One thing your MVP needs to get customers

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Among the many misconceptions about product development, probably the most damaging one is that your product needs to be fully ready before you can enter the market and start selling it. But this type of thinking will only lead you into a trap of building something that the market ultimately rejects.

Before you build anything, you need to know if people will need it. And you do this by selling as soon as you can. I want to tell you about how we started sales at RightHello without an existing product, and why fast sales will be the most important thing for the future of your business.

Sell the main solution, not features

Our goal was to create an easy and effective solution for lead generation. At the start, we had basic ideas about:

  • what problem we wanted to solve — lead generation being too hard and time-consuming
  • how to solve it — create tools and processes to easily find contacts and cold email them
  • who would need the solution — B2B companies and startups

But those were pretty much just hypotheses. And since startup teams get user needs wrong most of the time, we knew that these ideas needed validation. Initial validation can be achieved online:

  • by cold emailing to schedule a Skype call and talk about what you’re offering and if their problems confirm your hypotheses, and if they would pay for your solution
  • by outsourcing to a company that handles market research
  • by engaging in discussions on social media and discussion forums

But theres’s no better way to validate your ideas than getting your first clients and solving the problem for them. And to do that, you don’t even need to have an existing product, here’s what we did:

  • created a Minimum Sellable Product (MSP) without a product
  • learned all we could about the processes we wanted to automate
  • integrated those processes into a manually-delivered service

In other words, we just sold the solution without wasting a lot of resources yet. Product development is hugely expensive, so before you take any serious steps towards it, you need to verify the hypotheses you’re basing it on.

So only after verifying our hypotheses did we start to develop a product. We focused on the core problems, and started automating the processes that we’d been doing manually.

Feedback will guide you from the start, and you have to remember that starting to sell quickly is ok, but the main benefit of it isn’t revenue:

  • you need first clients as fast as you can because they can give you real user feedback
  • be good to them (give value) and AAA — always, always ask (for feedback of course)
  • take all requests and ideas into consideration
  • implement the ones that repeat a lot
  • if you get plenty of conflicting feedback, focus on requests that will serve your core business

Quick salesy intermission (gotta pay the bills) - Outreach to new clients is problematic? Stop doing repeatable tasks and digging for data, start talking to customers that need you! - end of intermission, sorry. Carry on :)

And this process should be an ongoing one — it’s not just something you do at the start, users will always be the best guides for development. It’s guided us to make 3 big pivots and rebuild our whole app twice in the 2 years since we’ve entered the market.

Changing your product is good

The next point I want to make is — change is good…but not always. It’s good as long as you know what helps increase your core business value:

  • focus on creating and improving the main functionalities that solve your client’s problems
  • neither cool design nor fancy additional features will help if core functionalities are out of whack
  • cut all unnecessary weight from your product, users like simple solutions and above all solutions that do what they’re supposed to do

In the end, Minimum Sellable (or Viable) product is not a product — it’s a process of development that’s characterised by:

  • short production cycles
  • constant market feedback
  • focus on defining and improving core functionalities

Most companies fail because their solution doesn’t respond to market needs, focusing on other things instead. The age-old rule of “KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid!” comes to mind — in this case, keeping it simple means focusing on your users and the core functionalities they need the most.

Sales aren’t just about cash

If you plunge into development without a user feedback loop, and wait too long to put your solution in front of clients then you’re increasing the risk that all your work will be for nothing.

And that your company will wither and fail because no one needs what you have to offer. Sell as soon as you can, as you can see from our example, you don’t even need a product to start selling what it stands for. Let users tell you what you should develop, and do it after you’ve heard them out — and not based on what you assume to be true.

Because when you assume and don’t test your assumptions, you’re making an ass-out of-u-and-me, your team and the market.

The one thing your MVP needs to get customers — is to be sold.


Article written by Magda Czech, Product Manager @RightHello

Originally published at righthello.com on March 3, 2016.