So you have your idea and you have your team. Now all that’s left is to start, right?
To your credit, a lot of you will say, “not yet,” because you know that a blind leap is risky. You know that those who purely rely on gut and instinct are either foolhardy or have oodles of money to spare.
“Look, before you leap.”
And so lot of us startup founders find ourselves looking first. We do a lot of “market research” and get info about market share the competitor’s 5-P’s, and the like. Some of us even do surveys which asks questions like:
“Our product is _______. It’s great because unlike what’s in the market, it’s _______. Will you buy this product? Y or N?”
For most of us, a large number of people saying “Y” is enough to say, “Let’s invest a huge chunk and get this baby going!”
However, there is a huge gulf which exists between this sort of survey result and the actual reality of customers opening up their wallets. It’s presumptuous to assume that just because one million customers are currently using ABC product with this feature set, they will immediately jump to your product because you think you have better features. They might say they will buy your product in your survey, but how they WILL act might be different.
Look, going to the customer for input is exactly the right thing to do. There is way to do it much better though – don’t give them a survey which asks them to IMAGINE the product. Give them an ACTUAL product to try out.
THIS is the minimum viable product – your MVP.
The MVP was popularized by Eric Ries in his book, the Lean Startup, which focuses on software products. (buy it NOW) There is no reason though to limit the concepts to just IT. You can apply the MVP to any product or industry.
The idea is to think of the MOST BASIC features your product should have. This can prove to be tricky because we live in a features-heavy culture and the temptation is to cram our product with features. Resist this.
List the most basic features of your product/service. Got it? Now cut these features in half. With your new list, try to create your MVP. Why limit your features? Because every feature is an assumption you have to prove. Rather than go to the customer with 30 assumptions, just go with five essential ones and listen for the customer to tell you what features he or she wants.
Ideally, you can come up with a “bare bones” version of your product. For example, if you want to build sales tracking software, perhaps you can do a bare, working version of the system. Selling a new type of sandal? Create the prototype. For StreamEngine, our MVP’s are the videos you can see on the website.
Do remember that the MVP isn’t necessarily a minimum product, though. For some cases, it will be impossible to do an actual prototype without actually spending. In this instance, you have to get creative.
One of my favorite startups, Dropbox, faced this when they launched a couple of years ago. They didn’t have the resources to create the actual online service yet. So what did they do? They created a video. It wasn’t the actual product, it was a demo which used mock-ups. The video worked though. It increased their beta waitlist from 5000 to 75000. More importantly, it validated an assumption. Contrary to what people were saying (you have a million other cloud-storage services around), people were willing to buy their product. Be sure to read this Techcrunch post on how they did it.
Validate your assumptions. I can’t stress this enough. Your MVP should help you do this.
Remember, to mitigate risk, it’s best to do this step BEFORE you launch, BEFORE you commit to anything significant, like money, or quitting your day job.
Once you have your MVP ready, it’s time to bring it to your customer.
So how exactly to you do that? Isn’t it a misnomer to have customers at this point? What will you ask them?
All this and more in the next post!
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