In software, as well as other manufacturing processes, there is something known as the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. The purpose of the MVP is to validate a product or idea, and ensure that it is on track to meet the customers requirements. In today’s lean startup philosophy, the goal is to produce a product demo, either working or not, and quantitatively test the market, without investing too much time or money.
The other benefit of the MVP is to quickly release a small set of useful features, with the goal of allowing your customers influence the direction and growth of the product.
A great example of this is IMVU, an online, avatar based, chat program. In an article appearing in Hacker Monthly, a story unfolded where the company, struggling to get on it’s feet, began the undertaking of an advanced physics engine for their chat application. The idea was to be able to click around a virtual room, and have the avatar walk from one place to the other. Engineering estimates were very high. Along the way, a shortcut was taken, rather than having the avatar walk, it simply transported from one area to the next. Results? The customers loved it, and the company saved tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars on development, which quite frankly, no one asked for, and wasn’t necessary.
So what’s the reason for bringing this up? As someone who’s worked in application development for the better part of a decade, I cringe at the idea of spending resources building a product, only to have it fail several months later. Granted, you’ll never be able to mitigate 100% of the risk, and many times, a products usefulness and viability is lost due to competition, market changes, or poor execution. However, if you do your research early and often, you can almost guarantee that you’ll have at least some paying customers come launch time. If you don’t, then the maybe you need to rethink your product.
Early and often… Something I stress to my diving students about equalization, do it early and often, before you feel pain, thus avoiding injury. Maybe there is a correlation. The title of this post, Multiple Validations Prescribed, is exactly that, validate your idea early, and often. Before an MVP of a product can [should] be started, perhaps an MVP of the business model should be tested. Find out if anyone is even interested, what they want, and what they would pay. Take it to the people.
At the end of the day, it is very rare that you will ask the right questions the first time, or collect the right data. But that means you just need to iterate, quickly. Apply some agile methodology to you market testing, change, react, send out additional questions, go buy someone a drink. What easier way to figure out you are on the wrong path than going out and proving it. In my previous post, My Obsession: Science!, I spoke a little bit about my passion for technology, exploration, and discovery. Science is also heavily focused on testing and validating ideas, so why not apply the same principals to you MVP. Go out and experiment, survey, interact with your potential audience.
At the end of the day, you are making the product for them, not you.
I find great value in doing, rather than postulating, and I hope you do to.
“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.”