If you like podcasts (which I hope you do) and you also enjoy whimsical banter about the economy then you may already be familiar with NPR’s popular show, Planet Money.
The other day, while driving, I was in the middle of a Planet Money binge when one episode stuck out to me. My interest was peaked by the title alone, “The Business Genius Behind Get Out.” I will admit that I am a sucker for unexpected business models and interesting approaches to old industries, and this podcast did not disappoint. Listen to the entire episode on NPR.
The episode talks about Hollywood producer, Jason Blum. Blum has a unique approach to making movies. Rather than trying to make the next big budget blockbuster, Blum makes low budget movies – and he makes a lot of them. This is by design, because 40% of his movies fail. However, the other 60% at least turn a profit, and every now and then, he strikes gold. Most notably, Paranormal Activity, which ranks number one of the list of top ROI movies of all time, (A list that features Blum’s name 6 times in the top 20) and this year he is off to a good start- two of this years top films are Blumhouse originals, including the previously mentioned, Get Out.
We don’t look for low budget movies and then see if we like them. We look for movies that we like and see if they can then be done on a lower budget.
This simple quote, a core part of Blum’s process and formula, is an often overlooked element of running a successful MVP (Minimum Viable Product). One of the most important parts of the lean startup methodology, the MVP is focused on two things; building fast and cheap.
However, fast and cheap too often get accompanied by the unintended by-product, bad. In Blum’s eyes, tight timelines and strict budgets don’t mean a reduction in the final output. Instead, Blum embraces the constraints and uses them as filters when picking which movies to make.
When looking at scripts Blum isn’t looking for movies he can make fast and cheap. He is looking for movies he likes, and only pulls the trigger if he can make them fast and cheap. He is discerning, which is sage advice we should all consider when choosing and experimenting with new ideas. Focus on the core of the idea. Build it well and don’t get caught up in the money pits of explosions and car chases.
This is arguably the key to Blum’s success. His movies don’t look cheap, he just knows what drives up the cost of movies and avoids them like the plague. You wont find buildings collapsing or planes crashing (or really anything that requires an explosion or destruction) in his movies. His movies focus on stories, characters, and suspense- delivering the same level of entertainment and intrigue without all the seemingly superfluous, flashy trappings of his blockbuster counterparts.
However, this isn’t easy. Honestly, it sometimes feels impossible. The remedy for this, may be found in the advice from the one and only, Seth Godin. During an interview (which I can no longer find in the expanse of the internet) Seth was asked if his “always be shipping” mentality meant shipping bad products. Seth scoffed at the idea of shipping a bad product and his response was brilliant, as usual. He said, “Don’t ship minimum viable products. Ship amazing products to minimum viable audiences.”
If you aren’t familiar with Seth Godin, he lives this mantra. Seth is incredibly prolific. His blog features posts that are merely a few paragraphs long. They are packed full of insights, observations and opinions. Despite being a quick read, they are provocative and thoughtful, but more importantly for Seth, they are quick to write. Godin uses his blog as a testing ground, a way to write lots of different content and see what resonates with his audience. He uses his passionate followers as a way to see what topics he should explore further and what topics to leave behind all with as little investment as possible.
This is the art of the MVP; place your bets, build it fast, and make it great. This is the method of both Blum and Godin, among a whole host of others who are disrupting industries and challenging the status quo.