The Need to Create
We all have a deep desire within us to create, but now, unlike any time before, we have access to myriad ways to freely express our creativity. As technology improves, we are seeing how simple it is to get our ideas and projects in front of the eyes of thousands very quickly. This is not only beneficial to entrepreneurs – we see artists, writers, and other change makers taking advantage of these resources everyday.
At the same time, so many possibilities has a tendency to paralyze people- how do they choose from so many options, and be certain they’re picking the right one?
How do you decide when what you’ve created is truly ready, either? Should you perfect every detail, or launch it as soon as possible?
The minimum viable product is the solution to each of these questions- a strategy for optimizing your early labors to not only create the best initial offering, but also require the least capital and time investments before seeing returns.
Simplifying Your Perfect Creation
The idea of the Minimum Viable Product has been adopted by business minds around the world, and has taken a particularly strong hold in Silicon Valley.
The idea spread rapidly with the release of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries in 2008 where he describes the minimum viable product as a…
“version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
In essence, the minimum viable product is the skeleton and core offering of your product. When you start a project you’re tasked with finding a problem to solve, or value you can create for a specific audience. Too often, when brainstorming for your project, that initial solution gets overblown- think of Tesla’s turbo boost feature in their new vehicle.
Tesla’s ultimate aim with their vehicles is to create high-performance electric vehicles, and the turbo boost is no doubt a tremendous mark of success. But they were able to shoot for the stars because of massive early investment and the luxury of being able to pay employees for years even without a single sale.
Most small businesses don’t have those luxuries, and thus to prove themselves as contenders in their market, and continue paying their hard working employees, partners, and investors, they must create a simpler solution, the MVP.
So assess your project- which of the features you’ve envisioned are essential to the project, to solving that initial problem or creating that key value? Those are what must be in your first release for it to be viable.
And when you look at your features and identify the excessive ‘turbo buttons’, remember that you aren’t forbidden from rolling those out- but by focusing on those too soon or too aggressively, you might never hit that first point where you can begin to actually make some money back from your investments by releasing your minimum viable product.
Your Perfect Product Will Prevent You From Ever Having a Product At All
It can be incredibly intimidating to start turning your vision into a tangible product or service. Once we start thinking five years in the future about the perfect product, the public shares and global reach, we lose sight of where to start here and now.
This farsighted thinking tends to lead to incredible projects that never get started. To achieve our dreams we must set smaller and shorter goals as a way to benchmark our progress and reward ourselves on the path to a successful business.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you‘ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman, LinkedIN founder
Nothing truly groundbreaking was ever perfect in its first draft, and the most successful, thriving organizations today are based around iterated technology.
Look at the first computer, the ENIAC which filled a room the size of several large apartments and the first internet, Arpanet, which was exclusively for government use, and only really accessible by universities for the first several years of its existence.
Industry hasn’t deviated from this idea either. Apple released a new series of Ipods every year only until the Iphone had earned that spot of honor- and not only have do they consistently earn more revenue than many countries GDP, but they’re synonymous with innovative and high-quality production, even though they outshine their earlier products constantly.
Innovation is excellent- but pointless if you are so determined for perfection that you can never produce anything at all.
Don’t Guess What Your Customer Wants- Ask Them
Your minimum viable product may not be a masterpiece, but if you’ve really solved a problem, or really created a value, the people who need it most will jump on the opportunity to work with it anyways.
You can see this most clearly with software and video game development in the form of beta-tests. Once developers feel like their product is functional- it can be played from start to finish, or provides a reasonable understanding of the ultimate final experience- they release it to their most interested supporters to try it out.
This is not only a great way to give something back to the early adopters of your MVP. By releasing an early product to a smaller group composed of your most interested audience, you can get incredibly insightful feedback on what they actually want in a finished product.
Suddenly your customers can tell you:
- What works
- What doesn’t work
- What they would pay more to see in a future version
- What other uses they’ve found for your product
- What problems they still have after using your product
These insights are critical to creating a second iteration that will appeal strongly to a larger and potentially global audience. You can guess all day what people want, but only they can tell you for sure.
The KISS Principle
Whether you’re offering a service or a product, the sooner you can get it in the hands of an interested audience, the sooner you can begin to celebrate your success or adjust to your failures.
This doesn’t mean you have to have something to sell tomorrow. It just means you have to figure out the shortest path to getting something worth selling, and putting it out there for the world to respond to.
If you still find yourself struggling with this concept, it might be time for you to take a look at the process of documenting your progress and your ideas. This is a shortcut not just to building an audience, but being able to ask them directly what they are hoping for from your minimum viable product.
But let me do my best to cut to the quick of the issue- and remind you of something you may have been taught in school, but might have forgotten in your professional life.
Keep It Simple, Stupid. The KISS principle. Simple can often be synonymous with focused, direct, and elegant.
You don’t change the world with a Turbo Button- you change it with a quality product that solves a serious need.