One of the most important lean startup techniques is called the minimum viable product: the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.
Some caveats right off the bat. MVP, despite the name, is not about creating minimal products. If your goal is simply to scratch a clear itch or build something for a quick flip, you really don’t need the MVP. In fact, MVP is quite annoying, because it imposes extra overhead. We have to manage to learn something from our first product iteration. In a lot of cases, this requires a lot of energy invested in talking to customers or metrics and analytics.
Minimum viable product is an attempt to get startups to simplify, but it is not itself simple. How do you know which features are essential and which should go? There is no formula, it requires judgment. Any scientific method requires the choice of a hypothesis to test. This leads to two questions:
- By what standard is this hypothesis to be chosen? Minimum viable product proposes a clear standard: the hypothesis that seems likely to lead to the maximum amount of validated learning.
- How do you train your judgment to get better over time? Again, the answer is derived from the hard-won wisdom of the scientific method: making specific, concrete predictions and then testing them via experiments that are supposed to match those predictions helps scientists train their intuition towards the truth.
I told you it wasn’t simple. And this leads to a last criticism of minimum viable product that I hear from time to time: it’s just too complicated. Most people prefer simple, short, pithy startup advice. I remember this acutely from my debate with David Heinemeier Hansson, of 37 Signalsfame. As I was explaining the MVP concept, I could see the look of horror on his face. His answer, to paraphrase, was something like this: “that’s way too complicated. Just build something awesome, something that you yourself would love, and ship it.”
Other similar forms of this advice abound: “release early, release often,” “build something people want,” “just build it,” etc. This Nike school of entrepreneurship is not entirely misguided, but the teams I meet in my travels are often one step beyond this. What do you do the day after you just did it? It really doesn’t matter if you took a long time to build it right or just threw the first iteration over the wall. What matters is that you take your feedback and do something with it.
This post originally appeared on startuplessonslearned.com