May 28, 2019

Massive Virtual Pompadour or Mini Vampire Pinpricks?

Thanks to everyone who voted on a brand name for the new luggage rental concept we are working on. We are planning on sharing every key step of our concept testing and prototyping process with you right here in our newsletters.

We are getting ready for our first test of the concept, which will use ads to drive people to a "coming soon" landing page. Why don't we just start buying suitcases, building an app, and getting on with things? Because we want to be sure we build exactly the right thing. More on our methodology below...


Big companies, small companies, side-hustle startups—everybody is using an MVP approach today. And like any trend, the more it spreads, the more it gets watered down or used for purposes not intended.

(OK, sports fans, we are talking about the other MVP—minimum viable product. Popularized in The Lean Startup, the MVP approach recommends building a bare-bones product with just enough features and functionality to get feedback from potential customers.)

As a management tool, MVP is much beloved, and everyone from Y Combinator to P&G sings its praises. As evidence of misuse grows, therefore, there is hand-wringing, but no one seems ready to abandon the approach. Instead, most calls to action are along the lines of “Save the MVP!” Allan Kelly suggests creatingdifferent flavors of MVP. Rand Fishkin, author of Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World, details a terrible crime against the MVP credo, but still believes it has a place in the product development ecosystem.

Do The Pre-MVP

Can the MVP be saved? Absolutely.

MVP, as people like Jim Brikman of TripAdvisor have pointed out, is a process, not an end point. The process means testing your riskiest assumptions first, so you can change your plan based on the result. The biggest risk for most new products is market demand, so for most teams, focusing on the market—not the time-consuming process of building a product—is the best first step.

That’s right. Your minimum viable product may not start with building a product.

Instead, use design to get feedback. Creating three very different product mock ups of your new product idea and testing them will help you understand what users value.

Recently, for example, we tested a new product concept using Instagram carousel ads. The ads consisted of a series of panels, each of which described a different feature of the product. Users who clicked landed on a “coming soon” page where they could leave an email address to be notified when the product launched.

Reviewing data about which panel potential customers clicked on in the ad helped us understand which potential product features they valued the most. This data was a critical input to the MVP—and we learned it without building a thing.

The Do The MVP

Once you know who loves your product concept, which brand position they respond to, which product formulation gets the clicks, etc., etc., you are ready to build something. Smartly. Minimally. And probably not even scalably.

One of our favorite posts is by Y Combinator guru Paul Graham. In Do Things That Don't Scale, he writes eloquently about the fragility of startups and how important it is to do things manually in the earliest stages of development. Hand-written thank-you notes, extremely narrow market focus, recruiting users individually—not what most people imagine when they picture the early days of, say, Airbnb or Stripe. But it's a compelling way to remove risk from the product development process and a great tool for learning what customers need and love.

(Not quite ready to build? There are some good recommendations for prototyping tools here.)

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