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Minimum Viable Products: The Truth

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!