You don’t need a Minimum Viable Product. Yet.

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If you’re reading this the chances are that you’ve already read something by Eric Ries or heard about the Lean startup. If you haven’t read Eric’s book The Lean Startup I would recommend doing so.

There are many sites that will tell you what a MVP is and what options you have for creating one. If this is all you want to know I’ve listed some of the good ones at the bottom of this post rather than simply repeat here what they say.

Having worked with a software startup I want, instead, to pass on what I have learned that would have saved a great deal of effort.  I would like to add two core concepts of my own to the Lean process:

  • The Recognised Unavoidable Pain (RUP)
  • The Minimum Credible Business (MCB)

I consider these to be the most significant issues you need to resolve before you even think about creating a MVP.

The Recognised Unavoidable Pain

In the first flush of enthusiasm for your startup it is tempting to rush straight to the product: build a MVP, grab some customers and get your business up-and-running.  Right?

Before considering anything else, however, you need to establish in your own mind that your business is solving a Recognised Unavoidable Pain, defined as “an issue that your potential clients know they have to solve”.  You might stumble upon a product that no-one thought they needed but cannot do without once they have it - Facebook, for example - but there are very few of these and most of us do not get that lucky (luck, in this case, being defined as capability meeting opportunity).  Most of us need to solve a RUP.

This is especially critical if you’re developing a product for business, in which case the definition of client should be “senior management and above”.  Why?  Because unless you’re talking to individuals who are responsible for fixing that issue who also have the power to pay for it without sign-off from someone else you’re likely to waste a lot of time and effort for no reward.

Note that you don’t have to be the only business solving this RUP, but if others have got there first you’ll have to be 10 times better than them to win business away from them.  Which brings me to my next definition.

The Minimum Credible Business

Most people tend to buy from someone they know. This someone may be you, personally, or the business you represent.  This is especially true when you’re selling to another business. If your customer doesn’t know you then you have to persuade them you’re credible enough to take a risk on.

You can (and probably should) do this long before you consider creating anything to sell.  Sure, you’re developing a website to advertise your wares.  You may even buy some Google adwords to drive traffic to your new site.  There are, however, close to 100 million websites out there so you’d better shout loud.  And clear.  I’ve lost count of the number of websites for software products that I’ve seen where I’ve read the whole thing from start to finish and still have no idea what they’re selling (OK, scanned the whole thing. But that’s what we do, right?).

Everyone wants your email address.  We’re wise to that now.  If you really want to establish a presence you have to give something to get something.  Write blog posts and tweet to attract attention but make sure you’re writing something of value, not just regurgitating others or only advertising yourself.  Create whitepapers and case studies showing what you’ve learned that others may find useful and give them away in return for an email address.  Make sure you really understand what it is you do and write it down in as few words as possible on your landing page.  There’s other stuff to do, of course, but these are good things to start with.

The Take-away

Like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says, “Don’t panic”.  I’m not trying to put you off, just make sure you don’t waste valuable time.  The Minimum Viable Product is primarily a way to validate the Recognised Unavoidable Pain you you’ve already identified with the least effort.  In order to make the most of it, you need a Minimum Credible Business in order to be considered as the solution.

If you want to know what a MVP could be then take a look at these sites:

Articles describing the Minimum Viable Product


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