When Launching A Minimally Viable Product Is A Bad Idea

by · June 4, 201210 comments

You can gain a fair amount of knowledge and benefit from incredible energy and enthusiasm when you surround yourself with entrepreneurs and those in the start-up culture, particularly in the tech sector. There’s a good reason co-working spaces and even some coffee shops are great venues to write, work and just look and listen. When the startup crowd is around, energy, passion and innovation become osmotic.

But when you’re not in the tech sector, heeding the advice and following the conventional wisdom (which I’m sure the entrepreneur types would insist is not conventional wisdom, but they’re wrong) of the tech sector can kill your business. The reason: technology companies only have to appeal to early tech adopters. Once they get that segment mastered, they grow, find their mainstream niche and the hipster founders typically get replaced by experienced business people to move the company forward.

Suit and tie

Suit and tie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Non-technology companies, even one like mine – a digital marketing agency and information products company, which is better categorized as a professional services company – have to appeal to a more mainstream audience out of the gate. Tech hipsters aren’t going to meet our revenue needs and so the technology culture cues can work against you.

The best example of the type of tech sector advice that can kill a mainstream business has to do with launching products.

Launch A Minimally Viable Product

Aaron Marshall and I worked hard to produce The Conversation Report which will *hopefully* launch next week. There was so much work that went into the research and design of the report that we were exhausted by the time we got to the second half of the project: building the marketing plan and materials. Aaron’s tech sector tendencies produced the idea of launching a minimally viable product, or as he says, “MVP.”

But The Conversation Report isn’t a dynamic piece of software we can correct over and over again. And our audience for the report – banks and bank marketers – isn’t one that would pay $300 for a product only to have it not be good enough. Our audience isn’t 20-somethings in hoodies, jeans and flip-flops. They are the three-piece-suit-and-tie set. To them, “MVP” may as well stand for, “minimally viable professional.” And unprofessional is not something they’ll pay for.

Similar to the minimally viable product, you can’t make something for the mainstream you’ll continually revamp and recall. Yes, you can do this in cloud-based software solutions where the improvements are added unbeknownst to the audience. You can even do it with non-cloud-based software as long as a web-connected “update check” can happen and the software can update itself when needed.

But you can’t produce a pair of blue jeans and sew on the back pockets after someone’s wearing them.

Technology startups are fun to be around. And some great business advice has come from non-traditional business people of late. I love Jason Fried’s stuff. Eric Reis’s The Lean Startup is pretty awesome, too.

But if your audience isn’t hip to the hipster, tech world and your product isn’t software, take that tech talk with a grain of salt. Or you might find yourself looking for a new challenge.

What other technology startup advice can you think of that may not work for every business? The comments are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/gretchende Gretchen DeKnikker

    Jason, love your blog and read it regularly. 

    Today’s post made me want to share some of my thoughts on the Lean Startup model.  I can completely empathize with your frustration and see how it may seem like the principles don’t apply outside of technology.  Though I am building software, it’s enterprise B2B where customers also have the expectation of a high quality product. I’ve sometimes found myself frustrated by the “conventional wisdom” that focuses so heavily on B2C, but have actually started to enjoy the challenge of reinterpreting the core principles for my end user who is definitely not the “early adopter hipster”.  Over time, I’ve realized that the core values of Build-Measure-Learn can be applied far more broadly than technology.  After all, one of Eric Ries’ greatest influences in creating the model was Toyota.

    I’d wager that you actually did apply Lean Startup principles in creating your report.  You identified a market need for the report (created a hypothesis), asked around to confirm that people were indeed interested in the topic (customer development).  You likely began building out a framework (MVP) for the report and began writing (build).  As you were working on it, you ran it past some trusted friends and colleagues (measure) and incorporated their feedback (learn).  You may have even decided to rework the content (iterate) or even change the framework (ugh, I’m so over the word, but… pivot).

    Perhaps I too am guilty of drinking too much of the Silicon Valley kool-aid and am completely off-base.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for this, Gretchen. Certainly, there are always revisions and decisions made midstream that effect the end result. And while I’m not 100% through The Lean Startup, I think there’s a big difference in what Eric (and you) describe here and what I would consider what we did. What you might consider measuring, learning and reiterating or pivoting, we have not done at all. We have only shown the final report to a dozen or so people and have worked hard to make the report “FINAL”. In the overall life of The Conversation Report (we’ll reiterate with other industries moving forward) yes … we’ll read, react, adjust, etc. But I don’t think we could launch this single product, then say, “Oh. Maybe we should re-do that part and re-upload the file.” It would undersell those that buy first and/or create headaches with a traditional audience to keep saying, “Here’s your free update of the report. We re-did a bunch of it.”

