Today i’m going to talk to you about a minimum viable product. MVP. We always yell at founders to not use jargon yet we have this whole set of stupid startup jargon and MVP is one of them. When you think about an mvp you should think about something ridiculously simple this is the first thing you can give to the very first set of users you want to target, in order to see if you can deliver any value at all to them.
That’s all it is. It’s extremely simple. What I will tell you is that it is helpful to talk to some users before you decide to build your MVP. This doesn’t mean you have to go into a three-year kind of research situation or you have to work in industry for several years but some conversations are helpful. It’s even more helpful if you are your own user so you can tell whether your product’s working for you.
I always get this strange question of: how do i get my first users?
which always kind of confuses me because theoretically you decide to solve a problem that you know someone has so the way you get your first user as you talk to that person that you know has the problem and if it’s you it’s even easier.
If you are building a product for a mysterious set of users that you have no idea who they are… question that.
Okay so the goal of a pre-launch startup is extremely simple.
Step one: Launch quickly
This is something that’s been part of the startup ethos from the very beginning and it’s been great advice for many years and it continues to be great advice.
If you can take away from one thing from this post, it’s launch something quickly.
Step two: Get some customers
Get anyone using your product. You don’t have to have a vision of how you get everyone using it but just anyone interacting and seeing if they can get value out of the product you’d be surprised at how many founders journeys end before a single user has actually interacted with a product they’ve created.
It’s very very common so please get past this step.
Step three: Talk to your users
Any of them will do. Talk to them after you’ve launched your MVP and get feedback. This is one that’s also extremely common mistake because most founders in their heads have a idea of what they want to build and so they kind of have this weird feeling that if i haven’t built the full thing yet getting feedback on the shitty initial thing is kind of useless.
“Of course it’s not going to work. It’s not the full thing”
“The full things can take three years, a million dollars & a whole team so feedback on the little thing is useless”
The reality is that in some ways the full thing is this really awesome idea in your head that you should keep in your head, but it should be very very flexible because it might turn out the full thing that you want to build isn’t what your customers want at all.
I have the saying:
“hold the problem you’re solving tightly, hold the customer tightly but hold the solution you’re building loosely”
A lot of founders once they’ve figured out how to build something, they fall in love with it and so if it doesn’t work for a certain set of users they start thinking “well I wonder what other problems this thing can solve”…
“Well you know the screwdriver is not actually good at screwing in anything, but I wonder what other problems it could solve and maybe you can use it to cook? maybe you can use it to clean?”
NO. The problem was I need to screw something in. The user was like a mechanic and if your screwdriver doesn’t help the mechanic solve the problem keep the mechanic, keep the problem. I need to screw something in. Fix the screwdriver because that’s the thing that’s broken. The broken thing is not the mechanic and it’s not the fact that they need to screw something in.
So continue improving on your solution until it actually solves a problem.
In most cases most people should be building a very lean MVP. You should be able to build it fast. In weeks not months. This can either involve software or honestly we see startups just start with a landing page and a spreadsheet but most startups can start very very fast.
The second extremely limited functionality you need to condense down is what your initial user needs. Get this simplified to a very simple set of things. A lot of times founders want to address ALL of their users problems and ALL of their potential users problems, when in reality they should just focus on a small set of initial users and their highest order problems and then ignore the rest until later.
You should have a vision that encompasses everyone but you should have an MVP tailored for a very small group of people. It’s just a starting point. It doesn’t have to have the bells & whistles. It’s not special in any way you just have to start and so please make sure you don’t feel like your MVP is too special.
Here is a classic example:
This is one of Airbnb’s first landing pages:
One of the things that you might be interested in about in Airbnb’s first product is that there were no payments.
When you found a place to stay on Airbnb you had to exchange money with the host – in person.
Needless to say that was a pretty big problem but they started without payments, no map view either.
The person writing all the code (Nate) was working part-time.
Everyone likes to tell these kind of magical stories about how everything was perfect from the beginning
Airbnb not perfect from the beginning.
The next one we’ll take a look at is Twitch. This was what twitch looked like on day one:
Not very familiar?
