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The MVP (Minimal Viable Product) has become an extremely popular term in the young startup world. Based on the Lean Startup Methodology, most teams already understand that building a heavy featured first version of their product isn’t the right way to go. So, they are building an MVP.
This is probably the toughest part an entrepreneur’s needs to face at an early stage of a venture, and one should be really careful about it. Basic human instincts and “insecurity” on “is what I’m offering enough for my users” are very common when it comes to deciding on what will the MVP actually be. And what usually happens is that MVP’s become full blown products with a feature set that is way over the top.
This is some sort of a trick. You build an “MVP”, but the depth, size of the product, time, and development effort is really one of a full blown heavy featured product.
This is not what the MVP was intended for.
So I would like to propose - The XMPV (Extreme Minimal Vialble Product)
It’s time to apply some restraints on your product plan. Here we go:
1. Exercise humility. Understand that you have no chance to build the product that sits in your imagination and will capture both your vision and people’s hearts. No chance. Get over it, and move on.
2. Use one piece of paper. No wireframes, design tools, presentations, mockup tools, group collaboration etc.
3. Define one product DELIGHT. It’s not your mission statement, or your tagline. Not what investors would like to hear because it makes it a “big play”. It’s not the problem you are solving, what your product does (weird hah??), UI pages or design flow…
It’s one thing that would DELIGHT YOU if you were using the product. One feature.
Sketch out this one feature in simple UI. Show it to people, get feedback.
Repeat this process as many times as you can, including sketching it again and again, over the longest period of time possible (but not more that two weeks…) and then go build it.
Build this one feature as fast as you can.
Twitter first sketch (Jack Dorsey)
When you build imply the 1:10:30 rule - 1 screen to get to the product delight (“registration” page or “how other people use it” page), build scale for up to 10 people to use (don’t start clustering servers or evaluating network efficiency), build it in up to 30 days.
If you’ve passed the 30 days mark, something is wrong. Stop, reevaluate, and brainstorm with your team on what NOT to build.
Use your passion to quickly produce an outstanding XMVP experience. Leave all your feature dreams behind and find the fastest way to get to your first happy, excited, supporting users.
Over the last few months I met with over 15 startup working, thinking, building, dreaming, cranking on stuff. Most of them were early stage, pre-launch, but some already had a working product that they were trying to push.
All of them had one thing in common - they didn’t have enough development power to execute on their goals. Several were at the “we are looking for a technical co-founder” stage - which is a tricky stage as they can think (mistakingly) that they can’t progress on product until they find one. Others were stuck on the product and had a ton of development to get to their optimal MVP.
Now what do you do?
Looking for development power is one thing. Get going with oDesk, Elance and others is another. But I believe the most important thing to do is keep on building. How? No coding? Here are some tools and ideas:
As you are learning your product and market potential, observing your users/customers can be one of your biggest focal points. If you could get something in their hands that looks like your product, feels like the experience that you are aiming to build, and represents your vision in a meaningful way - you are progressing even though you are not in code zone yet.
Here are 3 free (with some premium features) tools that can help you out in this tricky phase:
1. Pop - Prototyping on Paper (iOS) - Pop is probably the easiest and fastest way to create your mobile app prptotype, show people a get initial feedback on your concept. You don’t even need to have graphic design screenshots or capability. If you can sketch on Paper - You’re good to go!
Here is how it works - you sketch your app, upload photos in the Pop iPhone app and define links for navigation - that’s it.
Here are some screens
2. Appgyver - My personal favorite. You can use sketches too, but it’s more powerful and impressive with real graphic screenshots. You upload the images and create your app flow. They also have an amazing app for iPhone that scans a code on the screen and your app is loaded on your iPhone. Now you can run around town and show everyone your functional app.
3. Codiqa - Another tool to build your app flow and UI. It has a very rich editor and many beautiful UI options and components, though it does take time to create something that looks like an actual app.
If you could spend a few hours on your product without coding - these would be the best and most fruitful hours you’ll spend.
Have something to show and go out and find people to it show to.
Learn, iterate, learn, iterate, learn.
Cool stuff? Follow me on twitter.
Is Vine a winner? This is yet to be seen. However to me it already feels like one. So I asked myself - with so many video startups out there - why does it work? Why are people so excited? The answer is: it’s not video.
