MVP is about not wasting your life

The term “Minimum Viable Product” has become almost a religion to the startup community. The idea of a “Lean Startup” is gaining popularity, several high profile companies have exited only after “pivots”, and the “launch fast and iterate” mantra is nearing ubiquity in startup circles. I have noticed, however, that the term is as misunderstood as it is pervasive. Entrepreneurs are constantly pushing back against the concept, arguing that they need a fully built product to launch, that they need a professional designer to get attention, etc. etc. I believe this is driven largely by fear, namely the powerful fear of sucking. After working with entrepreneurs for the last few years, I’ve found that the only way to rid yourself of urge to resist lean techniques is to replace the fear of sucking with another fear: the fear of wasting your life.

The problem most entrepreneurs face is that they believe that they, or someone they know, is the arbiter of what is and is not a good idea. They believe, for whatever reason, that they have a great idea - that is for certain - and the only thing standing between them and success is making that idea EXACTLY how they imagine it. The truth is, if you’re working on a product right now with that type of vision, you’re almost certainly wasting your life. You have NO IDEA if your idea is good, because only your audience (the public) can tell you that, and the only way they’ll tell you honestly is if you launch something. Trust me: if you launch, you will get a reaction, and from that reaction you will start to get an idea of whether spending more time on what you’re building is worth it.

If you take what I just said as gospel (which it is), then you’re left with two choices, each with their own distinct risks:

  1. Launch something before you think you have something awesome, and risk people telling you a few less than thrilling things about your product.
  2. Launch something and figure out if you’re wasting your precious, precious time.

Look: you’re going to die. The time you have on this earth isn’t set in stone right now, but the fact that it is finite is. Start being terrified by this fact right now, and let that fear override all your other, less rational fears. You’ll be amazed at where that gets you.

When my friend Justin launched Coffitivity, the site was broken in many ways and most of the people involved in the project thought it was a horrible idea. However, by doing a small launch by posting it on Facebook, I saw the problems with the website and helped him fix them, the team and I started working to get them on a few forums, and then the site blew up to over 1 million users in the last 7 months. Without launching, Justin had a website he didn’t know how to fix that the majority of the team thought was a horrible idea. With launching, he had a fixed website and a viral sensation. This happened because he and ACe (the other founder) set themselves a hard deadline to launch, and ignored the fact that the website was broken in several ways when they hit that deadline. I’m now a part of that project, and I owe a lot to the fact that they weren’t afraid of sucking - they were afraid of wasting their lives.

Not all projects go viral - my latest project, for example, High Five has had only 1000 downloads in the week that it’s been out. However, we’ve had a 20% conversion rate to active users and have grown in returning active users every single day since launch, showing us really, really positive trends that indicate the app is solving a real problem. When you launch - define the metrics you want to measure exactly this one thing: does anybody give a shit?. If they don’t, re-evaluate. If they do, stay the course and find more users. And for God’s sake - LAUNCH ALREADY (and tell me when you do)!

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