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In 2011 Eric Ries rocked the startup world when he popularized a new approach product development in his book, “The Lean Startup.” Core among the principles he espoused was the philosophy of pursuing a faster launch to market with the simplest, most direct and core product possible – or what he calls, the Minimum Viable Product. A MVP is designed to be iterative in nature and encourages innovators to include only the absolutely required product features at the time of deployment, and nothing more. Entrepreneurs, being the sort we are, took to that lesson like a moth to the flame. Every startup event, small business conference, hackathon or pitch presentation had whispers of “MVP” sprinkled throughout – it was THE hot startup buzzword from the end of 2011 through early 2012. While the phrase continues to be on the tips of many startup founder’s tongues, the real question is how are entrepreneurs faring when it comes to applying these principles to their plans for product deployment?
I was chatting with the Captain of the Good Ship FarShore (Nick Begich) the other day about trends we are seeing come into the tech space (our group sees hundreds of new product ideas pitched across web, mobile and software platforms every year.) One of the most interesting topics that came up during our conversation was regarding how some entrepreneurs are actually (mis)applying the intended philosophy behind MVPs. After extensive dialogue, we both agreed that some entrepreneurs of late are focusing so intently on the “minimum” part of the process that they are sacrificing or inhibiting the “viable” part of their product.
Look, MVPs are great. MVPs open doors. MVPs offer a reliable guideline for stepwise growth. MVPs lower the barrier for new and exciting people to take an idea to market and evolve that idea once it is in the hands of the user. That being said, MVPs are not an excuse for lazy entrepreneurship, or to delay the creation of truly core features just because they are more challenging, or a way to forgo road-mapping your product altogether; and it is certainly not a “zero-cost solution” to launching your next big idea.
To review, MVP is….
- a methodology that allows entrepreneurs to prioritize features & separate those that are truly essential to core user experience
- a cost-conscious solution, but still requires a commitment to invest capital
- a way for entrepreneurs to leverage agility and take a product quickly to market
- a process that helps avoid over-investment in early-stage features that are not absolutely required to gain traction
On the other hand, MVP is not….
- an excuse for founders to skip due diligence or market research
- an outlet for cost sensitive innovators to avoid putting money behind their vision
- a no-risk way to approach entrepreneurship
- a reasonable excuse for delaying truly core functionality (i.e. secret sauce) at the time of your product launch
So, go forward and embrace the MVP concept, but remember that without satisfying the “viable” requirement first, your product will be nothing more than white noise in an already bustling startup space.