The first dot com bubble was about moving the offline world online; whereas the second boom dubbed “web 2.0” was about innovating on the “user experience” and making the world a more ajaxy place with the web appear more like the desktop experience. What we’re seeing now is the domination of a new trend, but this time on the capital and business side.
Minimum Viable Product — also known as MVP — was one of the first new buzz words I heard when I moved to Silicon Valley in mid 2009. Two years on, its become one of most over-used terms in the industry along with “pivoting” and the rest of the lexicon branded under “lean startup methodology”, due to the initial insight of Steve Blank and amplified by the work of Eric Ries.
We recently ran StartupBus (coverage here) and Anthony Broad-Crawford on reflection with me when debriefing helped coin terms that described what we were doing.
Something that we try to do with StartupBus is have people understand the most effective way to build a startup business. Not the most effective way to build a product or the most effective pitch — but instead, the most effective way to start a business. Last year for example, I threw everyone off on the Santa Monica pier en route to Austin and had them record videos of people that they would pitch their ideas to. The conductors (alumni from last year running one of the buses this year) clearly liked that and this year, each of the six buses had the “buspreneurs” required to engage with strangers like people at bars or in the street — getting immediate market validation of their concepts.
Minimum Viable Business is clearly a play (or is that “pivot”) of the term MVP. But I think it’s more important. Let’s think about this: Why do you raise capital in a startup? Its so we can purchase resources and hire talent. And the reason why we have talent, is so that it will result in building and supporting a product. A product, that we hope will one day have paying customers that will sustain our operations.
So to repeat, why do we build products? So that customers will pay for value we create. But what if we could get customers paying us, without a product — doesn’t that make us no longer a startup business?
MVP is a term that has justifiably made the industry rethink about how we approach product development. But let’s not forget, that a product is a way to gain customers. Just like with product development, we need business development — and building a MVP does not guarantee you anything but a less-white elephant. If we are building a startup, let’s focus on what really matters — paying customers — and work our way backwards to how we can create a Minimum Viable Business.
If you showed your MVB in the middle of a forest, would anyone care? The correct answer, is that they should be hunting you down to hand you cash. Who cares if you have a lean product, it’s much better for you to have a phat one that generates passionate (paying) customers. Call me crazy, but that’s just how business works.