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.
I’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.
When showing an MVPs to outsiders for the first time, I recommend you reset expectations and goals for the preview before you dive in with the demo. Even though MVPs are designed to test the viability of the product and idea, its natural for people to react to UX/UI as if it's a finished product. Setting expectations before the reveal, will get outsiders to focus on the things that matter at that moment in time.
Remember, there is no rule that says everyone gets to see your MVP or how minimal it really is. If you're working to disrupt a market or competitor, your MVP baseline may already be set. I've seen entrepreneurs focus too much on building a Minimal Viable Product, especially in an accelerator with weekly mentor reviews, rather than a Minimal Desirable Product, that focuses on solving a gap in the marketplace. I would contend focusing on desirability over viability is more important. Anyone agree?
I'd love to hear your comments.