Teacher, recovering tech entrepreneur. Previous I started a few businesses, did some internet stuff.Now founder @ Fitzroy Academy + lecturing @ Monash Uni on entrepreneurship + impact. Not super into formality. In my spare time, I don’t have any. <3
Q.1 Why should startups begin with building a Minimum Viable Product?
Because it’s something to do.
It’s easy to get lost in dreaming about beautiful ideas. It’s so fun to talk about how they’re going to save the planet, make you a zillion dollars and be a perfect, brilliant gift to the world.
But while there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, to get something moving you need to do the work. Make something real and show it to people.
Even better, MVPs are fun. They’re small, simple, and easy to throw out. A good MVP is a vehicle for a light, joyful conversation.
Q.2 How do you prioritize features for a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
As your customers what they want!
It sounds really simple, but it’s amazing how many people start building an MVP without talking to the people who will eventually use that product.
Oh and pro tip: Don’t tell people about your idea. I know you want to because it’s exciting, but try to avoid pitching to everyone you meet.
Instead, ask people to tell you a story about the problem they’ve experienced. How did they feel? What did the try? What worked? What didn’t? Who else was involved? How did those people feel?
Those learnings will help you build a better MVP. When in doubt, talk less and ask more questions.
A good MVP is proof that you’ve listened carefully to your customers.
Q.3 What is the best advice you can give to budding Startup CEO on developing a successful MVP?
Don’t expect your first attempt will be perfect.
It will most likely suck, and that’s half the fun. We think about it like this: Most entrepreneurs build up projects in this order.
Your first business (MVP, project, idea, whatever) will earn you enough money for a new pair of shoes. Cool. Throw it out and try again. The one after that gets you enough cash for a new pushbike. Awesome! Wind it up, try again.
Then comes the car, then ten years later - if you’re still hacking away at it - you’ll have the skills, friendships, money, capacity and knowledge to make something that allows you to buy a house! Hooray!
Now very few entrepreneurs actually continue from one stage to the next. They realise it’s just not their style of working, they change careers, life happens. A vanishingly small percentage goes all the way from shoes to jet plane and that’s totally okay.
And by ‘okay’, I mean good okay. Not ‘good enough’ okay, but awesome, happy, best case scenario okay.
It’s infinitely more important to make friends along the way, have fun, and find meaning in the work.
One of the best outcomes of one MVP I personally made, nearly 10 years ago at a hackathon, was a friendship with a guy called Mark. The MVP he and I built together failed miserably. Total failure.
But Mark and I are still friends. We play video games together most nights and he’s helping me move house next month. Huge win, best outcome possible.
Either way, it’s probably dangerous to try jumping from nothing to jet plane.
Start with shoes! 🙂
Q.4a) How can you save some extra cash when developing an MVP?
Do less stuff. Make each iteration small and immediate.
Have a small team, make each change to the idea tiny. Talk to your customers more often. Don’t spend money unless you absolutely have to. Even if you have a million dollars, pretend you’re working from scratch.
MVPs aren’t about making loads of cash, they’re about learning what works.
Maybe another tip is to remove your ego. Waste normally happens when ego gets in the way. If you’re not pumped up about your own importance, you’re less likely to do what your ego wants and more likely to do what the MVP needs.
Q.4b) The question you didn’t ask: What’s more important than saving cash?
Caring about people! Without people, cash is meaningless.
MVPs /lean/fast iterations are a great way to move fast and break stuff, but it’s easy to lose patience for people within that process.
People and products interact, but people are not products, and products are not people!
So for the ‘people stuff’, I enjoy working slowly, patiently, and transparently, with no hidden agendas or end goals. Friendships take years and reputations are built action by action, day by day. There are no destination or version numbers for falling in love or building a community.
When we lose ourselves in the frantic excitement of progress we can forget to nurture the subtle stuff. There’s a time for balance and counterpoint, for reflection and patience.
Go slow to go smooth, go smooth to go fast. 🙂
Q.5 Is building MVP still useful in 2019 and coming years?
Yes, and sometimes no.
Yes, in the sense that fast iterations with few assumptions get things done quickly. Less time building things and more time showing people what you’ve built will always be a wonderful way to start something.
On the flip-side, however, is knowing that the MVP approach just isn’t suitable for some problems.
You can’t MVP a home renovation. Trust me, I’ve tried. It requires planning, building permits, council and a bunch of other systems that can’t be started and stopped fast enough for the MVP approach to work!
There is a time and place for everything.
In larger systems, you can’t ‘MVP’ your way around a corrupt government, or basic infrastructure, or state agents with bad intentions. Those challenges generally require a slower, broader approach, which is (both sadly and happily) outside the scope of this interview.
MVPs are about being fast.
So go as fast as possible when fast is appropriate, but avoid it when it’s not. Within the big picture, when the large stuff is scary and hard, you can often find little pockets where you can move quickly and kindly, and bring people along the journey of building things together.
I hope that somewhere between ‘shoes’ and ‘jet plane’ of the whole journey I’ll find the wisdom to know when each approach is best.
Hopefully so will you. I’m not there yet!