MEASURING SUCCESS: LET'S CARE ABOUT THE MVP FIRST!
A friend of mine loves 40’s to 60’s genre movies; me not so much – at least I thought.
Recently, she and I watched a movie named “Lover Come Back”, starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall, and I absolutely loved it. I suppose mostly because it dove-tailed nicely with a blog I’ve been planning to write, but also because of the simplicity with which it shows how fast and with astonishing complication an “idea” may become a product, service, or even a new market.
Rock Hudson plays Jerry Webster, who Doris Day’s character, Carol Templeton, finds less than honorable in the marketing industry for a variety of funny, but in today’s politically correct climate, despicable reasons (I feel like I have to write that; honestly it was just funny).
Webster is a playboy, a bit of a cad, and finds himself having to create a fake product, and without any actual market for the product, to save his skin.
The non-existent product is accidentally marketed (billboards and magazine ads), goes viral, and because the “idea” attracted people to it, and because there had to be a product in furtherance of saving Webster’s skin, the product was commissioned to be created.
The storyline is obviously centered upon Webster’s and Templeton’s love interest, but I was drawn to the storyline of “VIP”, the fictional product, which today is what we often refer to as an MVP, or minimally viable product.
Now admittedly, Webster’s VIP has a lot less (like none) of what today’s MVPs have in terms of initial attributes. VIP was literally just a name. MVPs generally have at least ‘some’ sort of market vertical or market segment that’s being targeted. Or some ‘problem’ that the MVP will solve. Or something, anything, other than just a name.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, and want to learn what happens for yourself, I won’t spoil it for you. But sufficed to write that “VIP”, as an “MVP”, had to go through iterations of development to be what it would become.
And that’s the lesson folks like Eric Ries, Jim Steiger, and others have been writing about for several years, and that’s the lesson of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Uber, and on, and on, and on.
It’s all about the MVP!
Facebook’s Sean Parker frequently said ‘we don’t know what Facebook is/will become’ in FB’s early years. But we know today, that from the very beginning, the goal of Facebook was to occupy as much of our online ‘social interaction’ time as possible, and somewhere in all that time we spent on FB, we would spend money on ‘something’.
The ‘something’ is easily interchangeable with “how” or “why”, and is always the tough part of an MVP.
There are tons of great ideas thought of every day. A new way to use something that renders unique a patentable feature, a better way to receive or consume a good or service, or a changed process that makes our day better. But the question for entrepreneurs is always how to make money with the great idea. How do you monetize the MVP? And how do you get there without wasting a bunch of time and money?
All too often, web designers & developers, and our marketing cohorts, look at a prospective customer as something to be monetized, without consideration of their MVP’s status! Sure, we tailor our services, “ish”, and we focus on delivering a product that we and our customers can be proud of. But how often do we say “no”, when NO is what the customer needs to hear?
Agencies (and especially freelancers) rarely tell a prospective customer, “look, it’s just way to early for you to spend the amount of money we will charge to build you a website, or market your brand, or aid in attempting to get you a foothold in your market segment”!
We just plain suck -- at the industry level -- at helping customers along in perfecting their MVP, and that’s really sad considering “we” techies are supposed to value all the entrepreneurial dogma.
I love to tell the story of how I came to Focused Agility, but this is the first time I’ve done so in writing. Here it goes.
In 2013, a woman we’ll call Mary came to FA with a problem she wanted to solve. She wanted a website and an app, and she had the money to pay for it. But all she had was an MVP.
Mary’s daughter was at University, and had collected a number of books from four semesters; I believe it was 20 or so books. Mary posted the books for sale on a number of Facebook pages, but found that each time she wanted to make changes to the posts, or respond to a prospective purchaser on the post page or in messenger, that everything had to be done in different places and multiple times.
Mary wanted a way to update all the pages posts at one time, and wanted all the messages in just one place and in an order that were easy to keep up with.
Now, at the time, FA was just Dan (our founder), and Dan told her that he couldn’t in good conscious take her money to develop whatever her MVP would become because he wasn’t certain she’d make any money with it.
But she was adamant, and so after looking at the tech needed to see if her idea was possible, and learning that it was, Dan put together a real quick whiteboard video and hosted it on FA’s website. The deal Dan made with her was that he would keep it there while she beat the social media drum to see if anyone thought it was a good idea before taking a penny from her. And he would only take incremental payments that were aligned to data-driven benchmarks of consumer interest in her idea.
Well, nobody did! Nobody thought that they needed anything to help them sell stuff on Facebook.
But something really interesting happened. Tons – like several thousand people – wrote on the Facebook page created to promote the MVP asking about another potential use. People wanted to know if the product could help them make numerous posts, of identical content, on multiple FB pages without their FB posts being blocked and/or their accounts being frozen for spamming.
If you don’t know about FB rules, you’ll find this interesting. Let’s say you have a business, and you belong to about a dozen FB pages where you can advertise what you do. If you post identical, or even similar content advertising your business on those dozen pages, the likelihood is that your posts will be flagged as spam by FB, and your ability to post anything in groups will be suspended for a period of time.
So, the question was, could Mary’s idea be used to circumvent FB’s community rules (algorithms), and frankly, could it be done without a lawsuit?
As it turned out, yes! It could be done by making some minor changes to the code originally created for Mary’s MVP, and it could be deployed without FB losing their minds and suing (or at least successfully suing).
Mary was delighted to tell everyone that it could be done, but the cost for the solution would be twice what her original MVP would have cost consumers. Well, funny thing. Nobody seemed to care about paying $9.99 for an App to prevent their posts from being flagged or being banned from posting. People overwhelmingly thought it was worth it!
Another funny thing! Some pretty high-profile people took note of the traction Mary’s idea was gaining. Long story short, Mary’s MVP was sold to a pretty big company and is now integrated into business products used to post across FB several million times a day.
So, what’s the moral?
There are many, but these are noteworthy.
First, don’t assume your MVP is a good idea; most aren’t. You have to spend time putting your MVP through the paces of marketplace acceptance, value agreement, etc.
Don’t be married to your MVP – at any stage. Let it become whatever people will pay for.
Next, don’t jump into a website, a marketing campaign – don’t even buy business cards – when you’re testing your MVP. I think we have all heard that most businesses fail in the first six months. It’s statistically more accurate to write that 80% of new businesses (2010 to 2016 data) fail in the first 18 months. Why invest $1000’s that are statistically destined to be wasted before you've tested your MVP in the marketplace?
And finally, if you’re a web designer/developer -- Agency or Freelancer – STOP taking new business money without actually helping new businesses.
There are several guiding stats that we use at FA. One is what we call our “living” metric. We measure, to the extent we’re able, how many of the businesses we have created websites for are still in business (excluding our white label work).
As of today, that number is 2,713 out of 2,819. That is a data-point we will put up against any other company for new business websites, or small business website re-designs.
It’s easy for a company to boast that they’ve done A, B, or C for company X, Y, or Z. It’s really easy to display websites or talk about marketing campaigns that have been successful. But shouldn’t it be more important to be able to say that the businesses we create for STAY IN BUSINESS? I think so, and it’s all about the caring for the MVP, first!