STEP 5: Change or Die! Tips on Iteration

(This is the 5th post in the series 6 Steps to Startup Launch. You can find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.)

After getting feedback from your customers about your MVP, it’s a simple matter of following the feedback, right? Of course, there is always more than meet the eye (ugh). Let’s go through some product iteration guidelines!

1) Don’t just blindly follow the feedback, reflect

You need to take a step back, reflect carefully about the feedback, and determine how you want to use it in changing your MVP.

No, there isn’t a formula as to how this can be done. It all depends on your particular product, market, and feedback results. This is why it’s always a good idea to have domain experts on your founding team – it would be the perfect time to ask them what they think of the customer reaction.

Actually, the challenge here sometimes is finding the time to reflect, as startups often prove to be hectic creatures, where the entrepreneur manages everything.

Force yourself to take that step back.

2) The more, the merrier

So when you collect the data and manage to iterate your product accordingly, isn’t it time to launch?

Well you’re in better state than you were pre-iteration. Still, you mitigate even more risk if you  gather more customer feedback about your newly minted MVP 2.0 and do even more cycles.

Lean Startup author Eric Ries says that “Startups that succeed are those that manage to iterate enough times before running out of resources.”

Iterate then as many times as you can, as often as your time and resources will allow you.

3) Be conscious about time

During the iteration process, be very conscious of the time. Knowing that you are burning through resources as you are iterating, there needs to be a conscious effort to iterate and transform things as fast as possible. As a prime mover in your startup, you have to be extra conscious on developing a culture of speed in your workplace. Work hard, work fast.

4) Delay everything which doesn’t validate your product vision

Remember that at this point in the process, the purpose of the iteration is to validate assumptions, not to create the most complete product ever. Consequently, you should focus less on feedback about complementary add-ons – and instead focus more on feedback which talks about your core product assumptions.

Customer wanting delivery services? Ignore first.

Customer who wants to use your product on his I-phone (your MVP is on Android)? Ignore first. (When Google Chrome was first released, it had no Mac compatibility)

5) Don’t forget about price iteration

The price is part of your product. This part of the business can be extremely tricky, and you do not want to flip-flop on your pricing post-launch. Remember to evaluate your pricing model carefully as part of the iterative process.

Now let’s launch this baby!

STEP 4: Don’t Listen to Steve Jobs: You HAVE To Gather Data

(This is the 4th post in the series 6 Steps to Startup Launch. You can find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.)

There are some entrepreneurs who feel they can totally shun the customer research process and instead feel they can rely purely on their product instinct. Then they quote Steve Jobs, who famously said that “Customers don’t know what they want until they see it.”

The Apple G4-Cube looked nice, but bombed.

Well for one, chances are, you are not Steve Jobs. Two, Steve did do a ton of product research: Apple 3, The Lisa, and his Next Computer, even the Apple G4 Cube computer (done after he returned to Apple) were complete, utter failures in the market. I’m willing to bet he learned a TON of things about the market from these failures which he applied in building the successes he forged his legacy on. He used huge failures to hone his product instinct. Three, using the MVP (minimum viable product) process does indeed SHOW the customer the product, as opposed to pure focus groups, which was what Steve was pertaining to in this quote.

So, unless you are willing to gather data by actually spending millions to launch a product which hasn’t gone through customer feedback, let’s continue with STEP 4: Gathering Customer Data (on your MVP), shall we?

Let’s tackle some key insights:

1) Bring your MVP to Innovators and Early Adopters

Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm, has served as the marketing bible for tech startups from the time of its publishing until now. While he meant for it to be a guide for tech startups, I find that its concepts pretty much hold true for any startup with a truly innovative product (which is a bit redundant considering our description of a startup here).

What is critical is the customer adoption life-cycle Moore introduces and is shown below (thanks Wikipedia for the chart):

From left to right, this illustration reveals the 5 categories of customers you will encounter when you build an innovative product or service. Moore recommends that marketers should focus on one category first before moving on to the next. This is an exciting topic I will cover in more detail in another post, in the meantime, let me ask you to focus your attention on the leftmost side of the curve – the innovators and the early adopters.

These guys are the enthusiasts who will be excited about your new product because they believe in the potential of your new product. These are the people who are willing to look beyond the imperfections your new product WILL have because they see its promise.

Is your product a cutting edge web tool? Bring it to the über tech geeks to play around with. Is it a health product? Bring it to über health fanatics who will try anything in the name of fitness. Got an innovative marketing service? Bring it to an innovative marketing director who is known to try new things. For STORM, our early adopters were (surprising for us) medium-sized local firms who could make decisions fast and wanted to have an HR edge over their international counterparts.

Why bring it to them? Because they care, and will be more than willing to render their feedback, and most importantly, their time. Chances are, you will be ignored if you bring your product to customers in the other categories

So how do you find these people? Be an entrepreneur – research, be creative, and just do it. They ARE out there.

2. Gathering the data

If it’s a product, show them your MVP and then do one thing: shut up.

Resist the urge to render any input as this may affect the person’s experience. Just observe how the customer uses your product. For web services, for example, the suggestion is to just observe them while they go onto your site. As in be in the room with them as they visit your site for the first time. And then shut up. Observe: how do they navigate your site? What don’t they understand?

For services, it gets to be more tricky, as the MVP is likely to be invisible. You CAN still make them go through the service process by giving large discounts or incentives. One reader said his new service firm was going to do pro-bono consulting work just to get early feedback. That works!

After the customer experiences the MVP, then ask the simplest questions: what did you like? what did you not like? how could the experience be improved?

By this time, I am almost 100% sure you would already be realizing that some of your initial assumptions were wrong.

3) The Importance of Humility

In essence, you will have customers tell you that part or the entirety of your idea sucks.

If you are human, then this has to feel at least a tiny bit hurtful because it was YOUR idea and you devoted time and energy building your MVP.

Resist the urge which says:

“This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”


“This guy is an outlier.”


“This guy probably hates me and is jealous.”

Listen to the feedback. Listen to the feedback.

Then be brutally honest with yourself and your team. Accept that some parts of your idea (or maybe even your entire idea) may actually suck.

Now, iterate!

(Know anyone whom you think just NEEDS to hear the content of Juangreatleap? Be a blessing and share NOW!)

STEP 3: The Key To Startup Victory Is The MVP

(This is the 4th post in the series 6 Steps to Startup Launch. You can find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.)

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!

(Know anyone whom you think just NEEDS to hear the content of Juangreatleap? Be a blessing and share NOW!)