Build a Minimum Viable Product For Your Customers, Not For You
To successfully bring a new product to market, instead of telling your customers what you are, you need to focus on who they are.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, and a lot of entrepreneurs learn this lesson too late. The concept is simple — You sell a lot more product when that product helps your customers. But you’d be surprised at how many startups never give their products the chance to establish customer value.
That’s because the critical mistake happens before they even realize it: They build their MVP around features instead of around customers.
Here’s how to avoid that.
Question 1: Will your customer understand the two-minute version?
Not long ago, I was getting ready to launch an MVP — the next day, in fact. During the afternoon, I took an unrelated call from a friend of mine. We hadn’t spoken in a while, so after we caught up, towards the end of the call, I casually gave him the two-minute rundown of what I was planning to launch the next day.
“I think I get it,” he said. “Not like I’m going to understand the whole thing in two minutes. I get the two-minute version of it.”
And we laughed and got off the phone. But that night, as I was getting ready for bed, something that had been bugging me all day finally exploded in my brain.
He should have gotten it in two minutes. And he didn’t because I had built the damn thing backwards. My MVP, everything from functionality to use cases to messaging, was all about the features, with little or nothing to do with the value to the customer.
Now luckily, this was a low-tech MVP that I was doing mostly on my own, so the prospect of working all night to fix it was a possibility. I re-wired the whole thing, moved big chunks of code, wrote little bits of new code, and rewrote almost all of the messaging. Then I did some quick quality checks and I launched an hour late.
Lesson: I had become so enamored with what I was able to build that I forgotten who I was building it for. Instead of building an MVP for the customer, I was building an MVP for me.
Question 2: Is your MVP feature-focused or customer-focused?
The difference between a feature-focused MVP and a customer-focused MVP seems insignificant. You could even argue that there are scenarios that call for a feature-focused MVP. But when you launch a new product, market acceptance is more important than feature set, and if you fail your market, the success of your feature set is moot.
About a year ago, I was asked by a friend to review his new product, about a week before launch. From previous conversations, I knew a little about the product already, so to see what I was getting into, I took a quick look. It was pretty cool, and I was impressed by the slickness. After about five minutes with it, I put it away to come back to later and give it a real test run.
For the test run, in an effort to be maximum helpful, I sort of wiped my brain of my existing knowledge of the product and dove in like I was coming into it from a search engine.
Same product. Freaking disaster.
The landing page gave me tons of information about what the product could do, but almost nothing about why it did what it did or how that translated into helping me or my business. The instructions and guidance told me how to complete tasks, but not why. Halfway through some of the longer tasks, I had no idea why I was doing what I was being asked to do. To me, as a customer, the product felt like an obstacle course.
I had to have a hard conversation with my friend. He agreed with a lot of my points, but ultimately didn’t want to delay his launch. The MVP failed.
Lesson: Put your MVP in front of real customers early, get their feedback, and give yourself plenty of time to make changes. You’d be surprised at how the smallest changes can make the biggest differences.
Question 3: Are you thinking like a customer?
Telling you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes is an easy directive to give. The question is: How do you do that?
First, you have to quit thinking like an entrepreneur.
- Stop thinking about features, start thinking about goals.
- Stop thinking about functional areas, start thinking about use cases.
- Stop thinking about revenue, start thinking about return on investment.
This change in mindset should start early and it should inform not only what features you build, but how you connect those features together. It will determine the language of your product, its positioning, and its messaging.
So how do you develop those goals, use cases, and the ROI?
You talk to your customers. You talk to prospective customers. You talk to other people’s customers.
And you talk to lots of customers. Get a good sample size and don’t just ask your friends. In fact, draw up some user stories, describe four or five different types of people who can best be helped by your product. Define why they would use it and what their goals are with it. Then go search out random people like that.
Don’t just survey them, have conversations with them. Take everything they say with an open mind, and follow up. Ask why they want what they’re asking for. Ask for clarification when you don’t understand what they need. You don’t have to do everything that say, but be ready to translate their feedback back to your feature set. And be ready to make changes.
Lesson: Sometimes you have to turn off your inner builder to get a sense of what to build, but the best way to think like a customer is to talk to a customer.
Question 4: Are you trying to be everything to everyone?
Here’s a little secret: Your MVP doesn’t have to be a smash success. But your MVP should be a success with the right people. To accomplish this, you need to trim down your feature set to target and serve those customers you can help the most.
Recently, one of my companies decided to pivot and launch a new product line. We did this to both respond to the COVID crisis and to push forward an initiative we had originally scheduled for later in the year.
Of course, we expect to dominate this new business and our goals are lofty. But in order to get a foothold with a product line we’re not necessarily known for, we needed to start small.
So instead of offering the full product line to various markets under various use cases, we launched with one product, one size, one use case, one market. Sure, we got tons of questions from other customers about modifying our offering to fit their needs. We had those plans in our back pocket, so to speak, and not only that, we learned a lot about how we could change those plans to go to new market segments quicker and with more impact.
Lesson: Check your offering to make sure you’re not selling a lot of added functionality that your customers ultimately don’t want.
Question 5: Are you serving up word salad?
Entrepreneurs sometimes get a corporate complex, which makes them put a bunch of words together that don’t make any sense.
As an example, let me show you three different descriptions for a product called DisruptiveSynergy, and let’s figure out what it does.
DisruptiveSynergy is a unique solution that boosts innovation by connecting unparalleled service with a dynamic product to solve a major pain point in market awareness.
DisruptiveSynergy offers a best-in-class solution for increasing market share by empowering your team with strategic service insights.
DisruptiveSynergy brings together the benefits of tactical service modeling with an agile-developed product to maximize customer availability.
I’m messing with you. The first two are product descriptions I found out there on the Interwebs. The last one I just made up.
Lesson: I’m not saying any of you have descriptive phrases around your product that look like those, but use those as the end of a scale that you don’t want to be anywhere on.
All of these questions have answers, and all of those answers can lead to changes — before, during, or after the launch. Don’t be afraid of those answers, and don’t fear those changes. In the end, the only thing that matters is that you put value in front of your customer.
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