The term Minimum Viable Product or MVP was popularized by Eric Reis as part of his Lean Startup manifesto, in which he described an MVP as
"The version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort." - Ries, Eric (2011). The Lean Startup
As we dive into this we see that there is quite a lot of subjectivity.
- Who's to say exactly what that version is?
- What do we consider to be the maximum amount of validated learning?
- What is the "least" effort?
Basically, it leaves a lot up in the air.
And that's fine, for the most part. After all, this isn't mathematics and this isn't a proof - it's business, and in business some things are subjective.
The real story around minimum viable product
The main problem arises when you combine this definition with a multitude of hungry, bootstrapped entrepreneurs who are looking for more justification to get more with less.
In some ways that are the name of the game, isn't it?
We're trying to produce the highest results with the lowest investment.
In specific instances this is fine - in fact, it's even necessary.
But in others, it can be detrimental.
Here's the problem.
Remember those bootstrapped entrepreneurs?
Ya, the guys without a lot of cash, time, and resources.
Well they're looking to cut corners with their product in order to get it out faster and get at that "validated learning" sooner rather than later.
Now, this might not be true for everything, but in many cases that leads to subpar products. Products that are
- More buggy
- Less featured
- Poorer designed
and all around worse by comparison to the thing that's out there.
Does this sound like a winner to you?
On top of that comes the justification from many entrepreneurs that this is what they're supposed to do.
That on the contrary, if they spent more time and effort coming out with a better product, they would actually be breaking the rules.
This is the way things are supposed to be - it's not their fault - it's an MVP.
And yet while this might be okay if you're in a market with absolutely no established competitors whatsoever if you're like the rest of us who are trying to break into a market - this stuff just ain't gonna fly.
Consider from the user's perspective, of whom you are attempting to get this validated learning.
If they're even at all aware of the competitor's product (and if they are truly your target market, they most likely will be), how much validated learning can you really expect to get?
Well, it's worse on all fronts from what the competitor has put out - does that mean you should do it?
Who knows, but I doubt anyone will be opening up their checkbooks.
You can't expect the user to really urge you on when all they have to go on is an inferior product.
In short, I don't necessarily have a problem with the definition - my problem is in the interpretation and the results that come out of it.
What we did bypassing the MVP
Back when Mark, Gurpal and I were choosing which direction to go with our product, we hit a crossroads.
We had the option to come out with JUST a prospecting tool.
No campaign management. No analytics. Just a one and done blogger prospecting tool.
I'll admit, at the time the prospect of launching a month or two early and getting some hands on customer feedback sooner rather than later was pretty appetizing.
But, and I'll give Mark the credit here, we decided that the ability to
- Find online influencers
- Build relationships with them through social media and email
- Measure the results of campaigns
Was an integral part of the three step process we were trying to incorporate into this tool, and that if it failed on any of those fronts, it just wouldn't be good enough.
So we strove to come out with something that we felt was at least as good as the current competitors (who are years ahead of us with larger teams and way more money) and in many ways superior.
Otherwise, what's the point?
It wouldn't be much of an announcement to put an inferior product on the market.
And yes, while the product might not have all the bells and whistles we would have liked, and the design might be a bit "uninspired" in some instances, I'll be happy to know that we did the best we could to get a great product out into the market under resources strapped circumstances - and we didn't rush it along, just because we could.
That's my interpretation of an MVP and I'm sticking with it.