MVP: Do We Have the Success Formula?
Chief Technical Officer
⏱ Reading Time: 9 minutes
A few months ago, I held a lecture for students at the Faculty of electrical engineering and computing in Zagreb, Croatia. They invited me to talk about my personal experience with startups, successes and failures, technology, MVP’s, ups & downs.
To explain how startups fail or succeed I decided to hold a small lecture on the minimum viable product (MVP). My troubles begin when I tried to come up with the headline. I started with “What it takes for MVP success?” but then students would expect me to know the MVP success formula (and I don’t).
To keep me safe, and to maneuver the outcome of the lecture, I decided to refurbish it into an adventurous quest of MVPs and success formulas.
Mvp Success: Do We Know What It Takes?
Building a product is hard. But, in today’s noisy world filled with products, software, and apps, it’s even harder to hit the right market segment! The knowledge of what your potential customers would like and what is it that will make them buy and love your product is super hard. This is where the MVP comes in handy.
Minimum viable product, as most of you know, is a concept from Lean Startup. Emphasizing the learning process in new product development, MVP is the version of a new product allowing teams to collect the market knowledge from the actual customers. The idea behind the MVP is to observe the actual user behavior with the product or service.
Every day we see companies succeed, raising millions, gaining traction and becoming immortal in the world of startups and indie hackers. What is it what they do? Is it pure luck? Right time and place? The secret sauce that is available only to those that work hard enough?
MVP Success Elements
I gave my students a couple of potential answers to what is most valuable for the MVP success and asked them to pick one.
- Digital marketing
- Investor (money + knowledge)
I was surprised to see what young, talented, technology-oriented people that live in the digital era of unicorns and technology startups, disrupting almost every industry, have chosen. Their answers, ranked from high to low are:
MVP: Money Investors, Idea, Time, Luck?
Most of them voted for money and investor. The explanation they gave me was that without enough money you are most certainly going to fail. Is that so? What about Elon Musk and Google? To they have any financial problems? And are all their products successful? A fewer number of students have chosen the Idea and in the third place was Time.
Students thought that crucial for success is having the right idea, something that is disruptive and revolutionary. I couldn’t agree more with them, but what about incremental innovation? How do products that are only improving some segments or a small portion of existing value-successful? And are all the revolutionary products successful? This brings us to answer number four on the student’s MVP success list: Time.
Their explanation was simple. Products, whatever their form is, are time-sensitive. If the timing is right, your MVP will be successful. Which brings us to the last but not the least important part of the MVP success formula: Luck. But what about serial entrepreneurs that succeeded several times with their every endeavor?
Let’s try to demystify the secret MVP formula necessary for the start-up success by examining real-world examples.
Google Glass MVP Example
Google, the almighty company (Alphabeth Inc., previously Google X) in 2011 started its Moonshot project (they have several now) known as Google Glass. Development started the same year and in Aprile 2012 Sergey Brin held live demo of their newest product Google glass – optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses.
A year later (04/2013) they started to sell and ship Google glasses for specially selected beta users (8000 users) at $1500 price. In January 2015 they have announced that the beta selling period is over and they are entering the mass market. In 2017 they announced 2nd edition of Google glasses and since then there were no official announcements regarding new editions. The overall Moonshot project cost? More than $900 million with enormous marketing and media coverage.
Google Glass MVP knowledge
Although Google had almost unlimited resources (money, developers, scientists, marketing resources, etc.) they succeeded to deliver product and even sell it. But, does this make Google glass successful? – No!
There are many different theories to why this product didn’t hit the market. But what is most important is the following: a company can have unlimited resources, all the money in the world, revolutionary product, media hype, influential founders and tech enthusiasts that will glorify the product. Sometimes you even won’t have the competitors in the market and your product still might fail.
YO MVP Example
Does anybody remember YO? It was a social mobile application that has only one function: you could send “YO” to someone on your friend list. That’s all! Send someone a message containing two characters: YO. Nothing less, nothing more. It was 2014 and we were all already hooked on ICQ/MSN/SKYPE (regarding IM) and Facebook already held world dominance.
