Bastardised MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) have become the norm. The solution? Introducing the skateboard model…
- By Andreas
- 1 June, 2016
“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”
– Roger Staubach
MVPs as a go-to-market shortcut
If I were to ask you what’s the logic behind releasing an MVP first, what’d you say?
Well, I am not psychic… but I’d guess you’d say something along the lines of: “Rather than spending months or even years building something (aka product) just in the hope that it won’t fall flat, it makes more sense to first test the waters by launching ASAP something much leaner.”
Plus, you’d probably add that by starting to collect feedback from real users, fast, you’ll have the chance to iterate and refine it before you release it officially to everyone.
So far, so good, right?
Where the confusion starts…
Even though the MVP as a concept was popularised by Eric Ries and The Lean Startup, many other high-profile entrepreneurs expressed support for ditching the waterfall-thinking in favour of an agile development.
* Waterfall development: A rigid model based on extensive planning and design up front – i.e. building a product like an automobile on an assembly line
* Agile development: An iterative process of building a product where the requirements and the product specs evolve freely based on customer feedback
Guy Kawasaki, best known as the former chief evangelist of Apple, has been advising new entrepreneurs for years “don’t worry be crappy” (more on that later), which is in line with the ‘ship early and repair later’ philosophy.
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder, reinforced Kawasaki’s thinking by famously saying: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
And that’s where things started getting fuc%^ed up with MVPs…
So, without any further ado let’s bust some common myths attached to this highly misused lean tool, explain why bastardised MVPs have become the norm, and finally introduce the alternative, which is none other than the skateboard way!
3 grant misconceptions about MVPs
Misconception #1: MVP is just an experiment for putting your assumptions to the test
Does this remind you of something? “No matter what type of product you’re about to craft, there will be a ton of unknowns, and your job as the founder is to figure out what’s the smallest possible experiment you can make for putting these assumptions to the test.”
You guessed right! That’s what every “lean practitioner” is pretty much saying these days!
And their solution?
Do the ‘MVP thing’ and find out if your guestimates are right or not.
So, why is that a myth?
The answer is coming…
Misconception #2: MVP is a half-finished product that your early evangelists will help you shape into something great
So, what’s this point about?
Simple. It is the tendency of ‘lean entrepreneurs’ (or at least that’s what they call themselves) to think of an MVP as a half-finished product you present to early evangelists/adopters for giving it a go and helping you to iterate it until it is fully functional.
Why would they help do that?
Well, according to the noted Steve Blank, a pioneer of this way of thinking, it’s because “they’re visionary customers. They fall in love with the idea of your product… [and] will stick with you through good and bad because they share your vision.”
Those that buy this logic get accustomed to the idea of shipping an unfinished product and aim to get something out the door as fast as they can.
Again, how is that a misconception?
Please bear with me!
Misconception #3: MVP is building something on the cheap, throwing it against the wall, and seeing if it sticks
In this scenario, bootstrapped entrepreneurs convince themselves that “you don’t learn until you launch.” Since they are short of money, they decide to create the cheapest product version they possibly can, name it MVP, throw it out there, and see if the fish (aka customers) bite.
Makes sense, right?
After all, the lean startup movement is all about eliminating waste. Considering that when it comes to new startup products, nothing is certain; it’s kind of a no-brainer to not overthink it, get scrappy and do it “the spaghetti way”!
What do you think? It’s not about time busting these myths?!
Myths busted: WTF an MVP is really all about…
So, what’s the answer?
“[MVP] is a concise summary of the smallest possible group of features that will work as a stand-alone product while still solving at least the “core” problem and demonstrating the product’s value.”
– Steve Blank
Yes, that’s correct…MVP is neither just an experiment nor a half-arsed product in search for visionaries.
Even though most new entrepreneurs love the minimum part of an MVP, they forget that it also has to be viable. As a result of that, they rush things out; create a buggy, unfinished product; and when they fail, they call it an experiment.
However, as Ames Turnbull rightly points out here: “There is a clear difference between shipping something usable and something crap. If a user can’t consume your MVP product because it’s buggy, unusable or fragile then you’re either going to get zero feedback or feedback that highlights its flaws rather than feedback on its capabilities. And naturally people who can’t get your product to work at all or find it too hard to use are unlikely to be persuaded to try it again even if you do fix it.”
Yes, I know, that goes against the narrative that out there, some (kind) strangers are not only willing to take a punt on us, but will also be keen to help us figure it out, BUT as both you and I know these people simply don’t exist.
Kawasaki’s point uncovered!
And since we’re talking about startup delusions let’s also address Guy Kawasaki’s “don’t worry, be crappy” earlier point by sharing his full quote!
“Don’t worry, be crappy. An innovator doesn’t worryabout shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it’s truly innovative”
– Guy Kawasaki
The magic words? Truly innovative.
Especially in the medical field, you see this time and time again. Patients becoming a doctors’ “human guinea pig” by trialling new revolutionary (but not yet clinically proven) drugs, because it is either their only option left or it has the potential to be much more superior than what’s out there.
So, unless your buggy, half-baked product belongs in this SUPER rare collection of new breakthrough products, expecting customers to just buy “the vision” is simply daydreaming.
And just in case you ask, calling a landing page, a video, or even a PowerPoint slide a Minimum Viable Product (yes, you heard right, they call it a product) goes far beyond logic, so no need to say more.
The alternative: the Skateboard Model
So, what’s this model and how does it works?
Now, do you have a better idea of what the skateboard model is?
That’s right – instead of delivering a half-baked product (branded as MVP) that doesn’t meet even the basic customer requirements, it makes much more sense to ship him a skateboard rather than a tire…
But why a skateboard?
Well, according to Henrik Kniberg, the person that drew this picture, “we [should] focus on the underlying need the customer wants to be fulfilled. Turns out that his underlying need is ‘I need to get from A to B faster,’ and a car is just one possible solution to that. “The iterative approach is really a way of delivering less, or finding the simplest and cheapest way to solve the customer’s problem. Minimize the distance to Awesome.”
In that same post, Henrik shared a great real life example from his involvement as a coach in a big initiative of the Swedish police to enable their officers to spend more time in the roads and less time in the office that illustrates perfectly this model in practise.
As he describes: “The idea was to put laptops in the cars, and customized software to give police access to the systems they need in real-time. [But the team] didn’t try to build the whole thing at once – they split the elephant along two dimensions: a) By Region. b) By Crime type. The first version, 1.0, was their skateboard. It was a small system, supporting just a couple of crime types, and it was field-tested on a handful of cops in Östergötland (a region in Sweden).”
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Narrower product scope but tackling the same problem…
And that, my friends, is how you build an MVP the skateboard way!
Let’s now wrap things up with today’s takeaways.
Today’s Key Takeaways
– MVP is NOT a half-finished product meant to be “consumed” by early evangelists
– Get scrappy and do it “the spaghetti way” is more often than not an exercise in futility
– Building an MVP? Find the simplest and cheapest way to solve the customer’s problem
So, what’s your skateboard?
Ok guys, that’s all from me for today.
If you enjoyed today’s post, check out my brand new book, The Aspiring Entrepreneur Entry Strategy: A practical Step-by-step guide for finding a validated, winning business idea that stays true to who you are, that is currently available at Amazon.
I hope to see you soon.
“Not doing more than the average is what keeps the average down.”
“William M. Winans