Throughout the years, as I’ve built products for startups — each of which started as an MVP — I’ve worked with many founders who had major misconceptions surrounding what MVPs are and the purpose they’re meant to serve.
Below I debunk what I think are the top three misconceptions about MVPs:
If you’re launching a software startup, your MVP should be a software product.
This, from my perspective, is the biggest misconception surrounding MVPs. An MVP does not have to be an app — it’s simply something that provides value to your customers, enough value for customers to pay you for it.
What can an MVP be if not a software product? A consultation. A done-for-you service. A digital course. A book.
Building software is hard and expensive. If you can create an audience and sell them something other than software, something that is less scalable but still gives you revenue and validates the market, your startup will be a success. Build a piece of software, and you’ll end up spending a lot of money building a product without having first validated your idea.
For example, if you want to build a project management tool, you can offer to coach people on how they can manage their teams better. Then offer them a digital course that describes your process. When you prove that your approach is valuable and helps people, then you can build a SaaS around your process.
2. An MVP should contain all of the features your customers could possibly need.
Remember what the “M” in MVP stands for? It’s “minimal.” The more features you include in your MVP, the more expensive it will be to build, and the longer you’ll have to wait before you launch. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to perfect a product you’re not sure people will need or like. Unless you did some customer development and validated your idea first, you can’t really know how positive of a reception you’ll get for the software you’re building, or if there’s a market fit. And even if you did do some customer development, there’s still a chance people might not like the first version of your product.
Let’s say you’re building a search engine to help people quickly look up different types of birds. You can spend endless evenings drafting the spec for the perfect bird database, listing all attributes of a bird, describing what common errors search queries are going to contain and how to fix them. You’ll spend even more time working with developers to build the database. Finally, when you launch, if nothing happens, you’ll have wasted a whole lot of time when you could’ve been launching with a simple, out-of-the box search, including a few of the most important bird attributes and only the most common types of birds in the database. That would be more than enough for you to test if there’s interest in your database.
3. If an MVP fails, your startup doesn’t have a chance of succeeding.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Think about this for a moment. Why do you think that failing once means you have to close your business? Is it because you’re spending all of your budget on creating an MVP, so you feel like you only have one chance to get it right? Or is it because you fear that you’ll be judged if you fail, and that no one will want to sign up and use your app again after that?
The reality is that MVP is a learning instrument, and failure is normal. You ought to plan for failure so that it doesn’t catch you by surprise. If you raise the stakes and give yourself only once chance, then you won’t give yourself the opportunity to learn what people really want. And you won’t know how the market will respond to your product, even if early adopters you interviewed told you they’d buy your product right after it launches. The only way to find out what people want is to build something simple, then ask them what they like or not, and then improve it gradually. That’s why an MVP should be minimal — so that when you need to make changes, you can, and it won’t be painful for you.
Judgment was actually one of my biggest fears for a long time before I realized that nobody cares about the products I’m building. Practice stoicism: Imagine yourself in the worst possible situation, and just know that you’ll be mentally prepared for it. What will happen if you launch a product that no one wants to pay for? Nothing bad, really. Maybe you’ll ask your friends to try it, and they’ll tell you the product is great, but none of them will use it. (It’s probably not going to be like that. Your best friends will encourage you, but we’re talking about a worst-case scenario.) Then you’ll start your marketing campaign, only to find that no one signs up or no one pays after a free trial. Okay. Big deal.
Failure may be frustrating, but it won’t be the end of your startup. Instead of giving up, ask people what happened. Maybe the price was too high, or feature X was missing, or feature Y was confusing. Adjust, pivot, then run your marketing campaign again.
Believe me — no one will tell you that they’re not going to use your app because you launched once and failed. Your friends won’t because they like you. And random people from the internet? They won’t, either. You’ll likely be marketing to a brand new set of people..and best of all, they’ll probably have no idea about your previous launch.
Originally posted on Medium