Minimum Viable Products: The Truth

mvp

You’ve probably heard me talk about this before.

Minimum viable products are the lifeblood of a startup or critical growth stage business. Getting something out the door to serve your customers as quickly as possible is how you grow.

It is how you test something, how you research, how you determine if your product really will sell.

But we need to make a distinction, and it is an important one.

Minimum + viable is a balance, not an excuse.

Though it is far more important to launch, test, track, tweak, and sell than it is to run focus groups, conduct expensive year-long surveys and write 40 page product development plans, there is still thought and effort required to reach MVP.

Minimum means the least amount of product development and back-end work you can do before releasing your creation into the hands of your customers. It means avoiding unnecessary features that will take longer to implement and add little real value. It means cutting out the non-essentials.

Viable is the qualifier for minimum.

Just as a car could sell without cupholders but not without an engine, your product must strip away the unnecessary luxuries without compromising the core value.

An example of this would be projectRADIANT, our latest product release. It was supposed to launch yesterday, and we were unable to make that happen. Why?

Because we didn’t have a minimum viable product – yet.

The entire value proposition of projectRADIANT is to provide useful, actionable case studies, worksheets, and other tools to learn marketing strategies from companies who have used them successfully.

The core value comes from an assessment of what these successful companies have done, and the breakdown of that assessment into actionable steps.

Our first case study will be courtesy of an amazing company in the SaaS space. They grew to over $500k in annual revenue in just two years, almost exclusively through a blog. The actionable breakdown of what they did will have incredible value to entrepreneurs who want to implement that strategy.

And the founders have graciously agreed to answer our questions and provide us with everything we need to make this case study happen – but they can’t have their interview responses back to us until the end of this week.

Sure, we had the forum. We had the members area. We had coupon codes and payment processing in place. We could have put together a quick case study of some other company, some other technique, and worked around the clock to get it ready. We could have launched yesterday and probably even made a few sales.

But it wouldn’t have been our Minimum Viable Product.

The core value of this project is the results entrepreneurs and executives can achieve by following the steps in each lesson. Without the right company, the right case study to follow, those results will be limited. The value of projectRADIANT would be limited.

We could have added cupholders. We could have put on a spoiler. We could have painted it in cool colours and added all kinds of bells and whistles.

But without the engine – the actionable lessons from successful companies – it wouldn’t have had much value or substance.

People often mistake Minimum Viable Products for Minimum Value Products.

It is common for people to assume that “just ship something” and “trim the excess” means to cut corners on the core value, and offer as little as you can get away with. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

MVP means offer as much as you can get away with – without adding more than your customers need.

MVP means make it valuable, make it simple, make it clean and easy to implement.

MVP means 500 words to make your point instead of 5000, 5 core features instead of 50, it means the engine and the wheels and the seats and the steering wheel.

It means understanding what your customer really wants, and delivering nothing but that.

It required brutal honesty and self assessment.

“Is this something that my customers really want, or is it just something I want to create?”

“Is my tweaking of this product based on customer feedback, or my own insecurity?”

“Is the product not ready, or am I just afraid to launch?”

Your answers to those questions will tell you if it is time to launch, or time to get back to work.

For us, today we’re back to work building out the next few case studies and lining up more companies to analyze. We’re gaining more support for pR so that it can launch with a big bang. We’re keeping our eyes focused on what we know our MVP is, and despite the delay, not adding unnecessary features.

We’re also doing it very efficiently, using a concept popularized by Tim Ferris called “Minimum Effective Dose.” I’ll be sharing that next week.

Do you have a project you have been holding back on?

A book that isn’t quite ready, a program or service that you have yet to launch, something you’re perfecting to the point of procrastination? Commit publicly to finding your MVP – and launching it. I would love to hear what you’re going to ship – tell me in the comments!

