The art of the Minimum Viable Purchase — Part 1
I’ve tried a lot of shaving gear.
Two years ago, I dove into researching the world of double edge safety razors. It seemed to have everything I’d expect from a product — sturdy builds from real metals, component pieces, a long product history, a great shaving experience and a great price.
I rounded out my new kit (razor, brush, mug for soap, shaving soap, pack of blades). After a short learning curve, I found I absolutely loved it. Swirling foamy badger hair bristles on my face felt great. And there’s a great community around the product. YouTube videos, message boards, it all contributed to the experience. It was a great product for me.
Until it wasn’t.
- I fly a lot, and you can’t take razor blades on airplanes.
- Even when you can travel with your kit, it need a little more luggage real estate.
- Shaving just plain takes longer with a safety razor. At times this was enjoyable, but most of the time I just wanted to shave and be out the door.
Sorry, safety razor. But for these reasons, I’m out.*
In the end, my two year detour into the world of safety razors cost me about $60. Factor in what I would have spent on drug store cartridges and foams during this time, and this little experiment probably saved me $50.
It didn’t have to, though. I could have easily be hundreds of dollars in the hole and stuck with a product I don’t like.
The only reason I’m not comes down to something I call the Minimum Viable Purchase.
What is Minimum Viable Purchase?
Yes, I’m ripping off a concept the Silicon Valley startup crowd is crazy about, Minimum Viable Product. Here’s a great definition:
[T]he minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
In other words, don’t blow all your money building a product you’re not sure the public wants yet. And the only way to know what product the public wants is to get your product out there. But (here comes the “minimum” part) you want to do that in the cheapest, simplest way you can. So you still have some money and employees left if you need to try something different.
Startups can’t predict how the market will react to a product until they actually get something out there that resembles their product. No amount of testing and research and consulting can change this. Purchasing as a consumer works the same way. You don’t know if a product is right for you until you spend some time with it in your life.
Minimum Viable Purchase (or MVP as I’ll sometimes reference it henceforth) is the version of a new product in your life which unlocks the maximum amount of validated learning about the product with the least effort and cost. MVP is the reason I was able to learn all the reasons I didn’t like straight razor shaving, without spending so much that I was afraid to jump ship. Alternatively, had I loved shaving like this and wanted it in my life for forever, my MVP kit was enough to help me realize that and educate me on what upgrades I might want.
Minimum Viable Purchase is the sweet spot.
You also probably don’t know enough to get the more expensive product at this time. Admitting this is tough, because it means setting your ego aside.
But if you have to walk into a store and ask “what’s the best stereo money can buy,” then you have no business buying the best stereo money can buy.
The big advantage is that Minimum Viable Purchase allows you to learn a lot about the product experience without sinking in so much cost that you can’t change course or abandon the product later. It helps you avoid the sunk cost effect.
How many people do you know who have decided they’d like to “get more into photography” and sink >$1k into a serious DSLR setup? A few hundred overexposed frames later the camera collects dust in a closet. These people did not practice Minimum Viable Purchase, and they missed out on other cool things they could have tried with that money.
The fact is, you don’t know enough about a new product to buy something great right away. But if you buy something great enough, you get to test this out before diving in. You get to date before proposing.
Part 2 here.
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*To be fair to the shaving enthusiasts out there, this is still an incredible product. I’m not trying to slam the experience of shaving this way. In fact I’d recommend it to a lot of people. It just wasn’t for me.