Are You Down With MVP?
In the halcyon days of the late ‘90s Internet boom I was involved with dozens of internet startup companies. Many of these companies were founded by me, some were founded by others who brought me in to oversee the technology component.
I learned something interesting dealing with my clients back then…
They always thought they knew exactly what their customers needed. This problem is so pervasive among Internet startups that it coined the phrase “feature creep”: the endless additions of unnecessary features.
Feature creep would enter the conversation along the lines of “I was thinking while you are already doing the ___________ we might as well create a ___________.” It was usually some non-techie type who came up with these ideas and they had no idea of how much extra work they were suggesting. Often their little addition meant throwing away everything that had been done so far and starting from scratch.
In fact, I probably spent more time cutting the tech specifications back on my companies than I did overseeing my programming teams.
What I always needed to make clear – and I stick by this today – is that the product should be defined by the customers. Build only the basics and make yourself available to your users by email, phone, comments, heck give them your home telephone number if you want.
If they have a way to find you, your customers will tell you what features they need. And here is the additional benefit: involving them in the process creates enormous brand loyalty.
This concept of letting your early adopter customers define the direction of the product offering has crystallized recently into the phrase “MVP” or “Minimum Viable Product”.
MVP has just enough features to deploy. It gets you to market. It’s quick and dirty and probably needs to be junked after a few months but it gives you first mover advantage. MVP proves the business model. It gets you out there with the lowest overhead in the shortest amount of time.
In some cases MVP is not even a product. It’s just a page for a product that doesn’t yet exist. When people go to that page they find they can’t buy the product after all, but if lots of people go to that page you know that the product you are offering has a market. You may have irritated a few people but you’ve got the data to gauge demand and save yourself months of development time.
For today’s entrepreneurs MVP is a vital tool. As I said in my Channel Your Inner Cowboy blog post earlier this week, companies are like newborn babies. They require all your time and energy to help them survive. Minimum Viable Product enables you to make sure you are investing your time in a company that has a big future.
In some cases Minimum Viable Product may even eliminate the need for Venture Capital funding – or at least make it easier to find when you need it by allowing you to demonstrate a functioning business model.
For more on the concept of Minimum Viable Product and on its current biggest proponent read Wired’s article about Eric Ries.
View all articles by Alexander Deighton