Don’t build a minimum viable product

Don’t get me wrong. I am indeed a fan of fast iterations on product, as professed by the lean startup principle. But, the success of a term, like in the case of ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP), often results in loose interpretations that often go squarely against the original intent. I am afraid the MVP concept is heading there, widely abused by practitioners and preachers alike.

In the earliest stages of your startup,[tweetherder] a product is just about anything that your customer is willing to pay for[/tweetherder].

Some disclaimers here:

1. I’ve not used the word product in its traditional meaning – Something that’s built once, sold/used several times. I am using the word product here to mean a ‘system’ which could be a one or more of the following: Product, Process, Procedure or anything that solves a problem/creates pleasure for a barter.

2. By Payment, I don’t necessarily mean ‘dollars’. Customers could pay by giving their time, doing certain actions, opening their network, paying money etc.

[tweetherder]So when you define your product to be that which gets your customer to engage or react, there are only two outcomes – Engage the way you had expected (or) engage in a way you had not[/tweetherder]. Either way you are making progress. You know a bit more about your customer.

The minimum that you need to do (or code or create) to get a customer engage, need not always be a software product. Often times it should not be. Why?

[tweetherder]Coding is expensive. It’s not minimum[/tweetherder].

Very recently we had a customer who wanted to build a mobile app that discovers certain types of service providers in a radius in real time, so that they could be called in for service. It would have costed them about 2 months and 20,000 $ to get that out in the market. Instead they made an excel sheet of providers, checked their availability twice a day and sent a note to prospective customers everyday morning about possible providers for that day, near their houses.

What just happened? The hypothesis was put to test the very next day, instead of 2 months later and at a cost that is 1/10th of building an app.

So, what did they do? They tested a ‘Minimum viable business’ of which the product (in its traditional meaning) played no role.

It is indeed possible in the case of several startups, to test an idea without the product. Let’s take another example.

ContractIQ was run for most of its last 15 months, out of excel sheets and skype calls with little or no product. Whenever we attempted to build a product, we got ourselves ahead of the need and built something that satisfied our egos than the customer needs. Meanwhile, the customers were happy Skyping us!

So, [tweetherder]before you call us to find a vendor for outsourcing your app development, think if you need to build an app at all[/tweetherder]!

If you still have to, talk to us.



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  • Please pardon my ignorance, but how are issues regarding intellectual property and the protection of the client’s idea with respect to negotiations between client firm and app developer? I’ve obviously got what I believe to be a very good idea – so good that I do not know how to proceed without a face-to-face meeting with lawyers and notaries in order to get the process started without compromising my wherewithal to exclusively pursue the app’s development as my own product to which I own the rights.

    What’s to stop a company from which I request a quote from stealing the idea and pursuing it sans myself?

    • Ashwin – ContractIQ


      There is a point in every company’s life where cost of IP theft far outweighs the legal cost of protecting it and when you know it’s that inflection point, you protect and pursue violations.

      That point of inflection varies widely though. If you are developing a new material for wearable computing, legal protection has to happen very early. But if you are building a medical billing SaaS app, it’s not an IP play (while there is IP, it simply can’t be a differentiator enough to pull users towards you, nor is it a deterrent that others can’t find a workaround). Stay with me on that gross generalization for a bit.

      Your protecting IP is a costly distraction. You need to file for IP in various countries (rules differ). In some countries you just can protect an idea (some in Asia).

      So finally to protect IP or not is a business decision – Are you ready to forego choices (of low cost producers) and indulge in protection (of an idea that’s not market tested) with the finite money & time you have, which could go into creating a market.

      Patent/IP is a defensive strategy. They are ‘at the best’ deterrents and not competitive advantages for most startups that are at idea stage.