The following is an excerpt from my latest book, Entrepreneur Blackjack: 21 Startup Buzzwords Defined. The book is a guide to surviving startup cocktails, and building incredible new ventures. It defines a series of common startup buzzwords through storytelling and concrete examples so that everybody can learn from them, rather than using them to confuse.
The minimum viable product is an art, and not a science.
It’s when you finally decide your product is good enough to test out your original experiment. It is the bare minimum needed to get data about the market you’re in, and how customers will actually react to your idea.
A good MVP is a vehicle for your hopes and dreams.
As with any first car, there are a few rough patches to deal with.
When Twitter first started, they were not the Twitter you know and love. Twitter revolved around users texting messages with their phones,posting those messages on a publicly accessible web platform.
Netflix’s first rough version wasn’t even delivering movies online: it was about delivering movies through mail.
It’s important to realize that way back when they were getting started, those companies didn’t command the billions of dollars they do now. Their resources had to be focused on one narrow test, and that test had to be delivered under the simplest conditions possible.
Twitter was testing whether or not people wanted to be part of an organized universal message board, somewhere where you could post your thoughts simply, and see them displayed for all to see. The largest unorganized cocktail party on Earth ensued. It was only afterwards that Twitter worked on refining the experience. The Twitter you know now that allows people to post directly on the platform through mobile applications, and allows them to easily find out what is happening around them through hashtags, and curated accounts—that was a Twitter that took years to evolve.
Netflix was trying to test a simple theory: would people be willing to pay for convenient access to movies? Instead of going to Blockbuster or anywhere else, would they prefer getting it shipped to their homes? If they did prefer that, it naturally followed that they would like to have video streamed to them on-demand with the web. After all, instead of dealing with the messiness of physical tapes, imagine instead a service that could deliver to you the media you wanted whenever you wanted it.
Netflix certainly imagined it. They executed on it masterfully.
The test for instant on-demand online access to media was validated. Consumers accepted it en masse. Along the way, Netflix learned a great deal about the pain they were solving, and how they could go about delivering video to their consumers in the best way.
Netflix decided to move to external servers after an internal data center failure almost wiped out their ability to deliver videos on the web—which at the time was an experimental feature. By moving over to a more secure solution, Netflix ensured that the experimental feature that would become the centerpiece of its business would always be reliable.
The minimum viable product allowed for these large giants to test ideas cheaply, and make sure that when the time was right to spread their product like wildfire, everything was on a solid foundation.
It is through the minimum viable product that you first collect the data you need to establish if you have an idea worth pursuing. It is here where you determine whether or not you might need to pivot. It is here that your idea becomes something tangible that can be shared throughout the web, rather than a figment of your imagination. It is here that you see whether or not you are solving a real problem—and whether or not you have real customers who need your idea to exist.
Pieter (aka Levels.io) is an entrepreneur who has committed to doing 12 startups in 12 months. He’s constructed a series of minimum viable products that have been featured on Wired, the Next Web, and a whole host of publications, and been used by hundreds of thousands of people.
His latest venture, NomadList, focuses on sorting the cities of the world so that you can distinguish how friendly they would be to remote workers, from climate conditions all the way to how LGBT-friendly the cities were.
The idea has gone on the top of Product Hunt and Hacker News, two popular directories for startup ideas that will drive incredible traffic to new ideas. NomadList has received over 100,000 visits in less than a month.
Pieter is the perfect example of somebody who gets what a MVP should be about. When he talks about his ideas, he talks about building them as simply as possible, and just getting them done.
He started NomadList, a venture that was profitable from day 1, through creating a shared Google Spreadsheet, nothing more. He didn’t need to create a website or anything fancy to test the theory that people needed a guide to help them figure out cities where they might want to work remotely.
It can take you or me, or anybody less than five minutes to set up a Google Spreadsheet.
Soon after Pieter shared it, the list was getting populated with new information and new categories. Somebody filled in how LGBT-friendly each city was, rounding out the NomadList to its’ final form.
Demand for Pieter’s idea was established in the simplest fashion possible.
Perfect is the enemy of done. Done is when you can begin testing your theory that your idea is something people will use.
It is here where an idea becomes a startup.