VERTICAL ESCALATOR / Gregarious Narain

MVP: The Features Are Silent

Designing products is an extremely difficult process, filled with diversions and pitfalls that you almost never can anticipate. As of late, there has been tremendous focus on the notion of the “minimally viable product” – the simplest essence of your vision which fundamentally solves a specific type of customer’s needs. I’m a big proponent of the concept of the MVP, though more often than not, the theory outperforms the practice.

Most often, when thinking in terms of our MVP, we think in terms of the features we plan to offer. We first develop an unsorted list of ideas that we thing would be “killer” and through a variety of steps and tumbles whittle this list down to something more manageable, more approachable. But maybe that’s completely the wrong way to handle things. Maybe that just leads us to a set of features, tightly coupled together but not necessarily of value on their own. If you take a survey of the MVPs you’ve seen, how true does that ring for you?

So what’s a product if not a compilation of the features. Isn’t that the secret to the 2+2=awesome formula? From my experience, a product is comprised of a number of “other” features, very distant from just the software that powers them. Here’s a few of those:

  • Acute understanding of the customer and their current problems
  • Acute understanding of the means through which a customer derives value and earns a return
  • Outstanding user experience that minimizes the friction in a process – that’s not necessarily fewer steps, just less confusing ones
  • Excellent copy that speaks the language of the customer
  • Well-thought out and tested onboarding experience that drives customer success

Now I know we’re all building those concepts into our MVP, right? Hell, I wish I could say we’ve done that, but I’d would totally be making it up. The challenge is that our urges to get something out there, to satisfy that most anxious of first customers, often can lead us to take shortcuts. There’s nothing wrong with shortcuts, so long as they’re recognized as business debt that has to eventually be paid in full.

So what’s a bootstrapped startup to do? Do you really have to wait for all of these things to be in place? Of course not! You’re a hunter, you use what you have at your disposal. It’s completely within your reach to spend some time on ALL of these items without making the deep dive into the abyss. If these bits aren’t there, it’s hard to learn what’s not working – must be present to be measured, regardless of your measurement technique.

The sign of a true craftsmen is that you can never see the seams in their work. You should expect nothing less of your MVP.

Next Story — The Enthusiasm Gap
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The Enthusiasm Gap

Entrepreneurship is a ever-lasting sales pitch. From the time to start until the day you call it quits, you’ll find yourself trying to coax someone down some path. For most, it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the journey, for others it’s the most frightening.

There are many kinds of “sales” made once you get going. Here’s just a bunch of the ones I’ve personally experienced:

  • Pitching anyone who might be able to validate my idea
  • Pitching my spouse for the green light to pursue my vision
  • Pitching my co-founder to continue and/or change directions
  • Pitching investors to invest in the future we see
  • Pitching contractors and employees we are the future they should build

Oh, and at some point in time, you eventually have to:

  • Pitch new customers to convince them that their problems dissolve base on your solution
  • Pitch your customers that the next shiny object is just shiny
  • Pitch partners that you will make their business better

So yeah, there’s a lot of pitching. But there’s a secret.

Most of us aren’t salespeople at all. We’d do horrible if put out in the world and told that our survival depended on how well we could sell Product X to customer y.

The secret is that we’re all passionate evangelists. We don’t sell our startups nearly as much as we believe, often to our own detriment, so blindly in what we’re doing that we can’t exude enthusiasm for it. It’s infectious and most people can’t resist that charm.

The real challenge, then, is not learning how to sell better (we can all benefit from that). No, the real challenge is to make sure there are no gaps in our enthusiasm.

The last thing you want in your startup is to be chasing the shadow of the dream you once had.

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