Full-time developer Or Arbel kept messaging the same text to his friends every day. For example, I’m here when he arrived or Wanna beer? in the evenings. So he came up with the idea of just sending YO and the recipient would know the context of that message. It took him 8 hours for development of the first version and the app was released on April Fools’ Day 2014 for Android and iOS.
YO MVP Knowledge
Result? In less than a month he raised $1M, YO app has been downloaded 3 million times and over 100 million Yo’s were sent. After only 3 months YO received another $1.5 million investment at $10 million evaluation.
No initial capital, influential founder or investor, digital marketing or a big team. Later, the number of YO’s users dropped and they closed down after several years.
On August 11, 2008, the new site, airbedandbreakfast.com was officially launched. It was several months after former schoolmates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia moved to San Francisco and realized that they cannot afford to rent an apartment. They realized that this is a real problem and started building the solution.
The same month they have launched the Airbnb website, they gathered the first customers and in October 2008 they ran into the financial troubles. To pay off more than $25000 in credit card depth founders started to produce limited-edition cereal boxes specially designed for 2008 United States presidential elections (boxes were called Obama O and Cap’n McCain). This brought them traction and visibility.
In 2009 they got invited to Y combinator by Paul Graham which provided them training and $20000 in funding. In March 2009, they rebranded to Airbnb.com and had over 10000 users with 2.500 listings. In April 2009 they received $600000 from Sequoia Capital and $7.2 million in 2010. Afterward, they continue to grow and in 2011 they announced the 1Mth night booked. Today they are market leaders that changed the way we travel.
Airbnb MVP Knowledge
So, the Airbnb founder had very limited resources, little or no marketing (they had to produce cereal boxes for money and marketing), they had strong competitor (Craig’s list), revolutionary product that could be considered controversial (listing your home when you are away) but they still managed to succeed (and we can say big-time success).
MVP Secret Ingredient – Uncovered
There are numerous other examples revealing, well – nothing. You can find examples that will prove that you need to have a lot of money, good and influential angel investor or founder, a lot of luck. At the same time, you can always find counterexamples, failures with all ingredients in place.
But, there is one thing they all have in common and I think it’s crucial. The one, the ingredient, the secret sauce that will make a difference between success and failure. Before I explain what it is, take a minute (actually 3 minutes) and watch the following video:
This video footage was taken at the Sasquatch music festival in 2009 held in George, Washington. At the beginning we see a lone dancer (later recognized as Colin Wynter a.k.a. Dancing Guy) creating a movement under 3 minutes. From solo dancer to a crowded party under a 3 minute.
The video became popular after Derek Sivers TED talk and his explanation of leadership through this video (Leadership lessons from a Dancing guy). Although Sivers’ talk is brilliant I found it more suitable for explaining MVP launch and path to success.
What Do MVP and the Dancing Guy Have in Common?
Let’s examine similarities between a Dancing guy and you launching an MVP.
- You are doing what nobody does (and you look funny) or you are doing it on some alternative way (again looking funny).
- Nobody believes in you but you still pursue
- There are a lot of dancers around you.
- You enjoy doing it
The crucial part of success is finding the first follower (your most valuable customer!) Just like starting a movement, you’ve got to fetch that first someone that will follow your steps (use your product).
Your first follower must be publicly visible, as a proof to others that using your product is worth doing and that it gives the experience, solves their problems or adds and extra values into their everyday lives. Following you should be as easy as possible so that everyone can do it.
Just like the Dancing guy embraced the first few followers, your start-up should take extra care to your first customers. Because they are your most valuable players (MVP again) that give you valuable insights into what you should change and improve in your product.
Are You Unstoppable?
Watch the video again. There are available footages from different angles but they all reveal same thing. Notice something else? The song that is playing is named Unstoppable from Santogold and I think its hidden message.
Unstoppable! That is what I think is another crucial factor. You must be unstoppable. No matter what happens, no matter how many times you get punched and find yourself on your knees, you must continue. Be unstoppable. Sure, everyone has an ideal plan but remember what unstoppable Mike Tyson said: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
It’s nice to have a plan, for sure it doesn’t make sense to go into any voyage without plan but you must be able to adjust your plan, act accordingly, alter your idea, plan and product until you succeed. On your path, there will be ups and downs, but if you don’t pursue you won’t make it.
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