Almost nothing is more satisfying than taking what was once just an idea and giving it life. – That first crack at making it a real thing and the delight you get when you’re at that point that you can actually say, “What we have here is our first MVP.” Whether you call it MVP or prototype or working demo, getting to that point when you can get it out to customers for ‘Round One’, is glorious.
Many people know and use the term MVP by now, popularized by Eric Ries in his book ‘The Lean Startup.’ An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is built to have just enough features to bring it to customers for feedback, leading to further development. It has been my experience that building a first working model using this approach is the best way to not get caught in the vortex of following prototype-pitfalls:
- Time: You put in too many features at once. This costs you precious time in development, testing, and deployment. Even without going functionality-crazy and building bells and whistles from the start, it’s a good idea to keep your product super-lean at first and just get it out. – Before someone else does.
- Money: You put too much money into it right from the start. Make sure your prototype has wings before making a no-turning-back kind of financial commitment.
I know of companies that raise venture capital and then more venture capital to hire many people to help build their perfect product or solution. This rarely works out well. The opportunity can pass or pivot while much money has been embedded in a non-changeable product or solution. Again; Time and money.
I believe in truly understanding the customer and the market. Then, build something quick around them.
Find a small group of customers that are ready to help test and provide feedback and even pay… yes PAY for the service. Quickly get feedback, fix and repeat. After a few rounds you can open it up to new customers, get feature requests, charge more money and make more money.
There needs to be a point, though, where the rounds stop; A point where you have enough feedback to get your final product or service out there not as a prototype, but as professional grade. You’ve worked with all the bugs, costs, latency, and now have something real and ready.
Our first MVP cost $900 to build. – All in. Communication costs were extra, but we charged a small % on top to cover it. The platform took off and we started making money from day one. A decade later, our automotive product alone has supported more than 1,200 dealerships in 12 different countries. The original code has been changed several times along with our data-centres. I don’t know what it is about start-ups originating in garages – you hear a lot about that. We too, I have to say, had some affiliation with that do-things-in-a-garage model of starting-up. We ran our first data centre from a garage. Good times, good times.
The lesson here is to start small. Listen to your intended market. Give things for free as they test, charge as soon as you can and take in feedback. Pivot as you need to, early, but before you’ve heavily invested your cash or that of your VC. The farther you go down one direction, the harder it is to turn back. At the end of the day, investors, including you, will want to see a return. How cool is that to start making money from day one!