Why is your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) really just a PoS?

Business, Design, Development, Startups, UI/UX

With all of the available buzzwords surrounding startup  enthusiasts, one of the top phrases is MVP: Minimal Viable Product. Although I do believe in the concept, it has gotten so popular that people are quick to use it without genuinely understanding it. With no fault to Eric Reis, as he’s clearly explained the idea of MVP, people are just quick to dump a less-than half-ass product in the name of ‘MVP’ and then look bewildered when they don’t get proper support or traction.

Within the industry there’s conflicted views on the topic; Seth Godin isn’t a fan for many software startups. Then there’s Reid Hoffman’s #6 Rule which states that you should “Launch early enough that you are embarrassed by your first product release“. Unfortunately, many tech entrepreneurs are interpreting it as — release crappy, buggy, pre-alpha releases with the idea of getting great feedback from those sophisticated users.

Recently Robert Scoble posted about his irritation and why he’s criticizing start ups more critically lately. He points out his frustration with the term MVP, however if you read closely it’s really because too many people are using it as a crutch. There is a clear difference between a Proof of Concept, Minimal Viable Product and a Piece of Shit.

A Proof of Concept (PoC) is not your MVP

When you’re testing you’re hypothesis, or just flat out developing your application. Hopefully you have some type of plan. Taking that plan into account, this is where you can, and many people produce something that is a proof of concept to their idea. It can be fleshed out user interface design mockups, interactive mockups, non-functioning code (aka vapor-were) or even an pre-alpha. At this stage is where it is completely acceptable to have bugs, issues and non-functioning feature sets. It’s a proof of concept. It’s to help flush out the theories and see how people interact with it, what they think, etc.

The real problem arises when people try to pass off their PoC as their MVP. Don’t.

I believe (and hope) what Reid Hoffman meant was that, because you’re soooo passionate about your product and you know what you have planned — you’re initial release should be simplified to just the core (still functional, just simplified) so much that you’re uncomfortable because it’s so bare. It isn’t fully matured yet which is why you should be embarrassed to release that v1. Not because it has bugs, weird quirks and only 2 of the released 8 features really work.

You can still release a polished product as a MVP. Many startups do it. In essence that is the point, because how can you get genuine feedback on the concept when half of your feedback is related to bugs?

So yes, release soon and often, but only proper versions.

 
* update *
Great discussions going on via comments in Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3416911

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10 responses to "Why is your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) really just a PoS?"

  1. Reply Joel Parker Henderson January 02, 2012 17:00 pm

    The Lean Startup has a few MVP examples that differ from you blog post e.g. the Dropbox demo video and the grocery site personal concierge. Both are valuable as MVPs because they show the product idea works – they are not fully usable/scalable, they are only to generate validated learning.

    • Reply vince baskerville January 03, 2012 12:15 pm

      That is a good point.. it was the same thing i was saying in the HN comments; but really I find it weird that he does mentions those as qualifying, since they really just validate the business model. One of his (Eric) simplest definitions for a MVP was a product that could easily go through a full cycle in the lean.feedback loop: https://skitch.com/vince.baskerville/gixq3/mvp-feedback-loop which should/hopefully help distill what customers want & thus actually pay for and part of that loop is to actually build something.

      In essence, what I’m really referring to specifically I guess is the actual products that people release under the Minimal & Viable context.

  2. Reply haha January 02, 2012 21:45 pm

    Totally read PoC as “piece of crap” in title.

    • Reply haha January 02, 2012 21:46 pm

      Sorry – PoS -”piece of shit” – take your pick.

  3. Reply Marcos Eguillor January 03, 2012 04:00 am

    Great article, Vince.

    The point now, I guess, is balancing between what the owner of the product/service thinks it´s viable and what the user expects as viable.

    In one corner of the room there’re cool-cosy-polished value proposals and in the other, “promising” ones. It’s a trade-off between investment and risk.

    Difficult to differentiate between crapy and reasonable state-of-art releases. For me, it’s a matter of respect to the user/customer. If I don’t get a minimum, I don’t give a S for the http://www.iAmAlazyProvider.com; if you don’t want to risk and don’t invest on me as potential customer, I don’t want to keep trying and make you better.

    m

  4. Reply TripLingo Blog – Some Recent TripLinguist Guest Blogs January 04, 2012 17:33 pm

    [...] recently graced the front pages of Hacker News by asking Why Your Minimum Viable Product is Really a PoS . This was a follow-up on his cursing-in-blog-post-headlines theme that all started [...]

  5. Reply Jake Zahradnik January 05, 2012 00:09 am

    Excellent article – very important to make the distinction!

  6. Reply ¿Cómo hacer un programa? « ¿Cómo crear software? January 05, 2012 07:35 am

    [...] tiene que estar simplificada al core de la aplicación, no obstante tiene que ser un producto maduro en cuanto a experiencia de usuario y a bugs. La experiencia de usuario es algo básico en estas iteraciones iniciales. No pongas [...]

  7. Reply Lou January 13, 2012 18:18 pm

    The same thing happened with ‘Agile’ – now companies use it as a buzzword without understanding what it is.

    I’m quite interested in putting together a list of companies or startups working off the lean startup principles – it’d be nice to see people showing how they’re applying the teachings to every day life so that we can help people realise what these concepts really mean.

    Lou

    - contact me at:
    myleanstartup.tumblr.com

    • Reply vince baskerville January 27, 2012 16:02 pm

      It’s unfortunate when this happens & really it only hurts people who want to learn and try to implement these methodologies the correct way. And as for your list, we (TripLingo) are practicing the lean methodologies, and have been doing so since day one. Let me know if you need any other information.

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About Vince Baskerville
Product Manager at Lithium, a co-founder of 2 startups: TripLingo and Glancely.
A 10+ year industry specialist & adrenaline junkie whom has traveled to 12 countries, and is known for creating highly intuitive-engaging digital products. Continue reading »
 
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