One documentary worth watching to get some context on the history of entrepreneurship and venture capital is “Something Ventured.” It’s a series of interviews with venture capitalists talking about their investments and their risk mitigation strategies in the 1950’s through 1970’s. It’s clear that they paid a lot of attention to “minimum viable products” and pivoting based on new information and asked for business plans. The question is how to have enough of a plan to proceed that includes what experiments you will run to refine your understanding of the product and the market.
A common mistake technical entrepreneurs can make is to focus on what’s easy to build, and enter a market with dozens of competitors without thought to differentiation. Or to hope that by making it “free” they can make money by selling ads.
Javid Jamae (@JavidJamae) is a Principal Engineer at Tout, where he heads up the experimentation and growth efforts; he leads a team focused on growing the viewership for both local and nationally syndicated content. Javid authored this great guest post on finding early adopters through customer interviews before building a minimum viable product (MVP) and it is published here with his permission.
An MVP is Finished Only After You Have Early Adopters
Any time someone tells me that they have finished their minimum viable product (MVP) and now they’re looking for their first early adopters, a huge alarm goes off. It always seems like they have skipped a few steps. An MVP should not be a guess; it should be a carefully crafted solution that is:
- Viable based on what you have already learned from your early adopters,
- Minimum in that it focuses only on solving the core problems that they face.
Q: I am preparing to launch a website for my minimum viable product (MVP). It’s a few pages and has has some forms and a file upload capability. Potential customers will be able to explain a particular type of problem that they have and then upload some relevant files for review. I will review their situation and send them a link for payment if I can fix the problem. My concern is that if I don’t have pages for “Contact Us”, “Services”, and “About Us then a potential customer may not trust the website to actually start a purchase. Is it waste to add these pages? Would I be smarter to launch a very simple site with a form and file upload.
Build A B2B MVP That Inspires Trust
If the information you are requesting is not particularly proprietary and you are only looking to charge $10 or $20 dollars then the “put up a landing page and see who clicks” model may tell you enough. This is essentially an impulse purchase.
But when you write “I will review their situation and send them a link for payment if I can fix the problem,” I am assuming that you are selling to business and that your target price point is more than $100. This moves beyond the impulse purchase or simple consumer buying models for a $4 E-book or a $19/month service; if you plan to charge more than $300 then you are pretty clearly into a “considered purchase” and need to provide a richer context for the decision than a simple landing page. Also because you are asking for data that they may consider private or proprietary this makes it more of a considered purchase.
In a candid discussion about the challenges of managing your own expectations for a minimum viable product (MVP), Tristan Kromer observed, “It’s psychologically hard to enthusiastically proceed with skepticism.” And that is the challenge, we have to be enthusiastic about our product ideas to persevere to complete them and tell others about them, but we have to be skeptical enough to accept criticism and open to prospect perspectives on needs and constraints on solutions.
Strong Opinions Weakly Held
Bob Sutton blogged about this in 2006 as “Strong Opinions Weakly Held” as one of the differentiators between smart people and wise people. Both have strong opinions, but the wise can more easily allow revisions to theirs:
Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at the Institute for the Future. A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They’ve been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Institute Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”
Early Adopters For Your MVP Are Often Very Normal
I think too many entrepreneurs conflate “early adopter” with “technically sophisticated” or “geek hipster.'”
Normal people are early adopters when they have a strong need for your product.
The first two people to tell me about E-Bay, and who were genuinely excited about it, were two mothers who didn’t know each other but were collectors of different specialty handicraft items (teddy bears and glass angels) and they were shopping regularly there because they were not available in stores.
I ignored their advice, of course, when I should have realized that neither used a computer for any other purpose than visiting E-Bay. They were early adopters. I should have realized that if E-Bay could create markets for these highly specialized products they could create and serve a lot of niche/specialty markets in a way that was winner take all.
Another example: I think Pinterest looks a lot like the way that someone who creates scrapbooks or manages a physical bulletin board would want to author a website.
Related Blog Posts
- Office Hours: Schedule Time to Review Your MVP Readiness
- W. J. King’s “Unwritten Laws of Business”
- Steve Blank on Leaving the Batcave to Learn from Customers
- Customer Development Proceeds in Parallel with Product Development
- Moving from Vision to Engagement with Prospects
- Customer Development and Its Discontents
- Three Equations, Three Unknowns: Customers, Message, Features