Question from Quora about MVPs – Minimum Viable Product

I recently got interested in a question posted on Quora and I want to share an expanded answer here as well. I won’t rewrite the books or try to rehash the definitions of a Minimum Viable Product. See here¬†or here.

But the question posed related the generic concept of an MVP to how an entrepreneur implements a vision for a much larger company and much richer product. Here was the question.

How do you release a MVP that you personally find inadequate then charge customers for it?

Would it not soil your brand’s reputation?

And here is my slightly expanded answer…

  • I personally find a compact pickup truck inadequate for my commuting needs, but it is a viable product.
  • I personally find coffee to be uninteresting and inadequate, but it is a viable and successful product.

To establish a brand, you are creating a value exchange — your product for the customer’s money. My definition of viable (as in MVP) is that the customer enters into the agreement not as a fool, but as a willing and satisfied participant. Not satisfied to their total desires, but satisfied to the amount you charged.

So my first answer to your question is: your personal opinion of a product has nothing to do with its target market. You want either objective or market-tested subjective evidence that the customer values the product more highly than the price you are charging. The customer will consider it a good buy. See pickup truck and coffee examples above.

The second answer to your question is: don’t let your vision get in the way of offering a product that the customer will consider a good buy. This is the reason the word viable is in MVP.

Say I am hungry and you offer me a $3 high quality hot dog. I may desire a full steak dinner, but I am aware it would cost $50 and you may not be capable of providing that or could not maintain quality serving that. I am still quite likely to want to buy the hot dog.

Your job is to communicate to me as the customer that your brand is about great hot dogs at $3 today even if you have a vision to serve great steaks next year (at a higher price). The way you phrased your question, it sounds like you plan to tell your customers they are getting steak today when all you have is hot dogs. That would be bad for your brand and in my mind is NOT an MVP.

Your vision includes steaks. But an MVP is about selling great hot dogs. Don’t sell a vision you can’t offer yet. That’s the whole point of an MVP.

There is a tricky side issue here — do you tell your customer the vision? Telling a story for the future makes the hot dogs today taste better, right? Not always. If the product is hot dogs and steaks, I would say no, don’t get your customer focused on something more than you have today. There are many technology products that I wish did not get me distracted with promises of “steak”. There are reasons, however, for some products and brands to sell a viable product for the moment with the promise of an expanded product in the future. It can lock your customer into you and keep them from looking elsewhere — but it can also lock you into promises you made and may later not wish to keep. Choose wisely and promise carefully.