5 Blogs to Inspire You To Step Up

biggergame

I’ve been writing a lot lately about inspiration, playing a bigger game, stepping up and changing the world even when you’re afraid. I’m doing this, right now – stepping up and doing a soft-launch of projectRADIANT next week, breaking down what successful companies are doing and laying out their game plans for others to implement.

There are some big, big companies coming down the pipeline with their interviews – big, scary, OMG I have to actually talk to that awesome CEO companies – and it is absolutely magical.

I know what happens when you step up and play a bigger game, and many of you are starting to learn. But in celebration of the upcoming release of pR, I thought it would be appropriate to hear the opinions of other highly successful people on the whole “step up and do something big” philosophy.

5 Blogs to Inspire You To Step Up

1. Kevin Colleran’s “Go Big or Go Home” on The Wall Street Journal

Kevin’s key points: true entrepreneurs do something that is a little bit crazy, that changes the world, they know why they’re the right person for the job, they time things right, fail fast, and pivot even faster. It is well worth a read.

2. Seth Godin’s “Thinking Bigger

Of course Seth Godin doesn’t really need an introduction, but if you haven’t read this piece on his blog yet, you should. There is only one central thought here: “Ask bigger questions.” That is what takes a business from “idea” to “remarkable.” Check it out.

3. Mike Michalowicz’s “Don’t Overthink It”

It is no secret that I’m a huge fan of Mike and his ideas, and this is one of my favourites. Simple, to the point, and with a fantastic and relatable example, Mike tells you to stop living in your head and swing for the fences (or the woods.) This 3 minute read could change your whole year.

4. Dave Navarro’s “7 Steps to Playing a Bigger Game”

This is less “blog”, more “opt-in page” (and no, I’m not an affiliate.) But if there were ever a sales letter or opt-in page worth reading, this is it. Dave actually lays out what he believes the 7 steps to stepping up, including his thoughts on reducing the number of steps it takes to achieve your goals which is one of the best ways you can hack your own psychology to help you achieve greatness. It’s a long read, but well worth it.

5. KissMetrics “Lessons from Richard Branson”

I love Sir Branson. He is an amazing example of what you can do if you’re willing to take a stand for a product or service you believe that people deserve – and yes, that is really how he thinks. His Five Tips for Success about half way through will help you see why he has been so successful (especially if you implement #5.) Just go and read it, you know you want to!

So that’s it.

Those are the 5 posts you should read today if you want to step up and play bigger. What blogs or articles have you found inspiring on your path? Share in the comments!

On Courage and The Pain of Playing Small

You must make a choice to take a chance or nothing will ever change.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

– Wayne Gretzky

What is it you really want?

Not just what you think you can have, but if there were no more obstacles, no more barriers, nothing stopping you – what would you shoot for? What do you really, really want?

How much money would you have?

How big would your company be?

How much (or how little) would you work?

What kind of impact would you make in the world?

What would you do for your family?

What would you do for yourself?

Push beyond your current reality.

Don’t think of your limitations, ignore your limiting beliefs (you can’t have X without sacrificing Y, for example), and create a picture of exactly what your ideal life would be like. Stretch it – make it even bigger. Then bigger. Make your vision for yourself and your business so big that you hardly believe you could ever have it.

Think to yourself what that would give you. If this ideal life were magically dropped in your lap right now, how would you feel? What would you do? Who would you be?

Pretty amazing, right? The way it would feel to live your ideal life is pretty incredible.

Now ask yourself…

What is stopping you?

Your logical brain (coming from your limiting beliefs) will likely have a few answers for you. You may think…

“I don’t have enough money.”

“I’m not good enough.”

“My parents never taught me how.”

“I don’t have the right connections.”

“I’m just a mom/dad/coach/startup/kid/senior/whatever.”

Go ahead and listen to those thoughts for a minute. Take them in. How does it feel to think that way? How does it feel to focus your income goals on “what you need to survive”? How does it feel to think of yourself as “just an” anything?

That is the pain of playing small. And I’ll give you a hint – you aren’t meant to play that small. If you were, it wouldn’t be painful to think that way. It would be natural to think of yourself as insignificant and unimportant, and you would be happy and embrace it.

