A Minimum Viable Product Helps You Release Earlier
When releasing a new product, the first step is to get a minimum viable product (MVP) released. The minimum viable product encompasses the essence of the Lean Startup ethos. An MVP helps go through one cycle of the Build-Measure-Learn loop. Eric Reis warns “Customers don’t care how long something takes to build. They only care if it serves their needs.” You also need to already have a customer chosen in order to be addressing a customer’s need. The main goal of an MVP is to learn about the customer and the market. You want to validate or reject your hypotheses.
Let’s say you want to build a software company helping people learn foreign languages. Entrepreneur Derek Sivers points out that you can get started by just scheduling a language teaching session. It’s very manual. It’s not automated at all. At the same time, it’s an extremely high-bandwidth way to learn about your customers’ needs. Most importantly, it’s useful for them. Once you have some experience delivering this type of service, you have much better chance of successfully prototyping a solution which addresses the same customer’s need.
You identify one specific need the customer already has. You learn what the customer thinks about it, how they dream they could overcome the problem. You hear them vent about their frustration. You dig deep into specific aspects. You seek out find you can address. You find out how your customer thinks about the problem. This is gold. It helps you identify where to focus your efforts, so that you address what your customer finds the most vexing.
By focusing on the must-have features only, you release a product or a service that addresses a particular need. It’s rudimentary. Yet it works. It might not even require a line of code. Must-have features are essentially all related to specific changes you want to induce. Your target customer will not consider the product valuable otherwise.
It’s also consistent with Ken Schwaber’s value burndown charts. Develop the highest value features first. If the product ends up being successful, then in fact, these are the extremely valuable core product features. They define the product. If it’s not successful, then try to repackage the core with a new set of extra features, in order to go into a different niche.