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MVP? Not so fast.

Who this is for: non-technical CEO’s, founders, and entrepreneurs.
Why you should read it: to lay the right foundation for your MVP.

For a while, it seemed like everyone went mad over the lean startup approach and Minimum Viable Products. News aggregators are still buzzing with success stories and case studies of companies like Dropbox, Twitter, and Uber who nailed their MVPs and turned them into billion-dollar empires. Entrepreneurs are living by the quotes of evangelists like Guy Kawasaki and Steve Blank, and hoping to hit the next startup lottery.

With all the hype around the MVP, there seems to be a giant gap in understanding of the actual term and the development process itself. In this post, I’m going to cover some of the cornerstones and misconceptions of the MVP, coming from someone who worked at a company that also got swept up in the beautiful idea of lean startup methodology. Ideally, anyone reading this should walk away with a series of red flags to think about when deciding to build an MVP.

MVP is not about creating a cheap product One common misconception is that the MVP is just a shoddy version of your product. In reality, an MVP is not some low budget version of your product with chopped off features that you can market ASAP. Consider the MVP as a smart experiment, a stepping stone to your future product that will help you validate your idea in the market and test your value proposition. The MVP may be incomplete, but never of low-quality. If you ship a shoddy MVP, your feedback will be based around the flaws of the MVP, not the idea itself. So, to get quality feedback, make sure to deliver a flawless MVP.

Often times, founders get stuck on the “minimum” part of the MVP and ignore the “viable”, which in itself is the key component of the process. Minimum stands for the fundamental feature, or a set of features that are central to your product. Viable means something that provides value to a customer in a way that makes sense for your business. If your idea doesn’t bring value to the user, it’s not viable. If it provides value to the customer, but not your business, then you need to reevaluate it. If your idea brings value to the customer and is feasible for your business - congrats, you nailed it.

Focus on benefits instead of features Alright, so a well developed MVP brings purpose and value. When shaping the MVP, concentrate on the benefits it yields to the user and not the list of features that define the MVP. This is especially relevant when you’re presenting your idea to investors and early adopters. Don’t just talk about the technical side of things, focus on the problem the product solves and the advantages it brings to the customer. It takes just one sentence to communicate a good idea and have people believe in it.

I also found this to be a good trick when selecting a development team. While communicating your idea, limit your description to a single fundamental benefit. Good teams will brainstorm, question and debate your idea, and if it’s good - they will take care of the scoping themselves. Remember, an MVP is mostly about brainstorming and finding that right product/market fit. Coding is the easy part, which brings us to the next point.

Don’t start with the code For many startups, coding is a comfort zone they try to hide in to avoid the harsh realities of the market. Analytics can get boring as hell, so it’s very tempting to jump straight to the fun part. But before you get into architecting and coding the MVP, start with simple tools to test the ground. Here’s a great example - put together a landing page with a simple pre sign-up form and run Facebook ads for a week or two. This will cost you about 100 bucks, and should provide a reasonable amount of metrics to start evaluating traction.

Avoid package deals So now that you’ve crystalized your value proposition, tested the market and received positive responses from early adopters, it’s time to get to the fun part. You may choose to develop the MVP in house (if you have the resources) or outsource it. Now, I won’t get into the specifics of recruiting in this post, but there is one thing you should avoid and that’s MVP package deals.

With all the hype around MVPs there are hundreds of companies that offer rapid MVP development services. To stay competitive and differentiate themselves from the others, many of them offer package deals. The price ranges from 5K to 30K depending on the project, startup funding stage, and scope of services. This may sound transparent and tempting at first glance, but teams that offer MVP in a box misunderstand the whole concept of MVP. The MVP is 70% brainstorming and strategy, and only 30% coding. These companies use cheap resources to code a mediocre prototype based on your scoping document. They miss out on the most important part of the process - the brainstorming.

The next post will cover the specifics of identifying and selecting the right team to build your MVP.