In November last year, I conducted an experiment: the Great Works sparring sessions. Over approximately six weeks, I offered 10 discount ($100) and 5 pro-bono hour-long video sparring sessions for those who could not afford my regular consulting services of $400/hour. All 15 spots were gone within a few hours of my email, and I ended up with 56 people on the waitlist, to whom I offered 1 round of free email consulting, an offer that 20 of the 56 people took me up on. If I do say so myself, both the video sessions and email exchanges went really well, and I personally enjoyed both experiences a lot. And almost everybody seemed very happy with the value they got out of the experience.

At the time, I promised I'd offer more sparring sessions in the future.

Well, I'm reneging on that promise. Instead of more one-off video sparring sessions (there's only so much I can do through such drive-by consulting, and the model, while fun, is neither scalable, nor sustainable for me long-term), I am very excited to announce something much better, which I've frankly been itching to do for a while: the first ever session of the Breaking Smart Q Lab.

What is that, you ask?
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The Breaking Smart Q Lab
The Breaking Smart Q Lab is basically affordable VaaS for individuals and small teams on a tight budget. Venkat-as-a-Service, in the form of Slack-based 1:1, confidential consulting for your project, for one quarter (April 1 - June 30), for $750.

Instead of just one video call, you (and your team of up to 3) effectively get an "unlimited" amount of consulting support for your "great works" project for a whole quarter.

That's less than the cost of two hours of my time if you were to hire me as a regular full-service consultant. So what's the catch? The catch is you only get chat-based support within the dedicated Q lab slack. No 1:1 video calls, no phone calls, no email. If you need those things, you pay my regular rates.

I may add a few other goodies, like group video office hours, but I haven't decided what those will be yet. The side dishes will be figured out improv-style, but the entree is 1:1 confidential chat consulting. 

What can you expect if you apply and are accepted?

Between April 1 and June 30 (Q2 2017 basically), I plan to spend up to 10-15 hours a week supporting Q lab projects through the dedicated slack. Within that limit, so long as you're willing to wait for me to provide chat responses, and don't have insane expectations, I think I'll be able to offer effectively "unlimited" support, due to the extreme schedule flexibility this offers me.

I won't make any complicated promises. Sometimes you may get me "live" to chat with, other times, you may end up waiting hours or even a day or two for a response. I'll try to be about as responsive as a good coworker.

In terms of content, you'll have the same kind of support I offer my regular clients. You can bounce ideas off me, have me review documents, spar with me on challenges, get my input on decisions, etc. etc. You get the idea. Consulting. The only difference is, it all has to happen through the Slack 1:1 chat channel (1: team in case of team projects).

I'll try my best to allocate and load-balance my attention across Q Lab projects in a reasonable way. On your end, I'll expect you to have reasonable "service level" expectations, since I'll be supporting Q lab alongside my work with regular full-service clients, and my own writing. 

I haven't yet decided how many projects I will be able to support. It depends on the number and types of applications I get, and the patterns of support different projects need (a writing project and a startup product are easier to support together than 2 startup products for example). 

In my regular full-service consulting, I usually support 3-5 clients at any given time, but I'm betting that the restriction to chat-based support, and the qualifying criteria I am setting, will allow me to support many more through Q lab, while still keeping it financially sustainable for myself.

Based on the sorts of support that people were looking for in the Great Works sessions, I think this triage is eminently doable. 

If you are interested, submit your application here. It should take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete. The deadline for applications is midnight, next Thursday, March 23. Applications from people who already did a Great Works sparring session or email interaction will receive preference, other things being equal.

I will review the applications and invite a subset whom I think I can effectively support, to be the first Q Lab batch, on March 24th. In case some of the people I invite change their minds, I will go down the list to other applicants. But to save me the headaches of waitlist wrangling, please only apply if you're fairly sure you will actually join if invited. Which means you should have committed to your project with sufficient seriousness yourself, to justify this investment on your part. I realize that while $750 is barely a rounding error for a big company with a lot of money to throw at consultants, it can be a lot of money for individuals supporting their own side projects, or startups or nonprofits on a shoe-string budget.

