Why you should sell stitched together things

The concept of a minimum viable product is that you build something that solves one big burning customer need in a narrow market. Let’s take this apart.

Before you begin:
Before you start, you should make sure that the customer you’ve chosen is in a narrow market. For example, it’s hard to solve a problem really well for all parents with a first version. It’s much easier to find and solve a problem really well for stay at home dads with two kids who do laundry in the afternoon.

Ask yourself these three questions.

  1. Am I absolutely positive that I’m solving one of this customer’s top 3 pain points?
  2. Do I have a path to these customers?
  3. Are my target customers well networked?

To be absolutely certain of 1, you should first validate your idea and then use this guide talk to customers. You should not be selling at all here, just listening. We made this Google form in 20 mins and the associated landing page in 3 hours with a Bootstrap template.

The nice thing about questions 2 and 3 is that even if you have a path to a handful of customers, you can always ask your customers to refer you to other target customers. If you use cold emails, use this guide.

A minimum viable product:
A minimum viable product is not the just the smallest thing you can build, it’s the smallest thing you can build that solves one of the customer’s big pain points. Your product should drive 10x value for the customer over their current workaround or inaction.

Best graphic I’ve seen to date on Minimum Viable Product
(via Fastmonkeys, h/t Tim Wu)

Here are some examples of a really minimal product:

  1. Product Hunt started as an email to 12 people
  2. Fixed is a small product that solves a single big problem
  3. Facebook’s version 1.0 took only a couple of weeks to build
  4. Mattermark started from the ashes of a dead startup idea. To start, it was nothing but a series of manually updated spreadsheets from data found from online sources.

Building smaller:

Idea via Des Traynor, co-founder of intercom.io here… https://vimeo.com/107317471#t=6m20s

You can always build smaller things. We start Googling for a feature / tool before we code anything. We’re working on websites for wedding photographers to sell to couples and we wanted to offer a way for couples to receive payments from their guests for gifts. So we did some Googling and we made this in 15 minutes. So now we can offer a service that we couldn’t before, without building anything. If people love it, we can build it in house to save our customer’s money. If no one uses it, it only took 15 minutes!

Your first product won’t be great and it may fall down on many accounts, but as long as it solves the customer’s biggest pain and does it well, it’s ok if the other pieces are hacked together.

Once you have solved for your customer’s pain point you should ask your customers to buy it.

You have to ask for their money, because it’s the easiest way to validate that you’re solving a real problem and if you don’t get paid, you can’t afford to solve their problem. It’s a lose lose. Customers love the idea of new features, but don’t pay for

Bill Aulet, the Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, says that Innovation = Invention * Commercialization. The equation nets to zero if you can’t monetize!

Why you should sell stitched together things:

So many people build something first to solve a generic problem for everyone and then get feedback on it.

The problem with this approach is that you have to back into figuring out who your customers are, why they like your product, and how to adjust your product so that they will both pay for it and also tell their friends. Plus, if you set expectations that it’s free, it will be hard to charge for it. Lincoln Murphy takes this further and says that if you don’t charge, that you’ll go out of business, which would be a disservice to both you and your customer.

So if you build without talking to your customer the worst case, you fail and you’ve spent your time building something for no one. Best case, you are the target customer, you know your problem really well, and you happen to solve it really well. That’s great, but the path to get there was risker.

If you talk to your customers first, understand their pain, and build something cobbled together for them, they can deal with a lot of hackish solutions because you’re solving a major pain point with software. Consider this chart (via Behavior Model),

If you know your customer is highly motivated to solve this problem, they won’t mind doing things that are a bit laborious, like going to one place to pay, going to another place to use the product, and relying on manual labor where you haven’t built something in the product.

If you can get to the smallest payable unit, and you’ve followed this process to build relationships with your customers, you’ll also know what to build next, because your paid customers will tell you what’s not working and what they want. That’s the cheapest, fastest, and best recipe for growth. Plus, not only have you monetized early, but also you now have something tangible a customer can provide feedback on to help improve.

Keep this quote in mind to ensure you’re building a true minimum viable product,

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

-Reid Hoffman / Linkedin Co-Founder

I might even take it a bit further and say that if you are embarrassed by it, and people are paying for it, you’ve found a great MVP.

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