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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Minimal Viable Product

Aside from the usage of expletives, there are several other similarities in Jonathan Wegener's Minimal Viable Product (MVP) article to my "Kevin Costner is Full of Sh*t" posting (more on the title below).

A little background: an Minimal Viable Product is the 1.0 version of your software, service, product, whatever, that you can go to market with. It is called minimally viable because it is just that: it is the quickest thing you can whip up that demonstrates your core thesis or offering, with little room for much else. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, famously said: “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

This principle can be difficult to follow. Jonathan Wegener, author of Back of the Envelope, points out:
"Manhattan is full of gorgeous skyscrapers. No self-respecting person walks around thinking to themselves “Gosh, if I were going to build a skyscraper, I’d want mine to look like sh*t.” That just doesn’t happen! Instead, we have a natural tendency to want to ‘one up’ the status quo: “I’m going to build a skyscraper out of gold!”"
I was guilty of giving into this line of thinking when I was building myBusinessTies in 2005 (a Facebook for Wall Street back when Facebook was just for college kids). I was following the Kevin Costner "build it and they will come" mantra. I developed a fully featured and stylistically beautiful networking platform, but had no customers and no idea how to acquire them, or even if they wanted what I was peddling. My result: long development time and significant effort invested, full product, but no idea if anyone wanted to use it, and no user marketing strategies.

If following the MVP strategy is the way to go, you might wonder why you don't see more of them out there. The answer that Jonathan offers up is:
"the heart of the issue is that very few of these minimal viable products exist in the real world. Why? They rarely stick around! Customer feedback quickly drives additional improvements and features. Soon, memories of the mediocre original product completely fade away!"
Bingo. MVP either guides your product forward quickly or advises you to cut your losses, avoiding over investment into a less-than-promising venture. What I should have done with myBusinessTies was spend less time developing and more time reaching out to my potential customer-base, demonstrating the core offering of the platform, gathering feedback, and then iterating my product appropriately (or realizing that Wall Street didn't want an exclusive web-based network). Either way, better than marching blindly forward.

If it helps, realize your product only has to be an MVP for a short time. After you gather feedback and have a better idea where to push your product next, you'll step out of that category towards a Viable Product that is polished and professional.

The key is this: don't blindly over develop and over invest, but rather practice customer discovery and development and don't hesitate to get out in front of potential customers and clients as early as possible. It will make you a happier entrepreneur.


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