When releasing a new product, the first step is to find product customer fit quickly. The minimum viable product (MVP) encompasses the essence of the Lean Startup ethos. An MVP helps go through one cycle of the Build-Measure-Learn loop. Lean Startup author Eric Reis warns “Customers don’t care how long something takes to build. They only care if it serves their needs.”
You also need to choose a specific customer, in order to address a customer’s specific need. The main goal of an MVP is to learn about the customer and the market. You want to validate or reject your hypotheses. Once you know what your market wants, you are in a completely different position.
In order to do this, you need to:
1. decide on an ideal client
2. get access to such a client through marketing activity
3. identify their most pressing need or problem
4. get paid to solve it
At an early stage, you can solve the problem in any number of ways. It’s often easiest to provide a service. That way, you learn more about your clients. You gather useful information about how to deliver a solution, which can then be automated via software or other type of product. See my e-book called Accelerate to Market for more information on this.
Let’s say you want to build a software company helping people learn foreign languages. Entrepreneur Derek Sivers points out that you can get started by just scheduling a language teaching session. It’s very manual. It’s not automated at all.
At the same time, it’s an extremely high-bandwidth way to learn about your customers’ needs. Most importantly, it’s useful for them. Once you have some experience delivering this type of service, you have a much better chance of successfully prototyping a solution which addresses that customer’s need.
You identify your customer’s primary need. You learn what the customer thinks about it, how they dream they could overcome the problem. You hear them vent about their frustration. You dig deep into specific aspects. You seek out find you can address.
You find out how your customer thinks about the problem. This is direct marketing gold. It helps you identify where to focus your efforts, so that you address what your customer finds the most vexing.
By focusing on the must-have features only, you release a product or a service that addresses that particular need. It’s rudimentary. Yet it works. You might not even require a line of code to prove your concept. Must-have features are essentially all related to specific changes you want to induce. Your target customer will not consider the product valuable otherwise.
In order to be successful, you really need to dig deep into one particular problem. You want to know the logical reasons why it’s attractive for your customer. You want to know why would benefits from the product. You even want to find out more about any emotional benefits they might get from the product.
This approach correspond’s to Ken Schwaber’s scrum value burndown charts. Develop the highest value features first. If the product ends up being successful, then in fact, these are the extremely valuable core product features. They are must have features for this particular problem. Without them, you can’t claim you have a workable solution to that specific problem. Each one potentially generates massive incremental value in users’ eyes.
Often a few features, if packaged together well, which work reliably, is enough to interest the early adopters in a market. While they realize they may not be getting a complete solution to the problem, they like being first, having access to the inventors, and contributing feedback.
These must have features define the product. Often, just a handful of features suffice for your product type to be attractive, such as copy and paste in word processors, compared to the typewriter alternative. That’s the kind of gap you want to find.
If your minimum viable product is not attractive to your target segment, move on. Next. Another niche. Another need. Another customer type. The faster you discard the unattractive options, the faster you’ll achieve product-customer fit.