There’s a lot of misinformation out there about Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). There’s a belief that it’s the right way to go if you develop an MVP because people are naturally going to buy your product. I want to debunk this idea right now.
Just because you develop an MVP does not necessarily mean your product is going to sell. I think this is a really important thing for you to think about.
There has to be value in the MVP. In fact, there has to be significant value in the MVP.
And here’s how I want you to think about MVPs. The product has to be, if you’re starting out or this is your first product or second or third product, something significantly better about the product or you can’t release the product.
The MVP you release has to be 100X better than what is available today.
You will fail if you introduce an MVP, and there is no redeeming feature to the MVP. You can save money. And the product can be simple to develop.
However, I don’t care whether the product is a hardware product or a software product.
Guess what’s going to happen if there’s nothing better about the MVP? Your MVP is not going to sell.
You will have wasted whatever money you spent on your MVP.
This is one of the points I want to drive home today. Just developing an MVP because an MVP is on a checklist of things you’re supposed to do does not guarantee you success.
Make sure that the simplest product you’re going to do has significant value. Otherwise, you need to rethink your development plan.
What’s the difference between a prototype and an MVP?
A prototype is going to be something simple, and the prototype may or may not be ready for your customers to use. An MVP, by contrast, is a product that you’ve done the testing, and you’ve done the work to sell the product to the public.
Prototypes are for internal use.
Sometimes you may provide prototypes to your customers to show them what you’re up to. Always make sure to tell your customers that the prototype is just that, a prototype.
Make sure the customer knows the product is not yet for sale, and the product has not been extensively tested, and you are interested in getting the customer’s honest feedback. I’ve done this with Alpha and Beta products, and I’ve gotten very good feedback.
Then I would tell customers when the product is going to be released to production. You can get a lot of really useful feedback by engaging early with your customers.
You want to be thinking about how do you get a product that is useful to your customers. Remember, the product has to be significantly better or your customers are going to roll their eyes and move on.
You will have wasted whatever amount of time, and you will have wasted whatever amount of money you have spent, on something that isn’t going to sell.
There has to be redeeming value in whatever you develop, and your MVP has to be significantly better if it’s going to sell.
What is the minimum amount you have to have developed before you can start talking about your startup?
The question you have is do you need a pitch deck before you start talking to customers? Or do you need an alpha version or beta version of your product before you start talking to customers?
One of the big mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is they wait too long before they start talking to potential customers. You want to look at things like there is this giant feedback loop out there.
The quicker you get feedback, the quicker you can adjust, and the quicker you can make whatever changes you need to make. I don’t care what kind of product you’re doing your goal is how can you get paying customers as quickly as possible?
I was just having a conversation about the benefits of getting out there quickly with someone I am working with. He’s been working for a while on his MVP.
The point I was making with him is that he needs to start getting in front of customers and get some to start paying for what he is doing. The biggest validation you can is getting someone to start paying you for your products.
It doesn’t matter if your first customer pays a highly discounted rate for your product, (say $10 for a product worth $200) getting someone to pay for your product is huge validation that you are on the right track.
So think about the steps that you need to take in your business to get those answers (ideally a paying customer) as quickly as possible. Your goals are making customers aware of what you are doing and getting customers to start buying.
You can start making adjustments once you start getting customer feedback. That’s how you starting making use of the minimum viable information.
This minimum viable information (both positive and negative) gives you the vital initial reaction you need to keep moving forward. Now you can learn more quickly and you can adapt more quickly.
The whole concept behind minimum viable products really should be how do you get useful answers from the market as inexpensively and quickly as possible.
Remember, there has to be something significantly different about what you’re doing with that minimum set of product features, or you’re not going to get any useful feedback. If you can’t get customers excited by what you’re doing, then:
- The differentiation of your product is significant enough, or…
- Your product isn’t unique in an area that your customer base cares about, or…
- Maybe you’re focused on the wrong market or customer base
You will get this necessary market feedback quickly if you use the strategy I outlined above. Then you can make the adjustments you need to make as fast as possible.
