The Essence of Minimum Viable Product

“Perfect is the enemy of good enough.” -unknown

I wish I knew the person who coined that expression. I have lived that philosophy for the last several years, and I am very pleased with where that path has led me. I have learned to walk away from partners and/or clients who demand perfection before they will publish a product, favoring instead those who see, as I do, the arrogant futility of believing you can solve everyone’s problems.

I’m proud to be a part of Gazelle Lab (http://gazellelab.com), which has given my team an incredible opportunity to make a significant impact on a largely untapped, unhappy market. Having access to seed funding allowed us to focus all our attention on building a solid product and making sure the market was ready. This gave us time to refine the business model, find the market that was most in need, and narrow our goal to solving one key problem that affects a lot of people. This is the essence of a minimum viable product (MVP).

Once we found that, we built all the pieces we needed to support the MVP. Then, we shifted our attention to customer acquisition, where we’ve been wildly successful, so far attracting three dedicated content producers, one of whom is using our platform to build a channel, launching at CES 2012 (http://www.cesweb.org) in January with at least ten shows. In fact, as a result of our overwhelming initial success, we’re backlogged through February. We are asking for $500k at Demo Day tomorrow to expand the team, so we can aggressively seek new channel partners and bring their apps to market. We can survive without this seed capital, and we are on target to be sustainable by the end of Q2 2012. With extra sales and support resources, though, we believe we can reach the break-even point even sooner.

What all this illustrates is that technology is only a piece of the puzzle. Laptop computers, while incredibly powerful and influential in the modern world, are completely nerfed without access to wireless network and, eventually, electricity. Without the support infrastructure, even the most magnificent of technical marvels fails to find its full audience. Without an introduction to our tools, content producers will continue to be frustrated with ad-based publishing systems. The sales and support resources need to be a major focus on the MVP effort.

In many cases, it is possible to produce a feature-limited beta in a few weeks. Sales and marketing staff can hit the streets with this beta product to get customers excited, while development staff are busy collecting and organizing beta feedback. If, instead, the focus is on making a “perfect” 1.0 product, the project loses precious early stage time. More importantly, this results in a critical delay in user feedback. Iteration is the single most important quality of a successful early stage company.

What you’re building is exactly what it sounds like. You’re building a product to sell to customers who want to buy it, but may not know about it yet. You’re sensitive to the viability of this product, and you want to be sure the market is ready to buy what you’re selling. Finally, you’re not building a Cadillac with fifty luxury features. Your MVP must be as simple as a hammer. It doesn’t need to be complicated. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to add features once you’re selling enough units to keep the lights on. Just remember to ask your customers what they think about your proposed features, so you can focus on what they actually need and be first to market with relevant innovation, not get bogged down in a morass of “what if”.

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