Jim Harrer


Product Development, Agile, Scrum and The Lean Startup

The Lean Start-up MVP – One size does not fit all.

Eric Ries’s bestseller, The Lean Startup, is a thoughtful book that has created a conversation about startups.  It focuses on how to go from the back of the napkin to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), to get in front of prospects in order to see if the idea is viable.

As with any new methodology, framework or process for the matter, I do not think audiences can truly measure its viability until they practice it themselves and spend time teaching it to others.
Lean-Startup-MVPI’ve had the chance to do both, use it with a couple of startups I’m involved in and teach it in the VentureBox business accelerator in Bend, Oregon.

The key principle of The Lean Startup is BUILD-MEASURE-LEARN.  The goal is to come up with a minimal feature set, bring it to market, measure actionable metrics and finally learn from the experience and then start again.  It barrows heavily from agile software development and favors learning from early adopters versus relying deeply on requirements management by someone in marketing.

I’m all for Build-Measure-Learn, what I have a problem with is Minimum Viable Product (MVP).   What is the definition of “Minimum”? I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs get so caught up in this MVP concept, that they test a product too soon and pivot based on incomplete data.  In my opinion, more time, not less, needs to be spent defining the MVP, including who the audience is that will see it, at each iteration.  Don't make the mistake of thinking the MVP is outside of the product lifecycle. 
MVPs should be matched to audiences. For example, your first MVP may be designed to only been seen by the development team, then management, then marketing and then prospects under NDA.  My point here is, be thoughtful about the process and audience.  Showing it to management or marketing, can quickly throw the team off the rails.  An MVP has its own product lifecycle development process, some stages should only be viewed by the core team.

Keep in mind if you’re building hardware, versus software, you have more challenges because of soft tooling requirements.  Also, don’t under-estimate the power of look and feel.  Ignoring UX/UI in some applications can take you down a rat hole you didn't intend. Each product is different. Craigslist appealed to its audience with it's simplistic UI.  Instagram's UX/UI from the get-go is what helped it go viral. 

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Xbox 360 and the battle for the living room

Let me start-off by saying, "I love my Xbox 360". It's actually hard to believe it just celebrated it's 7th birthday (May 12th).  According to Microsoft, about 70 million consoles have been sold.  When you think about it, a piece of hardware that has lasted 7 years is pretty amazing. It's a testament to the design team, I tip my hat to them.  

the-cable-guy-photoLet me switch gears now and discuss what puzzels me about their strategy. Perhaps some of you can comment and help me better understand what I have wrong.

My living room has an Xbox 360 + Kinect, DirecTV HR20-700 DVR and LG BD670 BlueRay Player all connected to my home theather and Sony 55 Bravia/  It's a nice system, not great in today's terms.  The LG BluRay player is less than a year old, everything else was purchased when we bought our home in 2007.  The piece of equipment I hate the most is the DirecTV DVR.  If you scan our recordings, we only watch like 10 channels on our DTV. It's not worth the $100 bucks a month we pay for it.

In an ideal world, it would be great if my Xbox 360 could be hooked up to receive my free, over the air, HD channels and allow me to record them, like the old Microsoft TV.  That would get me pretty close to dumping DirecTV altogether.  It would be great if they could add the balance of the channels offered on PlayOn (a neat application to sling content from your PC to any DLNA device). It would allow me to turn off my PC, save power and add videos from NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, Comedy Central, TV.com, TBS, Spike, and a dozen more. I often wonder why Microsoft doesn't just buy PlayOn from MediaMall and grab Jeff Lawrence (President and CEO) and David Karlton (Chief Technology Officer) two smart and passonate guys?  

Next, I would do everything possible to make sure every living room and bedroom had an Xbox 360 in it.  Here are some of the things I would talk to the team about:

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Kickstarter–Where some really great ideas are born.



One of the things I love watching our 9 founders go through our VentureBox Venture Launch program, is the energy they get from each other. As the class finishes week 4 today, it’s really fun to watch the team development among the founders. Each are struggling with many of the same challenges, however since they’re going through the class as a group, they’re managing those challenges better than going it alone.

Don't underestimate the power of the team dynamic in a business accelerator. Even though each founder is working on a completely different product or service, they're all doing it together. No question is dumb, and the answers often apply to each of the startups anyway. So it's all good.

That brings me to Kickstarter. If you haven’t heard or visited this site I encourage you to do so.

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