What is the maximum amount of time you should spend building your MVP?
This is a broad question, so let me try and make it as specific as possible. In one sense, the answer is how quickly can you develop a product that is unique and differentiated enough, so you can get useful answers.
You should follow the concept of stripping the product down, so you identify the key feature or features your customers need. Customers don’t make decisions on five or six things that you are doing. Customers make decisions on one or two key features. That’s what sells products.
It doesn’t matter whether your product is a physical product, a software product, or a service, it’s those one or two unique things that you do significantly better than everyone else that will sell your product. That’s what customers can keep in their minds.
If you start trying to sell your product on four or five or six features, that’s way to many features. You want to strip down what you’re doing so those one or two key features can stand out.
Then your product can be useful to customers in its most minimum form. This will allow you with the most minimum effort possible to get to that point.
It’s fantastic if you can get to this point because now you know the minimum amount of time you need to develop your first product(s). But remember, the one or two features you choose to focus on need to be significantly different.
You will likely fail if your product isn’t significantly different. It will not matter how well meaning you are, and it will not matter how strong your customer relationships are. You need to reset your thought process if you cannot determine the one or two features that make your product unique.
How do you test your minimum viable product?
In other words, “Do I really need to test as rigorously as the final product that I develop?” Let me give you a simple analogy for anything you release to market.
You only get one chance to make first impression.
This is your baby. This is your company. You’re going out to the real world and saying, “Look at me. I’ve got this really cool product. It’s unique. It’s different. And you know what? It works!”
So you need to do as much testing as you would do on your final product for your minimum viable product. Your product needs to be tested rigorously and thoroughly, so you know all the areas that are problematic before the product goes out.
Hopefully, whatever those areas are, if it makes the product unusable, then you don’t want to be out there selling the product. This is the difference between a prototype and production.
Remember that your minimum viable product is a production product.
Prototypes can have all sorts of issues. You can go to your customers and say, “I have a prototype right here, and you can evaluate it for free. It has these know problems.”
But if the product is a production product that you are selling, the product problems you have cannot get in the way of the use of the product. You need to make sure that the product is tested thoroughly, so none of these problems come out in production.
About the worst thing that can happen to you is you’re caught unaware of a product problem. This can be worse than not going out with the product at all.
You want to be really careful because if you burn your customers, and your customers start using something and it doesn’t work, and you don’t know it doesn’t work, then you have start backtracking. A product problem that you don’t know about can be really tough on your company.
That’s why you thoroughly test your product, so you understand all the issues and all the corner cases that may happen. Now you’re prepared, and you can make an informed decision about releasing the product.
You need to be very “open kimono” with your customers about any potential problems. That means you need to be very open and honest that in certain applications your product is going to work in a sub-optimal way.
Now you are being honest, and you’re getting ahead of the issue. Now customers will respect you for your transparency. But if the customer finds the problem before you do, that’s where people get in trouble based on my experience.
It gets very difficult when you are trying to build a company, and you’re trying to build a brand when you are dealing with product problems. Now every company that ever existed, be it a hardware company or a software company, will have issues with products.
Every company I’ve been involved with, we’ve always had product issues. Having said that, we tell our customers as soon as we find the issues.
You get ahead of the problems. That’s how you continue building strong relationships with your customers.
How narrow or limited should your MVP be?
The test for how narrow or limited your MVP should be is very simple. The question is, “Is what I’m doing significantly different in a meaningful way to my customers?”
This is really a 1/0, Yes/No question.
Go forward if your MVP is significantly different. You need to stop your development if your MVP isn’t significantly different.
I don’t how cheap it is to develop your MVP, but you need to stop if you don’t have significant advantage. Your MVP isn’t going to sell, and you’re not going to gain much, if any, useful feedback on your next generation product.
Worse, all of your effort, all of your money, and all of your time is going to go for naught. That’s what you’re trying to avoid.