If invited, you will have a week to pay the fee, accept the Terms of Service (which will include confidentiality and IP protection terms for you), and join the Slack. Q Lab will commence operations on April 1. Appropriate for what might turn out to be a quixotically foolish venture for both you and me, but hey, you gotta try these self-disruption things.

The commitment on both ends is for the whole quarter, but I won't be unreasonable about it. If things aren't working out, you'll be able to quit and get a pro-rata refund. But don't apply if you just want to "check it out" for a week or if you aren't serious about your project. 

Some more details, in case you are interested.

First, why "Q lab"?

Besides the obvious connotations I've already hinted at -- quarterly and quixotic -- the letter Q has a bunch of fun associations for me that make it a name I'm fond of. I'll save the detailed answer for successful applicants during the orientation in the AMA slack channel. After all, I must keep some things mysterious for my own amusement. 

Second, why this, why now?

This is something I've been really wanting to experiment with ever since I first started out as an independent consultant in 2011, but the technology and offer "formula" never really came together before. In the six years I've been in business, I've worked with huge companies and senior executives running organizations of thousands, rich banks and investment firms, and funded startups at various stages of growth. In all, I've worked with about 25 clients in the last six years. But though I've often been asked, I've never been able to offer affordable services to interesting early-stage projects undertaken by individuals and rent-and-ramen teams. This is my first serious attempt to solve the problem. 

The idea of disrupting traditional strategy consulting through a model that offers the same services, but at an affordable, capped price, has attracted me since the beginning. While big companies and growing startups are great for a certain class of challenges I enjoy -- challenges that typically require a lot of face time -- the regular consulting model simply does not work below a certain price point. Which means people like me don't get to work with all the interesting stuff that happens below that threshold.

Over the past couple of years though, as tools like Slack and Zoom have improved, it's become clear to me that if I could get rid of the big bottleneck (live, 1:1 conversations) set the right expectations, and put some thoughtful restrictions in place, it would be possible to offer McKinsey-style strategy consulting at an affordable price. One that young teams working on speculative products, people doing creative projects like novels or nonfiction books, individuals paying personally out of pocket for side projects, and small corporate teams on shoe-string budgets, could afford.

We'll see if this hypothesis is correct. I don't know if and how this will work, which is one reason I've left most details up for improvisation in this first pilot session, but based on my years of "traditional" consulting, as well as 10 years as a blogger running successful online communities, and many years teaching at universities, I have a strong suspicion this will work.

Also, even though many details about Q Lab are TBD, I do know is what Q Lab is not.

Q Lab is not a generic discussion or networking group, which some of you have been asking for. Though you might make a few friends if you join, I am trying to optimize my ability to offer 1:1 support to a lot more projects than I currently can, not your networking or social life. So the model will integrate elements from traditional consulting, incubators, coworking spaces, college-level teaching, etc. But the overall point is to make my services more affordable.

Q Lab is also not a place for "members only content". While I will probably post useful documents, journal-like thoughts, 2x2s, and other things in the slack that might be of use to members, I won't be making any commitments in that department. And things I do post won't necessarily be "exclusive" to members. They might get turned into blog posts, newsletters, and such. So don't apply if "exclusive members-only content" is what you're looking for. 

And finally, Q Lab is not a place for coaching on very specific skills. Others do that sort of thing very well (Tiago Forte for organizational skills, Shane Parrish of Farnam Street for mental models, and so forth). My schtick is, and has always been, built around open-ended 1:1 conversational sparring and coaching around specific projects.

If this pilot experiment works, I will be turning Q Lab into a permanent thing, running on a quarterly tempo.  So if you're interested in getting in on the ground floor here in my own Great Work of disrupting traditional consulting, apply to join the first Q lab quarterly session. Remember, the deadline is next Thursday, March 23, and the action starts April 1.
Feel free to forward this newsletter on email and share it via the social media buttons below. You can check out the archives here. First-timers can subscribe to the newsletter here. You can set up a phone call with me via my profile page

Check out the 20 Breaking Smart Season 1 essays for the deeper context behind this newsletter. If you're interested in bringing the Season 1 workshop to your organization, get in touch. You can follow me on Twitter @vgr
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