No, it is not the Most Valuable Player but the Minimum Viable Product, which in a sense is the most valuable play in innovation. The MVP helps entrepreneurs learn about the product as it is put through its paces in development. This is the lean startup process, and is contrary to traditional product development where countless hours of testing is done shrouded in mystery, and made perfect, before the product is launched. In lean startup mode, there is no real product launch and there is no perfect product; it is made perfect through rounds of iteration and perfecting. Each round teaches the entrepreneur what works and what needs to be tweaked, leading to mini-launches throughout the life of the product. In a sense, in lean startups, your product is always a work in progress. In this article, I share three MVP techniques, as were outlined by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup and offer practical advice to make your MVP process successful.
Imagine you have an idea for a product that is so complex that it will take time and money to develop. Imagine further that you are pitching for money to get the development done, and so there is no real MVP in your hands. What can you do? Enter the video as the MVP. Instead of providing a sampling of the real stuff, which is still in limbo, put it in a video. Showcase what it would look like and the outcomes it would achieve in a short 2-3 minute video, thereby painting the picture of the future. Through this, stakeholders will better understand what you are shooting for, and offer suggestions – and funding – to get it there. You don’t need to build it before they come, you just have to allow them to imagine it.
Do you need to build a product before you get your first customer? To many, the answer is no. Why bother putting all your resources developing a new product when you don’t really know what the market needs, and whether they will want what you offer? Instead, go out there and interview potential customers. Follow them on their journey as they solve their problem a la design thinking, but also be on the lookout for your first customer. After identifying the pain points that people face, and the solutions that you can offer, make the offer of a solution even before you have it. And when they bite, go back and make it. As you deliver your first product, see what works and what doesn’t, getting feedback, but also, getting recommendations. As your first customer recommends your product to the next one, you build a following, each with its iteration on improving your MVP. Hence, the MVP moves up the value chain as you engage with more customers.
The Carpet Bomb
In carpet-bombing, we don’t have a pinpoint target; instead we have a whole area target and so long as the bomb falls within this territory, that is good. In a sense, the carpet bomb MVP technique is not to offer one type of product to solve a need, you offer many; sometimes up to 8 or 9 different functioning products. Each of these products does not do much; instead it is meant to see if friends would try them out and recommend them to other friends. By offering one after another, and tweaking each as they are being offered, the entrepreneur finds the best combination of features in the product that will lead users to recommend them to other users. It is only when there is a large number of recommendations would the entrepreneur pour in more resources to make it happen.
Beware the speed bumps
The MVP is the fastest way to learn what your customers want, and how you can provide them. However, there are several issues surrounding MVPs that traditionalists have issues over; these are typically over quality, protection, and timing. In many cases, a badly made product, or worse, one that can potentially cause harm, will do much more damage to the company’s brand than all the positive PR that came before it. It is therefore important to understand when to roll out the MVP, and if need be, to use non-harmful means like the video and concierge methods. But if it would not cause bodily harm, then sometimes it is good to see what service imperfections your MVP has, and make careful pains to turn them into sterling service. This would earn your invaluable appreciation, and more recommendations. With more people calling it an ugly duckling, we can do the needful to turn it into a graceful swan.
Protection is another key consideration. That is why patenting is important. You need to have a unique value proposition that you can protect before going to market. Failure to do so will only be your fault. Once you are adequately protected, you can test away!
Lastly, timing. This is more art than science. Even if you have lined all your ducks in a row, you can still crash and burn simply because the timing for your product is not right. Then someone comes along 6 months later, offers a similar service and - BAM! – the product takes off. Timing is something that many entrepreneurs have no control over, but which MVPs can offer an insight into. If no one wants to recommend you, then perhaps the time is not right.
The speed bumps and basically just that – bumps. They will not derail you if you know how to handle your MVPs. But manage your MVP process well, and you will be well on your way to a brand new business!