      Make sense?

      • http://www.amantalwar.com/ Aman | product creator

        Is there an ETA for the Conversation report or is anytime next week?

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Thanks for asking. We’re still testing a few things but are looking at Tuesday.

  • http://www.business901.com Joseph T. Dager

    Interesting post and I have to admit one of the few that will add some contrarian thinking to the Lean Startup. I agree with your post that the Lean Startup has to have the correct “product fit” to enable its methodology to work. The reception will be interesting as the Lean Startup tries to venture into more established companies. My belief is that the Lean Startup does not apply to all design/innovation, but rather when the cost of failure is minimal.

    Many are looking for this silver bullet for innovation – to be like Apple. But what they forget is that Apple success is built upon not so much disruptive innovation as everyone wants to believe but on incremental improvement and focus. They took a simple platform (iPod), expanded through use (iTunes). Improved with a Smart Phone expanded through use with APPS. Improved Mobile technology with the iPad and expanded use with Apps and greater access to Wi-Fi. This being said, you can take the entire Apple product line and lay it on your kitchen table – Focus. No MVP, nothing disruptive within the confines of Apple but certainly disruptive to the rest of the world. 

    The Lean startup works for small entrepreneurial firms with little cost associated with failure. Beak-through thinking, disruptive innovation can still be done through methods more outward facing and more focused on customer needs such as methodologies like Design Thinking and Service Design. Good design incorporates prototyping, customer feedback, development loops, etc. Eric’s spin on the Lean Startup is interesting and spot on to the market he has pitched. We have much we can learn from him but thinking that organizations and customers are ready for this model when there are more productive and proven methods available is challenging.              

  • http://nickhuhn.com/ nickhuhn

    Ideally your product is not the PDF, but the invitation to correspond with customers and prospects again with subsequent or complimentary offerings.

    I agree that you can’t take the pee out of a swimming pool, so the MVP here is your doc and not all the tactics around it.

  • http://propertyagents.co/real-estate-lead-generation-course Muhammad Ayaz

    I think its all about your marketing strategy how you offer your product in front of your valuable customers and here I am not telling about that you make wrong commitments of something in negative shape but its depends on the sale person how he/she represent it. 

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  • http://www.spindows.com/ Clay Hebert

    Jason, 

    I know your tongue-in-cheek style wasn’t meant to offend but referring to tech founders as “hipsters” would be like referring to social media practitioners as “lonely geeks”. Insinuating that all or most tech founders are “20-somethings in hoodies, jeans and flip-flops” isn’t really fair. 

    Having a foot firmly in both camps, I know there is more than a grain of truth and I understand it’s primarily meant as a joke. 

    But some of us have come from the three piece suit world and are building real enterprise software startups that we’re selling back to those same suits. And there is a place for an MVP even when doing so. Lean Startup principles aren’t meant to apply to every type of aspect of every type of business but you would be surprised how the concepts, when understood fully, can apply to many areas beyond what you may think. 

    I agree with you – you shouldn’t put out a rough MVP of The Conversation Report when you’re selling it to bank executives. But an MVP doesn’t have to mean a rough version of the final product at all. It could be as simple as a landing page.

    Let’s assume you were thinking of drafting The Conversation Report for bank executives but you had no idea if there was any demand for it (at any price). Here is how a lean startup practitioner may tackle this:
    – Spend 20 minutes and $10 in stock photography on a gorgeous and professional looking signup page that explains the outline and benefits of the report
    – Send it to some of your target market of bank executives with the goal to have them give you their email if they’re interested in downloading the report (not even mentioning price yet, just gauging interest)
    – Test different headlines, copy or design on said landing page to see what converts
    – Test different cohorts. Do Facebook ads convert better? Google ads? Blog posts?

    In lean startup methodology, the key unit of progress is learning, not lines of code (or in your case, pages of reports) written. 

    If you did the steps above, you would likely learn a lot about what may convert best without spending much time or money and without ever writing a single page of the report.

    The primary goal of the lean startup methodology is to not waste time building something people don’t want.

    Or to say this whole thing another way…..

    Did you know you were going to sell enough copies to make it worth your blood, sweat and tears in drafting it? 

    If you didn’t, some lean startup methodologies could help you reduce that risk.

    Great seeing you at BWENY. Hope to see you soon. 

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