When you create something new, you put immense pressure upon yourself to make it grow. Growth usually means more sales, more customers, more subscribers, etc. It makes sense to grow a venture. The more you grow, the more impact you’ll have, and the more validation your creation would get.
But this mentality has major side-effects. It has a strong propensity to make you miserable. When you pressurise yourself so much, you start to question your creation. Eventually, you question yourself. This is not a healthy place to be. Self-doubt can be ruinous.
As a creator, I face this demon of self-doubt almost everyday. Why aren’t more people reading my blog? Why is the visitor count not growing faster? Why aren’t more people sharing my articles online? This pressure of ‘more’ combined with self-doubt can often sneak up inside your head. It might ask the unasked question: is it worth the effort?
No matter what you create—an app, a business, a blog, or a YouTube channel, you have to put a tonne of effort. Your project is your baby who needs constant attention and care. You have to sacrifice a lot of things to make your baby grow. At the end, if it’s not worth it, then all this pain would be in vain.
This negative thought is overpowering. Unless we human beings see some hope of a better future for us, we don’t get enough motivation to keep on going. Our hopes fuel our daily toil.
The Minimum Validation Principle
Creators create. Getting 100K subscribers, or 1M customers, or 100Mn in sales is not creation. It’s a side effect. Yes, it’s a good validation that people want what you are creating. It can be a good revenue source as well. But if that’s the only thought on your mind, especially in the beginning, it would kill you. What you should do instead is apply what I like to call the Minimum Validation Principle.
If you are a creator you’ll have to fall in love with the process of creation, get into a state of flow, without overly worrying about the result. The Minimum Validation Principle is a good way to shift your focus from growth to the act of creation. According to it, you don’t need validation. At any given moment, what you need is a minimum amount of validation. This is that right amount of validation you need to keep on doing what you love to do, without losing heart.
Minimum validation is the smallest number of subscribers, customers, or sales you need to prevent yourself from losing your faith upon what you are doing.
Suppose you are launching a SaaS product. You gotta ask yourself, what’s the least number of customers you need to get validation from yourself? This is even before you get product/market fit.
If you decide that you need only 20 paying customers to do this for a long time, then ask yourself, “If I have only 20 customers and see no further growth, would I want to do this for the next 1-2 years?” You know what to do if the answer is yes.
This framework puts you in a creator’s seat and prevents you from torturing yourself with growth numbers. Growth is definitely important. But growth at any cost is not necessary. You have to ask yourself, is there a different way? Is there a better way? Rather than pursuing more, what if you focussed on better? What if you focussed on building a better product? What if you focussed on getting better customers? What if you focussed on setting up a better system to work efficiently?
The Minimum Validation Principle gives you a lower bound that would help you avoid a lot of misery and better your craft. When you are starting out, this is very helpful. This helps you focus on your craft and forget about everything else.
The Minimum Validation Principle happens to be a close cousin of the Goldilocks Principle. According to it, you would enjoy playing chess (or any other game) neither with a novice, nor with an expert. You need somebody with more or less your level of expertise. The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty. While Goldilocks Principle is about how you get better at what you do, Minimum Validation Principle is about how you remove self-doubt in order to do that properly.
What happens when you achieve minimum validation, you ask? Well, you can choose to stay there for some time if it makes you comfortable. And whenever you’re looking for some challenge, you can start shifting gears.
Your ultimate goal is to get yourself 1,000 loyal fans so that you never have to worry about any kind of growth ever again. According to Kevin Kelly, 1,000 true fans is all one needs to strive and thrive. He writes:
“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
A true fan is the one who buys your ebook, the paperback, the hardcover, along with the audiobook. You need 1,000 such true fans. That’s the maximum amount of validation any creator would ever need.
Having said that, the Minimum Validation Principle might give you the right goal to pursue, but the process of creating something new and the journey of entrepreneurship aren’t without their ups and downs. There would be bad moments. The overbearing question, “is it worth it?” would always lurk around the corner and pounce at the first sign.
Every successful entrepreneur has gone through situations that have rattled them to their core—that made them question their strategy, their mission, their abilities, everything. It happens to everyone. You aren’t alone.
But if you hold the notion that your struggle is justified only by the result, it’s actually not a healthy state of mind to be in. The sad truth is that not everyone will accomplish something great. I don’t mean to be discouraging, but that’s a fact. That’s how the world is. And it’s OK.
Nonetheless, you have to find meaning in the little moments that make up life. Your existence and your identity cannot be tied to the result alone. You have to find meaning in what you do, despite the result. You have to find little bits of joy from little things, such as getting your priority task done, or pushing a batch of code.
10-20 years from now when you look back at these moments, you should not only see the sweat and the toil, but also fondly remember the joys from all those small wins.