Whenever I talk about minimum viable products with founders of product-focused startups, I often find myself in a frustrating conversation. The term MVP is such a profound misnomer; a good MVP is not viable and certainly not a product. Chances are it’s not as small as you want it to be, if you think about it.
In the world of lean startups, founders should be as focused as possible on figuring out how to fail as quickly as possible. Ideally, you will not fail, which means that you will get a working business. Many “trying to fail” approaches involve looking at your business’s opportunities and thinking about where your business might fail in the future. Then go and deal with that part.
It’s no use building the world’s best platform for selling Beanie Babies if the entire customer base is already happy with eBay and won’t give up even if your product is better. It’s no use building a great lock specifically for scooters if it turns out the scooter companies don’t care if their scooters get stolen. It would be great if there was a way to find out if anyone would buy your product before you even wrote a single line of code.
So where do MVPs come from? As a startup, you have a hypothesis; MVP is the smallest amount of work you can do to prove or disprove your hypothesis.. Eric Rees — yes, the guy who wrote The Lean Startup — famously uses the Dropbox MVP as an example. It was not a complete product full of features. It wasn’t a product that had a lot of features removed. It was a video showing how the product could work.. The response to this video was the confirmation the company needed: if they made it, they could find a customer base for a product that hadn’t been made yet. Here’s what they did: they built a product and it was a huge success.
Developing a Good MVP
Developing a good MVP means thinking outside the box. How little code can you write? Is it possible to do without design? If your biggest question is, can you get customers for a reasonable customer acquisition cost, can you just run an ad campaign and a checkout page and then just refund the person who places the order? If that sounds like fun, but you’re concerned about brand risk, can you create a fake brand and get an answer for your product?
The trick is to think carefully about the hypothesis: what should be true about your product, the market, the problem area you are in, the customers you hope to attract, and the competitive landscape? How sure are you that your assumptions are correct? Designing a good MVP is an art, but it starts with a really good question. Here are some examples:
- Can we cut four hours of manual accounting tasks down to a script that can be run in three minutes? This is a tech MVP – you’ll probably need to put together some code to see if you can reliably automate manual tasks.
- Can we find someone willing to pay to automate this task? In some cases, the answer will be no – yes, you can save a little time for a junior accountant, but in some industries, people just don’t care how much time juniors spend on manual tasks. In this case, you need to determine if you can find 20-30 customers willing to pay for it. Remember that the person who says “oh that sounds like a good idea” is different from the one who reaches into his pocket and in fact pays you money.
- Does design matter for this product? Many B2B programs are horribly ugly. Not because good designers don’t exist, but because it’s just not a priority; the people who must use the product may prefer a better design or a simpler UX, but decision makers don’t care and users don’t have a say. In other words: don’t spend half your development budget to make something easier to use if you can’t find a business case for it. Especially if it turns out that you inadvertently develop the wrong set of features along the way.
- Will the incumbent president copy us and destroy us? If there are multiple actors in your industry, do a little research and see how they reacted to other startups. If they tend to acquire them, great. If they tend to copy their features and innovations and then destroy them, that’s not so great. A little Google search (and reading TechCrunch for your industry, of course) can save you a headache down the road. If actors routinely steal innovation, invest more in patents and save money for lawyers.
- Does this feature make sense for our customers? It may be that you get a very vocal minority of your customers asking for the same feature, but you won’t be the first company to launch a new feature with great fanfare to be met with a collective shrug. High-profile customers don’t speak for your entire customer base, so be prudent in how you handle your backlog – if a feature doesn’t add significant value to your company’s overall business goals, don’t prioritize it over those that do. One way to build an MVP around this is to simply add a button to your UI and keep track of how many people click on it. Write “soon!” message on click, e.g. Yes, it annoys users, but it’s a lot “cheaper” than spending multiple development cycles adding a feature that almost no one will use.
In short, the key is to think very carefully about the question and then come up with elegant, simple ways to ask the question. Can a survey work instead of a shipping code? Can the demo video give you the answers you need? Can you call 50 customers and ask them discreet questions and see if they offer the feature you think of as a potential solution to a problem? They can surprise you in two ways: your customers can either really want what you have to offer (great!), or they can hate it (great too – this means you don’t have to spend time and money developing something they don’t know). want) or they may have a completely different way of solving a problem that falls in the sweet spot, is cheaper to develop, and helps them feel involved in your process.
I don’t have a suggestion for a better name for an MVP, just don’t fall into the trap of thinking of it as a product, viable or necessarily small, simple or light. Some MVPs are difficult. The idea, however, is to spend as little of your precious resources as possible in order to get your questions answered.
Credit: techcrunch.com /