Your MVP isn’t a Product for Clients

mvpEvery now and then I have a conversation that inspires an entire blog post (almost in a single instant). It's like musicians say that they got the verse and chorus in one shot in the shower. Well, this was like that. I was talking with someone who was talking about his MVP and client feedback.

What's an MVP?

If you're thinking that I'm talking about the best player on the LA Kings, or maybe someone on the Spurs (likely the winners of this year's NBA championship), I'm not. I don't mean Most Valuable Player. Instead, I'm talking about Minimal Viable Product.

An MVP is a complete, and yet narrowly defined and scoped, product that allows you to test your market to see if there's a fit. In other words, it's the least expensive, practical way to really know if customers will pay for what you're creating.

This is a critical distinction because there are other ways, cheaper ways, of asking people if they'll buy your upcoming product, but many people who say they will don't actually end up buying. The MVP is a way to determine product-market fit.

So why are you saying it's not for clients?

If I just told you what an MVP was, and I defined it as a product, and I said you were selling it, why on Earth would I give this post a title like, “Your MVP isn't a Product for Clients”? Seems like I'm contradicting myself. Right?

Well, let me further refine that definition just a bit to clarify the nuance.

An MVP is the cheapest way to create a narrowly defined and scoped version of a product that can be used to determine product-market fit with at least one segment of the market.

That's mostly saying the exact same thing. But if I were to change “at least one segment of the market” with “early adopter,” most entrepreneurs wouldn't debate the change. Because that's what you see. Your MVP often allows you to tap into the early adopters in that particular industry, sector, or segment.

And that's a good thing. Because if you can't sell to them, you won't be able to make money of the rest of the folks in that industry, sector or segment that aren't early adopters.

Early Adopters and Clients are different

And this gets us to the heart of my point. When you're talking about an MVP, you should be clear that the feedback you're getting, and how you're using it, is coming from early adopters. Those folks may or may not fully represent the mainstream client you'll need for growth.

Early adopters and mainstream clients aren't exactly the same.

And when you start thinking about your tiny-scoped, minimal, baseline, basic product, you can easily get confused into thinking that the “market” is giving you feedback on your “product,” when what's really happening is that early adopters are giving you feedback about your MVP.

And here is where your own experience may make the better case than I can. You've lived it. You've taken MVP feedback from early adopters only to find out they steered you away from your mainstream customers.

Or you've tried to raise your price on an MVP only to find out your customers wanted more than just a “hint” at your future product. They wanted a P, not an MVP.

One way to put it, was said best by Marc Andreessen.

Your MVP isn't for clients. It's for you.

I'm not saying your MVP shouldn't be for sale. It should. But realize that the real use of your MVP isn't to raise money. It's to validate the hypothesis you have about the market's demand and need for your product.

Any way you can test that hypothesis is worth doing. And the faster and earlier in the lifecycle of your business the better.

But remember, it's for you.

So getting angry that your clients are giving you feedback, highlighting all that it's lacking, is actually a good MVP at work.

And that's what I was thinking as my friend was complaining about the feedback he was getting – instead of rejoicing in hearing exactly how far off he was. In the end, he spent a lot less learning that lesson than if he'd built the whole thing (in the direction he'd been going), only to get the feedback he was getting now.

Which is what I told him. Right before I told him I was inspired to write this blog post.