MVP Panel at Northside Innovation (2015)

On Friday, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel about MVPs with 4 amazing guests at The Northside Innovation Festival in Brooklyn (from left to right in the photo): Adam Leibsohn (Giphy), Lara Crystal (Minibar), Peter Rojas (AOL Alpha), and Beth Altringer (Harvard).

The panel had some great insights. I wanted to share my key takeaways:

Key Takeaways

Fall in love with the problem not the product

We talked about falling in love the problem, not the product. I loved this as I often talk about “Solution Fever”; where entrepreneurs get obsessed with their solution rather than caring about solving a problem. This can lead to spending far too much time on problems that no one cares about or spending too much time trying to make the product perfect rather than focusing that same time and energy toward forming a deeper understanding of the problem domain.

Failure is a big part of a building an MVP

Failure is a big part of building MVPs and you have to be comfortable with that. We talked a lot about the idea that marketing is not a magic bullet but it is often used as a foil to hide failure. Often people will say “if only we spent more on marketing, then people would use this”. That can hide the fact that you just don’t have product/market fit OR problem/solution fit.

If you are going to outsource an MVP make sure you have a partner

At Minibar, they had two non-technical founders and they decided to outsource the build of their first MVP (the team has since built out an internal technical team). They were successful but talked about how risky this can be. In Minibar’s case, outsourcing made sense because they didn’t have the technical know-how, they were building a 2-sided marketplace which required getting the app right for 2 user sets simultaneously, and they were able to closely partner with the provider they chose.

Define what success looks like before you build

This seems to be a perennial topic but it is worth mentioning here. Almost everyone mentioned that defining success before building was critical to both knowing if you have something worth continued effort and as a way to maximize the learning you are going to be doing. In the future, I would love to ask: “People always talk about defining success upfront, why is it such an issue?” Is it because people forget to do it? Don’t like to do it?

MVPs are as much about the people as the product

The team working on the MVP is as important as the product itself. We talked about how many teams start building something then pivot to something completely different but because the team stays the same they are successful. I think building, releasing and measuring a MVP is one of the strongest (and toughest) team building exercises you can do. If your team can survive that, you have a great team!

Expectations for MVPs are getting higher

We talked about the idea that as the app store matures and there are more apps out there, consumers expectations are getting higher and attention spans are getting shorter. Today, you potentially need to build a MVP that works really well (if not perfectly), has a core set of features, and looks great. If your product doesn’t meet these expectations, consumers will move on.

Thanks to all the panelists and to Northside for putting together a great event.