Why the hurry to launch an MVP?

Originally published in Oct/2012.

Why do we need to make an MVP, a Minimal Viable Product? Why do we need to hurry to launch a half-baked product? Why not wait to have the product with more features to launch it? Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines has a famous phrase to motivate people to do things:

We have a ‘strategic plan.’ It’s called doing things.

This “strategic plan” can be translated into the #jfdi hashtag which means something in the lines of “just focus and do it” or “just freakin’ do it” (polite form).

But why the hurry? Why can’t we keep working on our product until we feel comfortable it has all the features we believe are needed to solve the user’s problem?

Well, I’ll give not only one but 3 main reasons:

Reason #1: The moment of truth!

The longer you take to put your product in front of real users, the longer you take to start getting feedback from real people to know if you’re on the right track. And what’s even worse, you’ll probably be giving too many steps in the wrong direction.

A digital product is supposed to solve a certain problem of its users. You will not know if you have built a good digital product until the product is used by real users and it actually solves one of their problems. The longer it takes for this to happen, the longer it will take for you to know if your product is or is not the solution for someone’s problem.

And if it is not, what should you do? Change, adapt and present it again to real users! The sooner you know that what you’re developing is not on track, the better because you’ll have spent less time, energy and money moving into the wrong direction.

Reason #2: Featuritis

There’s a limit to the number of features a user can understand. When we present a software full of features to a potential user, instead of providing her with a possible solution to one of her problems, we may end up creating a new problem for her. Kathy Sierra, well-known software development and user experience instructor, designed the Featuritis Curve that illustrates in a clear and fun way how user satisfaction diminishes as we increase the number of features of a product.

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Reason #3: ROI

The longer you take to put your product in front of real users, the longer it will take for you get some revenue and the longer you’ll have to invest from your own money or investor’s money. Below is a typical return on investment chart. While you don’t launch your product and don’t have revenue, all you’ll have are costs, i.e., you’ll be in the investment phase of the curve below. This situation will only change when you get some revenue and this revenue pays your monthly costs. This is the monthly profitability phase in the chart. Only after a few months in the monthly profitability phase, you’ll be able to get to the return on investment phase. It’s a long way:

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Now take a look at the chart below. If you decide to delay your launch in 3 months, this can delay your return on investment in 6 months! Are the features that you intend to implement in those 3 months you are delaying the product launch worth the 6 months delay to get to the return on investment phase?

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On the other hand, if you are able to launch 3 months sooner than what’s described in the first chart, you’ll get into the return on investment phase 6 months sooner. Isn’t that worth figuring out how to launch your product faster?

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If you’re not embarrassed…

There is a famous quote by Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, which really resonates with the MVP concept:

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

To illustrate this quote, here are some print screens of early versions of well-known software products:

Google, 1998:

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Twitter, 2006:

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Linkedin, 2005:

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Facebook login screen, 2005:

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Facebook, 2005:

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Gympass, 2012:

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So, what’s preventing you from putting your product in front of your users?

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Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? Check out my book Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product, based on my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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