Ignore the Start-Up Industry Discourse – ALL Start-Ups Should Begin as an MVP

I remember 5+ years ago a lot of rhetoric around how we should not be building MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) – we should be building Minimum Delightful Products (MDPs 🤦‍♂️)

This launched countless founders on a navel-gazing exercise where they were trying to figure out how to delight their customers, spent untold amounts of time and money on high-fidelity mock-ups and way too many developer hours getting animations and UI interactions “just right”

What’s wrong with wanting a high level of polish on your product?

A certain level of polish is definitely important. But so many of these founders also drowned their businesses in analysis and perfectionism.

There are countless clichés and quotes advising us against these tendencies:

  • Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good (bastardized Voltaire)
  • Real artists ship (Thanks, Steve Jobs)
  • Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly (Robert Schuller)
  • Done is better than perfect. (Sheryl Sandberg)
"Real artists ship." - Steve Jobs

This came to mind as I came across a great article by Ben Yoskovitz, There’s Nothing Wrong with MVPs

Everyone hates MVPs. 😢 …I’ve seen numerous blog posts and Twitter threads suggesting that people abandon the concept completely…I understand the frustration with the term MVP…My definition of MVP works for me. So I’ll keep using it.

Ben Yoskovitz

I recommend reading Ben’s article, it has a lot of great in-depth information for his philosophy around MVPs and how he builds MVPs and how it relates to product-market-fit.

The issue people have with MVPs boils down to the start-up ecosystem is arguing over what is an MVP – but its just an echo chamber within the technology and start-up tribe, a case of the narcissism of small differences. A start-up is generally defined as a high-risk business trying to disrupt an existing market by addressing an unaddressed market, using a business model that is different from established players, delivering an existing product in a novel way, etc. When approaching a risky business endeavor, one of the first things you should do is figure out how to de-risk that venture. That is the purpose of the MVP.

There are some sectors of technology where an MVP is not a great fit. If you are building the next frontier AI Model or the next general-audience social network, an MVP will be hard to define. But unless you’re trying to build the next Facebook or OpenAI, that concern probably doesn’t apply to you.

For me a Minimum Viable Product must have certain characteristics (conveniently enough, they are in the name):

  • Minimum – It has to be small. If your MVP requires millions of dollars and a year of development, you arent thinking small enough – what is the smallest thing that delivers the core value of your product.
  • Viable – It needs to be able to function as a business. If you can only charge $1, but the service costs you $50 to deliver it, its not viable. Your product might not be profitable now, but with some scale, it should be reasonable for you to be able to at least break even with your product.
  • Product – It needs to be a thing that people want. Generally that means you should be solving a problem for someone.

In summary:

  1. You have a big business idea that is risky and expensive to build, and you are trying to get the business launched (a barebones description of a start-up)
  2. You should test if that business will work, allowing you to test ideas and iterate on them while minimizing risk
  3. Look at your business idea from #1, and identify the ONE central problem you are solving for your potential customer.
  4. What is the smallest, simplest thing you can create that will solve that problem for a segment of your target market in a way that can at least break even? – Build THAT

I have several guidelines for how you should try to build your MVP, and a system to go from a big vision to your MVP definition, but that’s a post for another day.

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