On January I co-founded my first startup, theJuice. This project consists, basically, on a platform for edtech that transforms written content into other visual formats. After a year and a half working on product design at BEEVA I truly believe on Lean Startup methodology and I’m able to highlight and even discuss some of its gains against traditional development. All that said, I’ve also seen how theory is widely communicated hiding some of the cons I faced when taking theory to the real world. In this article I want to point out those differences when talking about gathering feedback for evolving from a prototype to a real MVP.
As you may know, books and theory about Lean Startup methodology talk about an iterative process with three main points: build, measure, learn. Following these three steps you run experiments and create prototypes, gather feedback and end up with an awesome MVP everybody loves. It would be great if it was as easy as that, but here you have the ugly truth on a chronology about how this really works.
1st — Friends and family stage
Nobody is waiting for you to release your product. Even if you have something that solves a big problem you will have a hard time until you find your early users. So you better asume it: You don’t have users and your first prototypes probably won’t be used by anybody you don’t know. Feedback at this point is really limited and tends to be too optimistic about your vision. You will end up with a dozen of random answers telling you how much they love your idea and a few features you need to add to nail it.
At theJuice, we got around 20 likes and 4 or 5 “It would be great if…”
2th — Lab stage
Somehow you find users out of your closest circles and you show them your prototype. It’s still a controlled environment so your prototype probably shows the magic you are able to make. People tend to be too polite when facing an entrepreneur so 9 out of 10 feedbacks will be really kind to you. At this point it’s crucial how good you are interviewing people and getting real feedback from users. You need to dig further the initial compliments or you will be getting nothing but vanity metrics.
Because you know users are too conditioned by not being on a real situation of usage, you start thinking about some sort of experiment. This way users could test your prototype without your supervision, and you would be able to understand the real use of the platform, retention and so on.
3rd — Hide-and-seek stage
You launch your prototype and manage to find real users not related to you to test your solution. They won’t be thousands of them, but let say you make a few dozens of people testing it… Hooray! You did it! Bad news though… They probably won’t give you any feedback.
On my personal experience, I’ve subscribed theJuice to every existing startup webpage, I have run campaigns in Adwords and Facebook Ads (some of them with a couple of thousand reactions from India that I can’t trust), I have attended a couple of international events and run a few growth hacking experiments. I have increased my users database from 20 friends to 150 in less than a month. I have written them all with different approaches but none of them has answered me to the date. They are there, they know the platform… but they seem to be hiding from you!
Sooner or later you realize that your prototype, and the rest of experiments you run, are not giving a full experience, so without you controlling the situation there’s no feedback for you to get.
Being honest, at this point you have really little feedback, but you realize your prototype is not enough and you decide to go for the MVP.
4th — Leap of faith stage
So you take some parts of your prototype, some quotes from the feedback you got and start developing your MVP.
Building an MVP takes tons of work while a prototype doesn’t. Most of that work is not related with your core functionalities but you need to deal with it if you want your MVP to fly for free. You will struggle for weeks with things you don’t like but need, and the worst part is that, besides some intuitions, you haven’t truly validated your product.
If you are lucky enough, you will then start getting real users that are receiving a full service and maybe some of them will share their thoughts about your tool with you.
Lean startup is great and its tools can be an amazing guide for entrepreneurs, specially allowing them to reduce uncertainty.
Experiments, prototypes and MVPs will help you to make up your mind, but on the early stages, useful and real feedback will be something you won’t get that fast.
So don’t forget, if you want to run a startup, you will need to trust your gut.