So, when you think about minimum viable products, you need to be thinking that you have to have something different. That difference may be a subset of what you want to build out later.
That difference may be a subset of your long-term plan. But your MVP needs to be unique or it’s just not going to sell.
This means you’re wasting your time if your MVP is not unique.
I’ve seen this throughout my career. I’ve made these mistakes, and I don’t want you to make these mistakes.
Any product that sold, especially in the early days of a company I was involved in, was really different. I like to use this minimum of 10X.
The product needs to be better by a factor of at least 10X on something. That’s when you start getting attention.
It’s very easy to delude yourself into believing that your product will sell if you’re 10-20% better than the competition. You say to yourself, “We’re a little better than the competition. We’re gonna be aggressive. We’re gonna discount price.”
This strategy rarely works.
What works is when you are so much better than the competition that customers are willing to take a chance on using your product. This tells you the limitations of what you can and cannot do.
Then you can start adding other features to your product later. But you have to have enough (think 10X better) to make it worth your customers while to work with you.
Put yourself in the shoes of being a customer. We’ve all been customers before and we’re taking risks when we buy a product from a new brand.
The question your customers are asking is, “Why am I taking risks from what I’m using before to this new brand?”
The answer is always the same. “It’s so much better than what’s out there, that it is worth me taking the risk.”
This is how you need to think about your customers. You need to put yourself in the shoes of your customers in terms of why are they going to work with you.
You need to brutally honest with yourself about what those reasons are. Because if the answer isn’t unequivocally, “Yes, I’m willing to take this risk. I’m willing to this chance on this unknown brand.” Then they are not going to take the risk on using your product.
What do you do after the minimum viable product?
Well, it’s obviously the next generation of products.
Let’s rephrase the question a little bit. What do you want to do and what are your goals with your MVP?
A. You want to start getting people buying from you.
This is point where you are in a go or no-go phase in terms of what you are doing. You want people to start paying you something.
The price doesn’t have to be full price, but you want proof that customers will buy from you. And…
B. You want to start gaining feedback.
You can gain tons of feedback about customers like about your product, what customers dislike about your product, what customers want to see you next, the pricing, and the competition. You can gain a ton of information from the work you’ve done.
Now you can learn:
- What do you do next, and…
- Where do you go next, and…
- What customers are you resonating with, and…
- What customers aren’t you resonating with, and…
- What’s working, and…
- What isn’t working
That’s the beauty of this type of iterative approach if you use it right. You already have a roadmap of what products come next with what features.
Your MVP and the feedback you get from your MVP helps you make the needed adjustments to your plan. Now you can spend your hard earned money with more certainty.
Now you can add features based on the feedback you’ve received and make pivots. Remember pivoting doesn’t necessarily mean making radical changes to your plan.
Pivoting can mean small changes to your plan and your products. But these small changes can be the difference between success and failure.
You want to be gathering information. You want to be in constant communication with your customers. So get feedback from your customers, and learn more about your customers. Then…
You want to under-promise and over-deliver!
Oh, what a beautiful way to run your business. Under-promising and Over-delivering means your customers will always be pleasantly surprised.
What’s the key to making the most of your minimum viable product?
Your MVP needs to significantly different than what is available in today’s marketplace. You want to be 10X different as a minimum number.
Focus on those one or two key features that make your MVP unique. That’s what’s going to make your company stand out from everything else out there.
You want to really tough on yourself. Be brutally honest about whether you’re product is truly 10X better.
Don’t go forward if your product doesn’t stand out. Go forward and get feedback as fast as you can if your product does stand out.
It’s that differentiation in a meaningful way that will allow your customers to take a chance on your new company. This is the key to making your minimum viable products work.
Even before you release your MVP, start testing your ideas with customers. Don’t be afraid to start testing your ideas early on. Don’t be afraid to get pre-orders from your customers.
The quicker you get confirmation that you’re on to something means the quicker you can move forward. And, you can make the needed adjustments to your plan faster if the feedback is negative.
You have a much better chance of success if you take these steps.
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