Well maybe a little familiar as there’s some video there and there’s some chat there other than that nothing else.
Twitch launched as “Justin TV”, which was a online reality tv show there was only one channel: Justin.
You had to follow his life if you didn’t like his life you had to leave the website. That’s all there was, the video was extremely low resolution. When you think about Twitch, it’s much more complex now.
Last but not least, Stripe. Which when launched wasn’t stripe it was called “Slash Dev Payments”.
Day 1 for stripe meant no bank deals. It was in a very startupy. The site had almost no features and if you wanted to use Stripe the Stripe founders would come to your office and integrate it for you. Ha!
How nice is that? Well half because they were just desperate to get anyone to use it and half because it was a great way to find bugs before the users found bugs.
So these are just three examples of extremely simple extremely fast to build MVPs.
ALL of these examples are now multi-billion dollar companies and they all started with something that most people would say is pretty shitty. In very few cases you have to build a heavy MVP.
Keep context. It’s hard to launch anyway but It’s harder to launch if you have to pass through a bunch of regulatory bodies first. If you’re doing hard tech like building rockets, it is hard to build a rocket in a couple weeks. If you’re doing biotech, it is hard to invent a cancer drug in a couple weeks.
Just remember that your MVP can start with a simple simple website that explains what you do.
It’s helpful when you talk to people that they can refer back to something, so that can be your start and you can build that simple website in days, not weeks.
I want to talk about launching for a second because a lot of founders have this misconception about launching.
They see big companies launch stuff and they assume that’s what startups do. In fact, they see companies that they think are startups but aren’t anymore. Facebook’s not really a startup anymore but some founders see Zuckerberg getting a lot of press and getting a lot of buzz and blah blah blah and they have in their head that that’s what a successful startup looks like when they launch.
Well let me ask you this question:
You get my drift… It turns out that launches aren’t that special at all.
So if you have this magical idea of your magical launch, throw it in the trash. It’s not that special. The number one thing that’s really important is to get some customers.
Let’s change the terminology, how we call a ‘Launch’ when you get any customers & let’s leave the press launch to the press. Forget about the buzz & lets move the ‘get-customers-launch’ forward. That’s our goal here, it’s a lot harder to learn from your customers when they don’t have a product they can play with.
You know you can talk to your customer all day but you have no idea whether the thing you want to build can solve their problem. If you put the thing in front of them and it doesn’t solve their problem you know right away and so all the research in the world is good but until you can put something in front of people you have no freaking idea whether it’s going to work.
So spending all that time on a pitch deck is not as valuable as spending your time building anything that you can give to a customer.
Finally, some MVP Hacks
First, time your spec.
Your spec is the list of stuff you need to build before you launch.
If I want to launch in three weeks, remove all the features you can’t build in three weeks.
Second, write your spec.
This seems really straightforward but most people F this one up. It’s really easy to change what you’re working on before you ever launch it because you never write it down. You start working on something you talk to a user they say “oh i would never use that” or god forbid you talk to an investor and they say “oh that could never be a company because investors know everything” and so you decide to change what you’re working on and because you never wrote it down you don’t even really realise you’re changing it and so your three week plan turns into a three month plan.
If you write down at least you can be honest with yourself that you’re changing your spec all the time. Know what you are building.
Third, cut your spec.
A week into your kind of three week sprint you probably realise that you added too many things to your spec and you’re not gonna make your deadline. That’s okay, just cut the stuff that clearly isn’t important and if there’s no non-important things then start cutting important things.
Most of the goal here is just to get anything out in the world. Once you get anything out in the world the momentum to keep anything going is extremely strong.
If you don’t have anything out in the world it’s very easy to just delay delay delay delay.
Last step, don’t fall in love with your MVP
So many people fall in love with the vision in their head. None of the companies I showed you before were initial vision of what they ended up being. So please don’t fall in love with your MVP it’s just step one in a journey, you wouldn’t fall in love with a paper you wrote in the first grade. That’s the level of your MVP. It’s your first grade paper, just get it out there.
As Always, Good Luck!