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Photo by Yu Hosoi on Unsplash

Foreword: I’ve written this article for anyone who has used the term ‘MVP’, but is yet to have repeated success with launching them and scaling beyond a first few customers.

The talk around MVPs has got very complicated.

“It should be minimal yet valuable”.

“It shouldn’t scale”.

“Just reduce the non-essential features”.

All of this are true, but they just describe what an MVP looks like. They — and most articles — miss the core reason why an MVP exists in the first place.

And if you miss that core reason, yours is likely to fail. …

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In startups we’re always looking for the upsides.

We grow our companies by shout “Let’s grab more customers!”, “Let’s improve our product!”, and “Let’s get another campaign out!”.

But there’s one thing that should sit side-by-side with this attitude. Avoiding things that will actually damage your startup.

Pre-launch, these include:

  • Avoiding focussing on a problem that the customer doesn’t have, or won’t pay (enough) for
  • Avoiding ‘skipping ahead’, and starting development before you’ve got appropriate signals (e.g. a pre-sale commitment)
  • Avoiding focussing on growth before you’ve proved you can deliver the outcome the customer wants

When you’re nearing hitting the…

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Most of us in the startup community have embraced the principles of Lean product development and MVPs.

Despite this, most startups still flatline or fail after their MVP has been released.

That begs the question; why?

Startups are complex, so there’s many factors at play. Timing certainly comes into it. The quality of the team is important too. As is getting right balance between time spent on product development and developing your distribution.

But whatever the conditions, the first release of a product should get at least some traction.

Still, many don’t.

So why does it happen?

Taking the First Leap

Most teams use…

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Note: I’ve written this from the perspective of corporate innovation, or innovation within established startups. However, virtually everything here is applicable to early-stage startups too.

Start from the core

The best way to answer this question is to build it up from first principles. Or put another way, from the core of what drives early-stage innovation.

That core is the following process:

  1. Rigorously measure where the idea is right now — confronting hard truths
  2. Run experiments to validate/invalidate key assumptions, or to learn how to move key numbers in the right direction
  3. Persevere or pivot
  4. Repeat

When it comes to recruitment, you need a…

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Ben Horowitz (of Venture Capital firm Andreessen Horowitz) was one of the first to suggest that a Product Manager should be the “CEO of the product”. Since then, received quite a bit of criticism. That criticism is wrong.

What a Great CEO Does

The heart of most criticism can be paraphrased like so; “product managers don’t have the authority to just tell people what to do”. Well, anyone who writes this misunderstands what a great CEO does, and (for me) misses the point of making this comparison.

Here’s some of the core responsibilities of a CEO:

  • Own the vision
  • Provide the proper resources for the…

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Before we talk about why it’s a bad idea, it’s easy to see why it happens.

First, the venture gets some initial validation. Whether it’s positive responses to a value proposition or the first customers on an MVP, the team gets enough confidence to pursue investment.

As we all know, raising money (whether internally if you’re in a large business, or externally as a ‘standalone’ entrepreneur) is difficult. If usually takes months of effort, and everyone knows there’s an element of smoke and mirrors. But there’s one element that can be particularly problematic — the growth figures.

The challenge is…

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Most people reading this will know the product development principles they want to live by. Outcome focussed, guided by data, experimental, a focus on learning…the list goes on.

But knowing the principles is only the first step though. The second step — living by them — is more difficult than it first seems.

How many times have you launched a new product or feature and realised you could have validated it far sooner, and far easier? …

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Good product development teams rightly focus on outcomes (such as moving a key metric) and validated learning.

But if a team isn’t hitting goals or generating valuable learning, it can sometimes be difficult to know why. Is it because of something outside of the team’s influence? Is it because the team isn’t performing well enough? Or even if they are hitting goals, could they have hit them sooner, or exceeded them?

A Focus on Process

In sport, elite athletes and teams don’t solely aim for the result — they improve the things that will produce it. For example, the coach of a 200 meter…

Rob Calvert

Product specialist. Also founder, advisor, with some engineering & design mixed in.

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