avatarAaron Dinin, PhD

Summary

The article argues that the traditional MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach in startups is outdated and inefficient, advocating instead for a focus on validating market demand through minimal verifiable learnings before product development.

Abstract

The concept of MVPs, introduced by Eric Ries in "The Lean Startup," aimed to reduce waste by encouraging founders to build a basic version of their product to test and learn. However, the article suggests that this approach is still flawed as it leads entrepreneurs to prematurely invest in product development. Instead, the author proposes that startups should prioritize identifying demand signals through methods like landing page tests, customer interviews, and pre-orders, which provide insights into market needs without the overhead of building a product. The article emphasizes that the primary goal for early-stage entrepreneurs should be to validate the riskiest assumptions quickly and cost-effectively, thereby postponing product development until there is clear evidence of demand. This strategy, termed "minimum verifiable learnings," is presented as a more efficient alternative to the traditional MVP, focusing on understanding problems to deliver solutions that people genuinely want.

Opinions

  • The MVP approach, while an improvement over past methods, still encourages inefficiency in startup product development.
  • Many founders misunderstand MVPs, believing they should build the simplest version of a product rather than focusing on the fastest way to start learning.
  • Product development is not the fastest path to insight; alternative methods like landing page tests and customer interviews can provide more information with less work.
  • Entrepreneurs should focus on proving the existence of a market opportunity by identifying clear demand signals before considering product development.
  • Building a product is expensive and should be postponed until there is substantial evidence of market demand.
  • The "minimum verifiable learnings" strategy is recommended as a more efficient approach to startup validation, emphasizing learning before building.

The MVP Is Dead — How to Avoid Wasting 6 Months Building a Crappy Version of Your Final Product

Lean Startup and the idea of building MVPs was a great first step toward better startup efficiency, but it didn’t go far enough.

Image courtesy Anna Shvets via Pexels.

In 2011, Eric Ries published a book called The Lean Startup. In it, he popularized a concept he called an MVP — minimum viable product.

The basic premise of an MVP is that it’s a more efficient approach to launching companies than what entrepreneurs had been doing. Specifically, in the past, entrepreneurs would spend tons of time and money working to build a final, polished version of whatever products they were hoping to sell and then, once they had their products built, that’s when they’d be ready to launch their companies.

Ries believed this “perfect product” approach to entrepreneurship was inefficient. Instead, Ries taught founders to build minimum viable products — a sort of barebones version of what a product ultimately hopes to become as a way of testing and learning.

Let’s give credit where credit is due — the concept of building MVPs was a great and enormously important evolution in startup culture. It surely reduced massive amounts of inefficiency and waste in the startup world.

But just because something is great, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect. In fact, the MVP approach to building startups is far from perfect because it still encourages plenty of inefficiency. It’s time entrepreneurs move beyond MVPs and to an even more efficient and more effective process for validating startups.

Why MVPs are inefficient

In order to appreciate a process that’s more efficient than building MVPs, let’s start by understanding why MVPs aren’t as efficient as they seem.

The inefficiency of the MVP approach to startups stems from a misunderstanding of what a minimum viable product actually should be. Many founders believe an MVP is about building the simplest possible version of a product. In other words, they think stripping a product down to its bare essential features makes it an MVP.

But this isn’t quite right. Creating a minimum viable product isn’t about building a minimal number of features — it’s about minimal effort for the entrepreneur.

To be clear, I don’t mean minimal effort because entrepreneurs are lazy and don’t want to work hard. I mean minimal effort for the sake of speed. An entrepreneur’s goal in the early stages of launching a new venture should be to test the concept’s riskiest assumptions as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. As a result, a true MVP should be the fastest way to start learning, not the fastest way to start building.

This is where the concept of an MVP — minimum viable product — becomes problematic. Specifically, the problem with the concept of an MVP is that it still encourages entrepreneurs to build some sort of product.

Any sort of reliance on building a product is inefficient because the fastest path to insight has nothing to do with product development. Running landing page tests, doing customer interviews, releasing explainer videos, circulating pre-orders — these will teach more with less work than even the most basic product prototype.

In other words, in the early stages of building new startups, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be thinking of products at all. They should be thinking about how to prove the existence of a market opportunity. And you do that by identifying clear demand signals.

How to look for demand signals

Demand signals are exactly what the name suggests: signals from the broader world that there’s a genuine need (i.e. demand) for some sort of problem to be solved. After all, that’s what entrepreneurship is about — it’s about solving problems, which is why MVPs don’t make sense. By definition, MVPs are solutions. Solutions are great, but they’re only great once you’re sure you’ve found a meaningful problem, which is something entrepreneurs can do without building any sorts of solutions.

For example, you could create a basic landing page explaining your product concept and see how many people sign up to a newsletter or mailing list. And you can run targeted Facebook ads at the landing page to gauge interest and collect intent data.

The goal with this type of test is to simulate the core value proposition and see if it resonates without ever building an actual product. Are people clicking? Converting? Giving up their contact info? Those demand signals are your early validation. No product necessary!

Once you have your first demand signals, you still don’t need a product. You can follow up with interviews, surveys and pre-order pages to further qualify interest. Get potential users on video calls and have them explain exactly why they clicked on your concept. Identify their pain points and motivations.

In other words: learn! Learn, learn, learn before the word “build” ever crosses your mind. Your goal shouldn’t be to build a minimal version of your product as quickly as possible, which is what Lean Startup teaches. Your goal should be the exact opposite: postpone product development as long as possible.

Always remember that building is expensive, and testing is cheap. So let’s toss the marginally-improved but antiquated MVP strategy and replace it with something much more efficient: minimum verifiable learnings. It’s a strategy that emphasizes learning what people want first, and then building a potential solution second, which is exactly what entrepreneurs should be doing. After all, entrepreneurship isn’t about building for the sake of building. It’s about understanding problems in order to deliver solutions people actually want.

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Entrepreneurship
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