Bloated MVP

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VCs’ job is to value companies. They should stop LARPing about “value add”, “deal flow”, and “access “.

Public-market investors are comfortable telling you what they do: buy stocks low and sell them high. But Venture Capital investors who do the exact same thing — buy equity in startups at what they think is a low price, and exit higher — seem much less comfortable talking honestly about their job. When they talk to founders and LPs, they pretend to be something they’re not. I call this VC LARPing.

“Value Add” is LARPing

VCs act like offering non-monetary value is a big part of their job. VCs will try sell you on value-adds like:

  • Advice
  • Help raising follow-on funding from other investors

Erik Torenberg was kind enough to invite me on his popular podcast last week. He’s always great at efficiently getting the interesting content out of his guests.

Click here for an interactive audio+transcript combo. I’m also including the transcript here.

Erik: Hey, everybody. It’s Erik Torenberg, co-founder/partner of Village Global, a network-driven venture firm, and this is Venture Stories, a podcast covering topics relating to tech and business with world-leading experts.

Welcome to another episode of Village Global’s Venture Stories. I’m here today with a very special guest, portfolio CEO, Liron Shapira of Relationship Hero. Liron, welcome to the podcast.

Beaker Browser is an open-source “peer-to-peer browser for Web hackers” project led by Paul Frazee and Tara Vancil. Here’s the kind of description you can find on the project home page:

The Web should be a creative tool for everyone. Beaker brings peer-to-peer publishing to the Web, turning the browser into a supercharged tool for building websites, files, apps, and more.

Ok… what does any of that mean in terms of an actual use case? We’re off to a vague start.

Here are various features listed on the home page:

  • Deploy instantly
  • Co-host sites peer-to-peer
  • Build peer-to-peer apps with new…

The evolutionary leap that only a small fraction of startups manage to make

In pondering the Fermi paradox, the confusing fact that humans seem to be the only intelligent life in the observable universe, a popular theory first published by Robin Hanson asserts the existence of an evolutionary leap that’s extremely rare for any species to make. The “Great Filter” is Hanson’s term for this species-killing leap. Check out WaitButWhy’s explanation for more details.

Let’s talk about another Great Filter: the Great Filter of Startups. It’s the evolutionary leap that only a small fraction of startups manage to make. Do you know what I’m referring to?

The Great Filter of…

So I watched the movie about General Magic and I figure it’s up my alley to analyze how this train wreck happened.

If you haven’t heard the story: Two of the original Apple geniuses, Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzeld, plus a charismatic business guy named Marc Porat, left Apple in 1990 to start General Magic, a spinoff company making an iPhone-like device using the janky technology of the time. (For context, the first iPhone launched in 2007 and was groundbreaking technology for its time.)

Hey is an email service developed by Basecamp and launched in June 2020. Within 10 days of launching into public beta, they reportedly made their first $1M in revenue by selling over 10,000 subscriptions at $99/yr.

Hey has an opinionated view on what are the most common workflows that people use email for, and builds those workflows as first-class product features.

They do a good job showcasing these features on their How It Works page:

  • The Screener: When anyone emails you for the first time, you have to opt-in to seeing their emails
  • The Feed: You designate which email addresses…

Dropbox Paper launched a few years ago, before I started this blog or had clarified the concept of a “bloated MVP”.

Their home page says “Dropbox Paper is more than a doc — it’s a workspace that brings creation and coordination together in one place.” I always thought it was supposed to be a Google Docs killer with more features.

OpenLand (YC W18) was founded in 2017 and launched their private beta in mid 2019. That’s when I first tried it out, but I waited for them to launch publicly this year to write my MVP review. And here we are.

Their product is basically Slack except with no organizations, just channels and users. It’s impressively modern-looking and feature-rich for an MVP.

How to tell if you’ve just wasted your life on a bloated MVP

Most early-stage startups fall into the trap of making a bloated MVP which nets them zero users for their effort. Here’s a handy 10-question test to let you know if your startup is one of these rampant bloated MVPs. Just answer each question Yes or No:

  1. Hazy value prop?
  2. Zero active users?
  3. A whole product?
  4. Bundling multiple use cases?
  5. More than 3 person-months?
  6. Code?
  7. Wishful-thinking features?
  8. Tedious user experience?
  9. Brand/UI/UX flourishes?
  10. Nonessential content?

See below for a detailed explanation of each question, and scroll to the bottom to see what your score means about your MVP.

1. Hazy value prop?

This question, which I…

Bloated MVP

Is your MVP bloated?

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