Gold, good enough, or just garbage: Why your MVP can’t be too minimal

The speed-cost-quality triangle applies to most areas in business. The theory goes that you can’t have all three, so choose two. But when it comes to MVPs, it’s an imperfect framework. Speed seems like the most important. You can’t neglect quality completely. And cash-strapped startups can’t ignore cost implications. Where does the balance lie?

It’s not a race. But it also kind of is. 

Advisors will tell you to “just get it out there!”. Investors will tell you to get it to market. You will become sick of the words “scrappy”, “hacky”, and “agile”. 

If DoorDash can get to MVP in one afternoon by collecting takeaway menus, adding them to a landing page, and listing their own phone number for delivery requests – why can’t you?

The answer is that few business models in SaaS are as simple as delivery marketplaces.  

“Just get to MVP” is not bad advice, but it should be taken with a small ocean of salt. 

Buyers, not lab bunnies

How scrappy is too scrappy?

If it’s pissing off your customers.

It’s very easy to view early users as test subjects with the contingency of “we can always find more customers” or “we might be pivoting anyway”. This is risky thinking for two reasons. 

  1. All users have the potential to spread the good word – or sully your name. 
  1. If you’re rushing to get feedback, the feedback you do gather may not be particularly useful. If the product doesn’t work, all you’ll get is “this doesn’t work”. The closer you are to your target product, the more relevant and refined your feedback will be.

Consider instead prototyping or proof-of-concept, and spend time listening to select profiles of customers (and offering member discounts or rewards for their feedback). 

Early adopters have the potential to become evangelists. Secure their loyalty, and repeat business will follow, as will the best and most affordable form of marketing: word of mouth.

A culture, not a pressure cooker

You can’t avoid the advisors telling you to get it out there and the investors telling you to get to market. You can avoid letting that pressure filter down to your team.

If you’re lucky enough to find passionate and hardworking staff who are fully bought into the mission, expect them to have much more emotion invested in their work than you’d get in a typical 9 to 5. 

Failure hurts. Not being listened to when you’re asking for more time or resource is stressful. Rushing your devs or engineers is a recipe for burnout and turnover.  

Rush, but do it properly 

It’s extremely vague to say: rush, but not too much. And it’s a little cliche to say “find the balance”. 

The most practical advice is to move as fast as possible while preventing as many of the pitfalls as possible.

Start with a Short Product Requirement document to outline the bare minimum for getting your product into users hands. Use this free Google Docs template.  

Next, select a framework. 

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is behind most successful brands built on tech or engineering – from Cisco to Playstation to Netflix to Workday. And there are hundreds of different interpretations.

Spotify used it to focus on organisational structure first to enable agility second. It champions team autonomy, and sections teams into Squads, Tribes, and Guilds. The aim is to “move fast, ship software quickly, and do so all with minimum pain and overhead”. 

Panera Bread used the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework to scale, which resulted in digital sales accounting for 25% of the company’s overall sales and a highly successful customer loyalty program. 

Although it’s generally aimed at companies with multiple teams and 50-150 team members, every founder involved in software will benefit from understanding the principles (if you can bear calling your projects “Epics”). 

And if you do decide to implement an agile framework, bear in mind the time you’ll need to spend training your team in the methodology (sorry – “Tribe”).  

Fast but not frivolous 

Aesop’s tale of the hare and the tortoise doesn’t apply in the startup-sphere. 

Hares who sprint to market before their MVP is ready will fail, but adopt a tortoise’s pace as a founder and watch your competition beat you to the punch. 

One of the most important questions you can ask while assessing readiness is: are you delivering genuine value?

This might be in the form of a polished product, or some kind of advantage (like a free trial) for a not-so-polished product. 

It might be something so unique people won’t mind if it’s a bit buggy, or a benefit like bringing customers into a community as you build. Being transparent (and enthusiastic) about the early stages of your journey is a great way to get emotional support and buy-in.

So: just to get to MVP, but do it with respect for your early customers.

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