Feel the weight of all of those limitations, and then ask yourself…

What would it be like if all of those limitations disappeared?

Really and truly – if you had enough money (or didn’t need it), if you were good enough (or didn’t need to be), if everything that was stopping you just went away… How would you feel? What would you do?

Here’s the big secret: did you know that you have the power to make those limitations disappear?

You do – in a split second, if you wanted to.

If you want to move past all of your limitations and embrace your ideal life, you only have to have one thing:

Courage.

The courage to push through every “no” and keep going until you get a “yes”. The courage to stand up and ask for support from big people, big names, and claim your big impact. The courage to earn a lot of money without having to work yourself to death (yes, most of us have limiting beliefs around “working hard=making money”).

The courage to get up every morning and keep working toward your ideal life no matter what.

So – do you want it? Do you want the courage to stand up and claim what you really want in your life and your business? Do you want to play that big game, and achieve everything you have ever dreamed of and more?

Then fake it.

Not in a dishonest, pretend you’re the king of the world kind of way. Act as if you have the courage to do it now. Act as if nothing is stopping you, as if you’re willing to push past any obstacle and not let anything get you down.

Act as if you have the courage to reach for your dreams today.

Because if you’re playing small, if you’re struggling to make ends meet or to get that next sale or to have any kind of impact at all, it isn’t going to get better. Doing the same thing over and over again will not get you different results.

If you stay on your current course, the worst thing that can happen is X. If you make a choice to take a chance, the worst thing that can happen – it is still X. Your failure will not be any more catastrophic than if you hadn’t stuck your neck out at all, but your success has the potential to be that much bigger.

Fake the courage until you have it, because “you miss 100% of the shots you  never take.”

So share in the comments below – what shots are you going to take today?

 

The Biggest Mistake You're Making in Your Business… (and how to stop making it today.)

jumpingoffbridge

“I don’t want to be too… ‘corporate’.”

I probably hear that 4-5 times a week. There is this negative association with corporations, as though doing anything that they do makes you somehow less noble, less helpful, almost evil. Like to be fully corporate, you would have to run your business with a board of advisers that meet in a shadowy back alley – outside the fringes of the law.

I’ve heard that a bit more than usual this week, and it was my call to say this to you:

Stop saying that.

Do you know why corporate marketing looks different from small business marketing? Is it because they’re evil, or manipulative, or distant and uncaring?

No, no, and no.

It looks different because it is. Corporations are marketing on a massive scale. They’re building brand associations, they’re creating a platform, they’re reaching hundreds of thousands, millions, and even billions of potential customers with their marketing.

They’re partnering with big name brands, getting major media attention every time they use the washroom or hire a new janitor, and just generally dominating their market.

Corporate marketing can feel impersonal because it can’t be one-on-one to hundreds of millions of people. How many personal emails or phone calls have you received from someone at Coca-Cola or Pepsi to get you to buy their products? That isn’t because they don’t care about their mission or their customers, it is simply that they’ve found more effective ways to reach you.

Many of you are probably saying “but I don’t want to be as big as Coke or Pepsi, so this doesn’t apply to me.” But, my friend, it absolutely does – and I know it does because I cause breakthroughs around this very challenge every week. For people just like you. (This is where you lean in and read intently…)

Being “corporate” isn’t what you’re afraid of.

In fact, being “corporate” just represents what you’re really afraid of. Something that scares the sh!t out of many of you, really.

Yes, there are some corporations that hurt people – no denying it. There are also people that hurt people, and with the negative focus of modern media, it is getting harder and harder to avoid hearing about them.

Microsoft has done some semi-evil things over the years (anti-trust lawsuit, anyone?) But did you know that they provide good paying jobs to over 100,000 people worldwide? That the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working to solve world hunger with grants that also create dozens of jobs in developing countries?

But I forgot – you don’t want to be “corporate.” Why is that? Well, I think…

You’re avoiding playing a bigger game.

