Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a recent buzz phrase in the entrepreneurial tech scene. It refers to an approach to testing market demand for a new product or a specific new feature. It basically requires start ups to ask, “What is the fastest way to find out whether the market I’m trying to serve wants the product or feature I’m trying to offer?”
Entrepreneurial thought leaders including Steven Blank and Eric Ries are both promoters and supporters of the MVP because it allows young companies to conduct quick, low cost, product testing before investing significant time and money in something people may not even want. As an example, if you have an idea for a new online music player (like pandora, turntable.fm, or spotify), taking an MVP approach could mean creating an advertisement for the music player, putting it on your website or in a google ad, and then seeing how many people click on the advertisement. If enough people click, then you’d be encouraged to build the actual product. If no one clicks, you’ve saved yourself the time of making something you haven’t figured out how to effectively market.
The MVP is a great way to focus on what people need or want and avoid “feature creep,” or adding stuff to your products that make them less (rather than more) valuable to your customers. However, I would argue that as a business strategy, it is woefully incomplete. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs focus exclusively on building their MVP. The phrase itself has come to mean different things to different people. But if you hear someone say, “We’re working on our MVP,” then they are probably trying to scrape together something they hope people will be willing to pay for, or at least use. This may be great for products that solve existing problems, where people already know they need a solution. But what if your potential customers can’t easily contemplate what their lives might be like when they start using your product?
If you truly want to discover whether your target market wants what you are looking to provide, you can’t just test to see if they ask for it, you must give them the experience of having your product and test to see if they want more. After all, did people know they wanted an iPad before the first commercial for one? Did anyone sit around wishing they could look at their friends’ pictures or read about their everyday musings before Facebook and Twitter provided them the addictive experience of doing so?
Most people who talk about creating their MVP seem more interested in how many people will click on it, rather than why people will eventually crave it. So I’d like to add a balancing counter to the MVP: the MDE, the Maximum Deliverable Experience. Ask yourself, “what experience does my intended customer really crave?” and “how can I give them the highest quality version of that experience with the lowest upfront cost to me?” . This would be something like producing the trailer for a movie before making the film. You’re offering your intended audience a “glimpse” of the experience you’re looking to provide without spending a fortune on making a movie that might end up being a flop. Whenever I watch a trailer that’s particularly exciting or moving, I feel a craving to see the film. Last weekend’s release Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, got me on the suggestive title alone.
If you did some market testing using an MDE, you could identify the specific feelings your audience experiences while using your product, as opposed to just having data on how many claim that they’d buy it. The MVP is a developer’s strategy: find the shortest path to a viable product. The MDE is a designer’s strategy: identify what experience people crave and provide it. The MVP is for feature testing, the MDE is for value testing. Where someone building an MVP might look at click-throughs to measure demand, someone working on an MDE would look at time spent on a web page, or the number of times a customer interacts with the product, or even facial expressions in order to measure engagement.
In other words, rather than asking a thousand people whether they want a solution to one of their problems (as one would with an MVP), you ask yourself how you might deliver a certain experience to a handful of people and then test and scale from there. Obviously, there is value in both of these approaches. Both developer’s and designer’s can lead the product creation process. However, with all the focus on minimum viable products, I think it’s time to champion maximum deliverable experiences. After all, tonight I’m going to cheer for Abraham Lincoln as he kills vampires, laugh as I tweet my friends what I thought of it, and then hunger to order something from GrubHub so that I will have the satisfying feeling of coming home to great Chinese takeout. None of these would I have demanded a couple years ago, but all of which I now crave and expect.
So add to your entrepreneurial repertoire. Don’t just build out your MVP, strive to provide lasting MDE.