Minimum Viable Product rant

by Jon on May 4, 2010

Lately, you can’t swing a dead cat at a gathering of Internet entrepreneurs without hitting someone in mid-sentence talking about their “minimum viable product.”  The problem is that half the time, I don’t hear them talking about minimum viable products.  I hear them talking about “minimum products.”  It’s the intersection that is important.  Maybe the following graphic will help explain the concept:

Minimum Viable Product graphic

As a startup, attacking the minimum problem speaks to capital efficiency; but it still needs to be viable.  And viable changes a lot depending on your market.  For example, “viable” for a game is much different than what would be considered viable for a Twitter client or a contact manager or a Rails plugin module.  Game customers are a a (rightfully) demanding bunch who expect stuff to be fun; thus, fun becomes the benchmark for viableness–whereas coders might love the idea behind a Rails module, and even be willing to contribute to make it better.

The goal of a startup is to find the sweet-spot where minimum product and viable product meet–get people to fall in love with you.  Over time, you listen to your customers, make improvements and raise the bar on what viable means–making it more expensive for competitors to jump in.

Thank you for reading this article. Please follow me on Twitter to hear more from me on innovation, games and entrepreneurship. If you'd like to learn how games can transform your business, also check out my book, Game On: Energize Your Business with Social Media Games.

{ 18 trackbacks }

Van concept naar levensvatbaarheid, deel 1 « Geert Smit
August 25, 2010 at 3:48 pm
What Are You Waiting For? Launch Already! | Dave Donaldson
December 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm
Minimum Viable Funding | Dave Donaldson
December 22, 2010 at 9:26 pm
Do I need a minimum viable product? « Communitech
March 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm
What is MVP? | MyLeanStartup
March 29, 2011 at 1:35 pm
Is an MVP necessary? « Pearls of Wisdom
May 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm
What is MVP? // Roger Stringer
May 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm
Step two: Minimum viable (loyalty) product - Contained Disruption
December 15, 2011 at 6:01 am
What is MVP? | Roger Stringer
October 31, 2012 at 2:27 pm
What the hell is a MVP anyway? | 8 Gram Gorilla
October 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm
Building a Successful Product | Triple Threat Websites
November 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm
Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen | Design lance
November 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm
Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen | Techies Desk
November 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm
Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen | Smashing Magazine
November 27, 2013 at 9:25 pm
Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen | InnoQuest Indonesia
November 29, 2013 at 2:50 am
Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen » SmallDot
November 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm
Kiwi Trix | Building a successful product
March 2, 2014 at 12:16 pm
Graphic Solutions Group » Building A Successful Product: Start Small And Listen
March 4, 2014 at 7:47 pm

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

MikeNo Gravatar May 4, 2010 at 10:36 am

Jon – agree. The viability factor for entertainment apps should be measured by the fun people have using them -how many friends they tell to play. Viability factor for productivity apps should be how much time they save people over the way they did things before. Many early stage apps require more effort than they are worth to receive the benefit. The challenge of consumer apps!

Trapper MarkelzNo Gravatar May 4, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Jon — largely agree as well. I think there is a bit of a continuum of intent missing from this though… A product doesn’t always start off minimum & viable… you THINK or HOPE it will be both… but it might turn out to not be viable in that state… you may not develop the customers you want… or you may not develop any customers at all! So what you thought was going to be minimum & viable just ends up being minimum & crappy… But at least you learned something about your assumptions.

Being better financed maybe allows you more latitude to have more assumptions upfront and it doesn’t hurt as hard when some of those don’t pan out and you have to cut them off… or just leave them and absorb the technical debt.

I do agree that not all things lend themselves well to a customer development approach that utilizes MVPs. For instance iPhone (and other mobile platforms) are hard because of the distribution channel… and if you miss that first wave of reviews and launch buzz, it is hard to recover from that… so just like a game, you have to come out of the gate with something really complete.

I think another way of thinking about MVPs is how they may not always be testing a products ability to develop customers, but maybe just a small key aspect or assumption… and all the resources and processes around them. For instance I am using a minimum product at the moment not for customer development but for validation of an editorial and content process that is fairly new to me. So instead of diving into that with a public launch product, we are using a limited and minimum product behind the scenes to validate some of the resources and processes we need when it does go live.

So I guess the reality is that there are lots of situations… each one of them unique depending on your familiarity of the domain and the expectations of the audience you are trying to go after.

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