The “Next Big Thing” Started Smaller Than You Think

Stop trying to build BIG Things. Today’s startup successes start small and iterate to fill user need.

“The Next BIG Thing” is the wrong way to think about software startups.

Over the years the idea of “The Next Big Thing” has burned itself into the thinking of entrepreneurs. Want to sell a lot of SUVs? Just give it a bigger engine, give it a bigger list of features, make it bigger.

At Must Win, we spend a lot of our time working as a software incubator for new startups. People come to us to conceptualize, specify, design, and build the first versions of their products. All too often their vision for their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is far too grand because they view their product as “The Next BIG Thing” today, rather than remembering the old adage about Rome’s construction…

Skyscrapers vs. Web & Mobile Apps

I worked for a small startup in 2007. It had a great underlying product idea, but the founder, a former skyscraper architect, wasn't willing to let users see the product until it was “done.” Because of this, the company eventually ran out of cash without ever launching. It never got “finished,” so it was never released.

Of course, if you're building a skyscraper you need to lay everything out and get it all properly built up front for safety’s sake. Building a web or mobile product is different because you're building something that will never be finished. Not ever. Just forget about the idea of done for good.

You're building something that will NEVER be finished.

The key is to release a MVP with a focused “product hook,” a viable distribution plan, and then to test and iterate often. Start somewhere acceptable and improve. By doing this your product can grow alongside your users’ needs rather than at the whim of a sales manager trying to fill a PowerPoint slide.

This is how products like Twitter, Yammer, Instagram, and others were able to become the “Next Big Thing” — by launching a small focused product, testing, and iterating. Over time they become more featureful, more elegant, more usable, and more powerful by building a product for their users rather than finding users for their product.

Most people who don't follow new tech startups closely don't notice this. By the time they hear about a product it has already become a more polished app. They think, “Well, look at Twitter. The first version of my product has to have all these features on day one.” If this was the case Twitter would have just launched (after seven years of development) rather than being a post-IPO juggernaut.

Build the “Next SMALL Thing”

A Gawker user upon seeing the Twitter MVP in 2007 commented, “Twitter is well on its way to [taking] the Overhyped Crown away from Second Life.” While down quite a bit this year, Twitter is now worth $22.61 Billion (market cap.) That small thing boasting a record “60,000 messages” (ahem, tweets?) in a day got REALLY BIG.

Ask yourself “What’s the Next SMALL Thing?” If you can find a small thing that people will find compelling enough to do every day, build that! Test it, improve it, and repeat. It’s a better use of your resources and it will result in a more awesome product.

Want help figuring out how to turn your “Next BIG Thing” into a Compelling Minimal Viable Product? Contact Must Win for a free consultation.

Wil Everts is a founding partner of The Must Win All Star Web & Mobile Consultancy.

Wil is a product-savant who loves conceptualizing features, designing user experiences, directing creatives, and engineering user interfaces. He has a cat named June, loves the St. Louis Cardinals, and was the First Blogger Transmitted into Space.

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