a month, but I don’t read it this way at all. I think he’s saying your business should be releasing one value add product every month. If you have a more established business this might mean releasing a well-thought-through feature to your current offering. If you are a smaller entrepreneur it might mean a completely new course, product or offer.
If you do one thing from this article do this. Create a strategy for the next 3 months, and think about 3 big problems your audience might face and how you can deliver a product that may solve them.
But how to deliver so quickly?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, AI is getting to be quite a big deal. Most people in the know are saying it’s the biggest thing in computing since, well computers.
At my own startup, Lithium, AI has hugely leveraged our output. We’ve kept to a team of 5 and deliver huge product value every week, put out content, run marketing campaigns and get paying clients.
This would not be possible without AI. GPT4 is our most valuable employee, and they only cost $20/month. If you aren’t absolutely hammering GPT4 every day, you aren’t using it enough, it really is that powerful.
Developers can code at 10x the speed, writers can write at 5x the efficiency, and you can strategise with 2x the accuracy.
Superniche is the new niche
We’ve all heard about carving a niche, but what about a superniche? The world is getting a lot noisier, and people are getting much more discerning in the products and services they want to interact with, if a product isn’t completely fit for their specific problems, customers will just move on and find one that can.
We can look at Greg’s recent launch of youprobablyneedarobot to see an example of this in action. Greg knew he wanted to build something in the AI niche but understood it was too broad. After digging into his community, he saw the huge advantages of niching down on productivity within AI. This is actually a great way to find a superniche, just pull together two niches and serve that segment of the audience. This is also what I’ve done with AI founders. AI + Solo/micropreneurs = superniche.
Community 1st, software 2nd
Greg would not have found it much more difficult to identify and pick this superniche if he didn’t have a captive community. This is why he advocates for building a community first, and then building out the software.
If you have an engaged community you can speak with them, validate problems and prime them for your product. If you have a community you will always find a way to make money as you have the distribution.
Conversely, 1000s of apps get released every day yet no one uses them, they might be decent apps, but without early adopters to start using them and getting the word out they are going nowhere.
As a product person, it’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson, but it’s so true. Your chances of launching a successful product are close to zero if you don’t have a community first. Go make content, add value and build a community.
No-code 1st, some code 2nd
This next rule builds into Greg’s first point about releasing stuff every month. Nowadays you can validate nearly every problem with no-code tools. My favourite stack is Framer, Notion, Converkit and Gumroad. With these 4 tools, you can build some pretty incredible businesses. After all, youprobablyneedarobot has no fancy tech, it’s just a community with an agency slapped on.
10x more automated
One of the biggest things AI unlocks is a tonne of automation. There are also about a billion software tools out there that exist to automate processes. Convertkit is probably one of the better examples here. With an email marketing tool like this, you can literally put your sales process on autopilot, a few hours of work to set up some cool funnels, and then you’re done, watch the cash roll in.
In my experience, the best thing to do, is every now and then, to conduct an audit on how you and your team are spending your day. You’ll be amazed at the repetitive nonsense being done and how many hours it takes. Pull out a Whimsical, map out the flows, and see what tools or products you could use to automate it. Recently, we massively cut out the time of repurposing our content on different platforms by using a combination of Notion, AI and Zapier.
Global teams, localized products
This one caught me off guard a bit. I’m not sure about localised products, I personally like to build stuff that can reach people globally. So Greg, if you’re reading this please enlighten me on the advantages you see in localised products!
As far as global teams though, I can definitely get behind that, one of Greg’s products, dispatch design, just launched a design agency where that source the top talent from all over the world, and let you pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited use of these incredible designers. Without accessing global teams, such a product would not be possible.
Again, many platforms such as Deel.com and angelist have made accessing great talent globally so much easier, we just used both these platforms to hire an incredible full-stack developer from Nigeria.
95% dominated by solopreneurs and microentrepreneurs (teams less than 12)
The solopreneur revolution is happening. People like Greg and Levels.io are showing what is possible with a tiny team.
It always has bugged me when people ask how many people work at your company as a proxy for its success – it’s just plain wrong.
Firstly, smaller teams are more fun. There’s nothing better than working with a bunch of people who really know each other and are deeply focused on one thing. Also, it makes economic sense, smaller teams don’t require VC funding, so you keep more of the company.
All the points Greg has referenced earlier, from superniche products to community-led growth and AI 10x’ing efficiency, all point to the fact that we’ll need fewer people to deliver more output to a smaller niche of people.
Pop-up digital experiences (apps that only work on certain times)
Attention is scarce, and a great way to get it is to ensure users can only use an app a certain time. BeReal is probably the best example of this, but there are a tonne of others, there’s a load of fashion brands out there like Cortez that only open shop for a few hours a month driving insane traction and hype during the time they are open.
Needs the marketing holy-trinity to hit escape velocity: 1. product/market fit, 2. content/market fit and 3. community/market fit
All the fits, let’s break down what each one means.
Product-market fit = you are building a product the market wants.
Content-market fit = the content you are creating is perfect for your market, think using YouTube to demo products
Community-market fit, the community you’ve built fits or is the market you are seeking to serve.
This is all a question of strategy. You need to have a very clear strategy about what problem you are going to solve, who you are going to solve it for and how you are going to distribute this solution. If you nail a great strategy at the start, you can iterate on nearly everything else.
Team is half robots
Think we’ve covered this one. AI + Software means you don’t need a big team.
Multiple revenue streams
There are two sides to this story. Greg thinks multiple revenue streams are a big win. I think this is especially true if you run a community focused. Look at Greg’s portfolio of products, from communities to agencies to software. He’s got multiple different ways to monetise his audience.
This makes sense because the pricing should always be aligned with the product. If you are selling a course, it makes sense it’s a one-off payment, but if it’s a software product people will use daily, then a recurring fee might make more sense.
Design matters. The bar is high
Just look at this design on late checkout. I’ve never seen anything like it. Little villages within the web browser…it feels like somewhere I would like to come and hang out in. Greg calls this world design, a cutting-edge design trend that places users into little worlds, some of them gated, some of them accessible. Keep at the edge of design trends if
Partnered w/ creators (creators are the distributors)
The best example of Greg doing this is through his podcast, ‘The Room Where It Happens’. If you aren’t finding a way to build out your network of creators, take a leaf out of Greg’s book. Start a podcast where you can deliver some value by offering creators an audience. This will make the distribution of your product 100x easier
Feels like a game (levels, status, badges, in-app currency, challenges, collectables/items)
At Lithium, we couldn’t agree more with this. Helping a community feel bought into the product and involved can be hugely amplified by gamification.
Purpose-driven moonshots: societal impact matters
As Peter Thiel would say, why will the 20th employee join your company? By then the stock won’t be that attractive and they can get paid more at a big tech co. The only reason would be that your company has a purpose. This is the same with building communities. Early adopters will like being early, the laggards won’t join you unless you are doing something special.
Productised agencies to generate cashflow (ex design agency), Product studios become the norm, 99% of MVPs won't need VC
I’m grouping these last three into one because they basically all fall under the ‘fuck VC’ umbrella. For the last 20 years, it’s been difficult to build a global startup without VC money. You needed expensive engineers, you needed servers, you needed costly software and paid marketing.
You don’t need any of this now. With a great community, a very targeted niche, some clever design thinking and a team leveraged by AI, anyone has the power to make a dent in the universe.
I think this is why I love Greg’s content so much, he’s showing the little guy exactly how he can compete and achieve freedom from employers and VCs, but focusing manically on the stuff that really matters.
Again, if you want to learn the tips and tricks of being a founder in the new world of A.I., join my free community, A.I founders