3 Myths about MVPs

Walk into any Palo Alto coffee shop these days and you're likely to hear at least five people talking about their “MVPs”.  And they’re not talking about a power-hitting right fielder who’s going to win the Most Valuable Player award this year. They’re talking software. 

When Eric Ries published The Lean Startup in 2011, he popularized the term Minimum Viable Product, and now everyone in Silicon Valley wants one (although no one is sure exactly what it is). 

Being the contrarian that I am, let me tell you three things that it is not:

1. It's not something you show, it's something you learn from.
I've seen people produce a slide deck of proposed screen layouts and say “I've created my MVP!”. No, you've created a mockup. Mockups have been around since before you were born, and they are a terrific way of showing an idea for a product. An MVP is an actual, functioning product from which you glean insights that will allow you to successfully grow the product. In the words of Eric Ries, “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers.”

2. It won't get you funded. 
Those same coffee shop conversations that mention "MVP" are usually also saying “As soon as our MVP is complete we'll be able to raise lots of money”. Unfortunately, building clickable HTML doesn't prove that you have a great product. It just proves that you can write HTML as well as the average 12-year-old. Nice, but hardly an investment pitch. Here's the thing to remember: investors are looking for where the risk is. The risk usually isn't "could this be built?". The risk is usually more like “Does the market want this?”, and “Do the economics of the monetization model work?” or just simply, “Does this solve a problem that people will pay to have solved?”. The learnings that you glean from having a minimum product out in the marketplace can be incredibly important in growing a sucessful product. But just having an MVP doesn't prove anything.

3. It's not even a thing. It's a process.
If you embrace the MVP concept you are actually embracing a process: The iterative process of idea generation, data collection, analysis and learning. Somewhat ironically, you are embracing iteration as a way to reduce the total time spent on iteration. It's about optimizing your path to product/market fit. As Marc Andreesen wrote in his seminal Stanford post, if you do this right “the market actually pulls the product out of the startup.

At Tivix, when we kick off the process of building a new product for a startup, we use the Google Ventures process to develop an initial product that has the greatest chance of providing the customer learnings upon which great companies are built.

Below are some great examples from history. These weren’t “mockups” built in PowerPoint. These were actual, functioning products, out in the marketplace, being used by actual users.

And the learnings helped to build billion dollar companies.