Because calling Sally over at Sally’s Health Spa to partner on a presentation to 10 of her best customers is easier than calling up Centrum and partnering with them to present your offerings to 10M people worldwide, right?

Because calling the local newspaper editor to share your story is easier than calling a journalist at People Magazine or TIME or The Wall Street Journal, right?

Because sitting there selling your own time and knowledge is easier than creating a product that can be replicated with or without you, right?

When you *are* the business, either you’re there and making money… Or you’re not there, and not making money. It is easier to do that than to scale, because your business getting bigger means you need to work a lot more – right?

Because staying small is easier than getting big, right?!?

But is it really?

A phone call to Sally and Centrum will take the same amount of time, and Sally is less familiar with promotional partnerships than Centrum is… She’ll probably take more convincing.

A call to the local newspaper editor won’t likely get you far, unless you’re in the local “clique” of important people… And because he is the only editor, it will probably take you weeks to chase him down. A quick email pitch to the editor at WSJ could be done in 5 minutes.

Selling your time and knowledge is easier at the beginning, when you don’t have a product to sell… But it is impossible to scale, and you end up owning your own job if you don’t evolve beyond that. “Well, if I want to make another $5k this year, I could work another 15 hours a week…” *shudder*

When you own a business and you grow enough to put someone else in charge, you sit around and help steer the vision of the company when you have time… All while getting a nice income from your creation.

Staying small isn’t easier than getting big.

Really, it isn’t. There are hundreds of thousands of companies out there trying to stay small. There are hundreds of companies calling Sally and John the Editor, hundreds of thousands selling their own time and knowledge.

The playing field opens up for the few who step up and play a bigger game. There’s just less competition the closer you get to the top.

So what are you really afraid of? Is it being corporate? Is it playing a bigger game? Is it working too many hours? Is it solving world hunger and creating 100k jobs?

No.

You’re afraid that you’re not good enough.

Who are you to call up Centrum, or WSJ? Who are you to create a product that sells millions of units per month, or to hire someone else to run your company? Who are you to build a company that helps millions, employs hundreds of thousands, generates billions in revenue, and doing it all while you’re enjoying your life?

Here is what I want you to understand: You don’t have to be good enough.

I mean, you already are, but you don’t have to be the best to have a huge impact and enjoy your life. You don’t have to create something amazing from scratch, or be the biggest innovator. Facebook is a publicly traded corporation worth billions, and they were a MySpace copycat. Apple is the same way, and they pay royalties on upwards of 100 patents for every single iPhone they sell.

You don’t need to be the best to have a huge impact, to change the world, to become a millionaire or a billionaire. In fact, to play a bigger game, you only need these:

brass-balls

They’re big, they’re brass, and they are the only difference between Bill Gates and that dude down the street who builds PCs in his basement. Mr. Gates had the “equipment” to walk into IBM’s office and strike a deal to put his operating system (one that he didn’t even create, he basically swiped it from Xerox) on every single PC they built, and pay him for it. That is what made Microsoft what it is today.

Now ask yourself, and be honest:

Do you want to help lots of people?

Do you want to be financially free?

Do you want to enjoy your life?

Do you want people to admire you for your accomplishments and your contribution to this world?

Then stop playing small.

You don’t have to sacrifice yourself and your priorities, you don’t have to be something you’re not, you don’t have to work like a dog or lie, cheat, and steal. You  just have to have the courage to step up, to put yourself out there, to align with people who are bigger than you are today, and to keep pushing until you make it.

Here is your challenge:

Do one thing, every day, that takes courage.

It could be that call to a big name magazine, or a partnership proposal to a Fortune 500 Company, or pitching a guest blog post to The Huffington Post, or sending one of your products to an A-List celebrity asking for their support.

Do one thing every day that pushes you into a bigger  game.

Even if you decide to stay small anyway, being small is a lot more fun when you’ve got big support.

– Cheryl