Here’s the deal. When video startups come up with their approach to “I want to ‘Instagram’ video” they usually think - “ok, I am taking a video and now I want to make it cool, social, etc. etc”. The fact of the matter is, that to this point, video sharing simply doesn’t work. With only 1%! of Youtube users uploading videos and 99% consuming - this is not a mainstream social gesture.
So, to me it feels the team at Vine tried to stay away from videos. They are calling it “video loops” because this is the visual outcome - but the creation and even consumption of it - is not video at all - it’s doing the one thing that we all love doing - taking photos.
When I look at it, I see and amazing example of doing one thing great rather than “let’s do social mobile video”. No effects, no unnecessary extra steps, just a ultra quick creation of a new visual experience. And it has a fun/playful feeling to it too (holding down finger your when you take the snaps).
So the finding & exploring on Vine is not very effective, fine. They had the porn incident, That’s ok too. These can be fixed.
But nailing the social gesture that feels so casual and familiar, yet feels differentiated - that’s hard. I believe they did it.
So if you’re still into the mobile video scene (and no clones, please ;) my take is - think photos.
And same as “Google didn’t look/feel like any other search”, “Skype call quality was 10x better than anything out there”, “Twitter was a weird (but fast) way to tell the world what you’re doing” - if you are trying to fix a known problem or create a new experience in an existing (and sometimes crowded) market - try to figure out how to create a solution that clearly doesn’t feel and isn’t consumed like anything in your target market.
Be bold, try to imagine something visually different. Take your chances - it most surely be better than building just another version of …
Can you really test your startup idea before it’s out, see if it’s good, will work, has market fit, etc? The simple answer is - no. You can’t really. But what you could do is evaluate the origin of your idea, where it came from and try to understand if its genuine/real rather than good. “Genuine/real” is less about your idea being strong or exciting enough for other people. It’s more about your idea falling into the “I Saw Something and It’s the Future” bucket.
Here are some guidelines:
1. Made up ideas don’t work. Great ideas come from “observing” rather than “thinking”. “Feeling” rather then “searching”. If you are “thinking ideas up” it may be that you are off track. The best things will come to you when you’ll notice something and try to create or fix it.
2. Your own problem. Your own “expertise/passion”. Find a problem that you are facing. Or find something that would be really cool for you to use. If you are a movie lover go for something in the movie space. Database freak - find an angle there. Love playing with your kids toys - do something unexpected around toys for kids. Find your passion, based on your strengths. I know Instagram is huge and “mobile video is the next big thing”, but don’t bother building a teen video sharing service if that’s not part of your personal DNA.
3. Ask yourself - Who wants it right now? It’s easy to start dreaming about millions of users craving for your solution - but that may be a miss. Find something that people will start using immediately. Remember - you are building a “not-so-stable” first version of an “almost-non-featured” product. For someone to use it and take the dive with you they must really need it, and right now. Look for a small group that finds it really useful.
4. Live the future, build what’s missing. It’s hard to live the future, but try, try hard. Float away with the “People can’t really … today —- I see a future where people will [do the one clear thing your product does]”. Imagine how this future would look like with your product in it. Be careful not to trick yourself and make sure it’s actually missing.
5. Live the future, build what seems interesting. The fact that it’s interesting to you and missing is not enough. There are tons of “missing” things that nobody cares about. Find early excitement. Ask people, test early versions with friends, observe, question your judgement. Don’t look for “go for it” encouragement, you probably won’t find it. Look to see if “people get it”.
6. “Toys” are good. This is my personal favorite. We’ve been brought up and taught to think that “play”, “toys” are not serious for grownups, not good for business or mainstream consumer users. Wrong. Think of the greatest products in the world, the most popular apps and services, and most of your hardware. They are “useful”, but also have a “playful” aspect to them. It doesn’t mean they need to be childish or cartoonish, it just means that they should create some kind of emotional attachment that makes the user feel “it’s enjoyable” in it’s own unique way. So, check out if your idea has the “toy” factor baked in. It may improve the chances.
As I said at the beginning, you can’t really test an idea. Once it’s out you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Just keep in mind that being you and staying genuine to yourself is the easiest way to get your hands around something you love to do.
And working on something you love - gives you a good chance that other people will love it too.
The No #1 reason startups don’t make it is …
Find a way out of the “nobody cares” syndrome. Get it in people’s hands within weeks - up to a couple of months. In whatever form, with whatever features. See if someone, anybody, everybody! cares. Have something to show, and make it fast.