Funny how coincidence goes. I was only last night watching Eric Ries gig at the LSE – which two years on seems surprisingly dated (see eg Wu-wei, Growth Hacking, and The Rise of Marketing-less Marketing) when what should I get today but a text from a buddy asking about the above koan. How could I resist 🙂
For those of you not in the loop. Ries’ (a silicon valley programmer turned manager turned director) book is based on his experience of spending 6mts and a whole bunch of funding developing a product that no-one ever downloaded. A pain I can relate to as my first gig way back was porting Unix to an ICL mainframe (when the UK had a mainframe company). Lots of work, lots of stress, huge efforts, brilliant work. And it never got used. Ever. [ICL was sold to Fujitsu]. Not long after I promptly became a Merchant Banker 😀
Ries methodology centres on having an MVP – a Minimum Viable Product – that you can put out there ASAP to at least find out if the market wants it. In the extreme case it’s a single page website which says click here for more info.
It’s a solution to the old Supply-Push, Demand-Pull balance. It’s product development interacting ASAP with Sales.
We can also take Godin’s injunction “Just Ship It”. This itself has been critiqued/criticised as Just Shipping Anything. So much so that eventually Godin had to point out that he didn’t mean “Just Ship Any Old Rubbish” lol.
So what is the minimum MVP? Classically a la Ries it’s a one page webpage. I don’t think many buy that argument any more.
The Tao of BizDev aesthetic is that Business Development applies to the whole value-chain. I avoid the cringe word “holistic” as it’s such a cliché/New Ageism. However the spirit is top-down, “viewed from the Boardroom”, where will we get biggest bang for the buck?
In this regard Product-Centrism is a distortion – although a very common one due to how we tend to think about new business. Thinking MVP is a distortion for anything other than a disruptive startup (notably rarities like Dyson Vacuum cleaners). Although “The Great Idea” is up there along with “The Great Man” as myths of how entrepreneurial businesses work, in reality its the long slog, the execution, the slowly tuning in to what flies that counts. The Beatles first song wasn’t great – it was only by honing their trade in countless gigs that they found their sound – and not just their sound but one that would get the punters screaming. Girls didn’t scream and get hysterical at the first gig.
Existing businesses have a bunch of clients. Demand-pull, customer-focused, pain-solving, Business Development is the best sort … after all if folks say they will buy X you have no sales&marketing problem. So MVP doesn’t really exist in that context – there is a sketch of a product that will work – but nothing “MVP” about it … no trial products as it were.
Marcelo Bravo is a serial biotech entrepreneur. In his book…
…he outlines the more joined-up vision of (business) validation … not just (sorry Eric) a workaround for the techies nightmare that no-one will buy their product. Bravo’s background is in consumer goods – Proctor and Gamble – and he talks about the pre-launch lengths they went to ensure that the customers really loved something new before they launched it.
Where a lot of entrepreneurs go wrong is that they stop there, they don’t sharpen their unique selling propositions enough … Sharp also means to me a proposition that has been validated by your customer.
A compelling winning proposition is not only unique and relevant but also is no longer a guess. Your customer has been absolutely delighted by it in contrast to other very good alternatives. Your customer wants it and wants it now.
This is not a desktop exercise. You have identified a customer or a group of customers. You have engaged with them. They want to buy what you are offering. A really compelling winning proposition is one where although the proposition does not exist … yet, your customer is happy to pay you an advance.
I think you get the idea … but just in case let’s go for “reinforcement learning” 😀
The only way to get a winning concept was to involve your customers very early – in fact to work with consumers to understand their needs, to develop the concept, to use their language, to understand their reaction to your concept, to work with them to create the pitch that made sense to them. Finally, to validate the concept with consumers and to only proceed to the next stage, to the development stage, when, and only when, you were satisfied you had a compelling winning concept in your hands.
Wrapping up these different perspectives…
Ries was a key influence in the Silicon Valley drive to reduce risk in startups. However companies that would be regarded as old-hat by the techies have long since found that it is only by serving the market’s needs that you really reduce risk and deliver the right thing.
As I recall Bravo even founded one of his startups by getting the potential clients to fund it – so keen were they to get what he was offering. Now that is less a minimum MVP than a fantastic MVP!
So in answer to the koan in the title I would say “don’t think of product in isolation” … think of finding the dance that you the supplier and your customer would love to dance together. Then make it even better. And even better.
So minimum MVP? A conceptual conversation with your market.
What’s the best MVP? A concept your market loves so much they would pay you for it up-front 🙂
Do any of these thoughts have relevance for your enterprise?
Where are you falling down in kicking off new ventures?
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