Interviews will Teach you How to Sell

The hardest part about creating a successful company isn’t building your product.

It’s selling your product.

It’s easy to spend months working on features, but how are you going to sell those features?

  • How will you describe your product to ensure customers are interested in it?
  • Where will you find enough customers to tell about it?
  • How will you differentiate your product from the competition?
  • What features should you talk about most on your landing page?

The answer to virtually every marketing and sales question you have can be found in…

Customer interviews.

Interviews will Teach you How to Sell

You know customer interviews are an indispensable tool for tech startups, but I wanted to show you just how universally powerful they are by telling you about Dr. Emily.

Dr. Emily was a School Psychologist working intense hours at elementary schools in urban areas. She loved the work she did, but she thought she could have more impact if she worked outside the confines of schools.

She wanted to start a company to assess children for learning disabilities, but one major obstacle stopped her:

She didn’t know how to sell her services.

Dreading having to become a sales-person, which felt uncomfortable and a little sleazy, Dr. Emily tried interviewing her customers hoping to find an easier way to start her company.

What she found, not only shocked her, but her competitors too.

What Did Dr. Emily Ask?

As I mentioned in my last article, Dr. Emily focused on interviewing customers who were already trying to solve the problem she wanted to solve.

Her Early Adopters were parents who already had their children assessed for learning disabilities, but were still searching for answers.

The first question she asked these parents was:

Q: What’s the hardest part about being the parent of a child with a learning disability?

To her surprise, their answers always included at least one of the following:

  • “I don’t know where to start.”
  • “I don’t know how to get support from the school.”
  • “I’m not sure if my child will ever learn read.”

Notice how the answer to just this one question provide extremely powerful marketing copy.

Instead of listing her credentials on the first line of her website (e.g. “PhD, LEP, ABSNP, BICM, PPSC, etc.”) like most of Dr. Emily’s competitors do, she says something relevant to customers, like:

“Is your child struggling to get the support he or she needs in school? Together we’ll take the first step to understanding how to help your child make the most of their reading ability.”

No mind games, no sleaze and no hard selling. Dr. Emily just asked her customers about their problems, and restated the services she provides using their words.

If you listen to your customers…they’ll write your marketing copy for you.

Stand Out from your Competition

Another one of Dr. Emily’s most fruitful questions was:

Q: What’s not ideal about your previous assessment?

Again, to her surprise, when parents talked about assessments received from Dr. Emily’s competitors, the answer was uniformly:

A: We got the diagnosis, but don’t know what to do next.

With the answer to this question, Dr. Emily learned how to differentiate herself from her competitors.

When talking with potential customers, she now tells them:

“When we work together, you won’t just get an assessement, you’ll get an action plan so you’ll know exactly what to do next.”

If you listen to your customers…they’ll tell you how to beat your competitors.

The Results

Simply by interviewing her customers, Dr. Emily accomplished what none of her competitors had:

  • Her competitors typically took 3 – 5 years to fill their client list. Dr. Emily did it in 18 months.
  • Dr. Emily now has a 4-month waitlist for her assessments.
  • And that’s after doubling her price over the last 18 months.

With the power of customer interviews, Dr. Emily was able to build a successful company in a crowded space, with absolutely no sales experience at all.

Interviews will Increase your Sales Too

Whether you’re at a high-tech accelerator in Asia, a social enterprise in Seattle, or are simply a service provider:

Interviews will teach you how to sell.

Remember that building your product is the easy part…selling it is the hard part; and interviews will do the heavy lifting.

Interviews will help you:

  • Describe your product to ensure customers buy it
  • Find enough customers to tell about it
  • Differentiate your product from the competition
  • Decide what features to build first

The answer to virtually every marketing and sales question you have about your business can be answered with…

Customer interviews.

Don’t do it Alone

You can get help creating your sales strategy. The first workbook in the FOCUS Framework will walk you through every step of the interviewing process.

And, if you want hands-on, immersive workshops on mastering customer interviews, join me and the 300+ founders who have already registered for FOCUS Con:

FOCUS Con: Mastering Customer Interviews - A Digital Conference

This first FOCUS conference is December 1st and it’s dedicated to Mastering Customer Interviews.

At FOCUS Con you’ll learn:

  • Who to ask for interviews
  • How to ask for interviews
  • What to ask during interviews and
  • How to turn their answers into a sales strategy

All with live workshops, networking and personal mentoring (and without the expense of plane tickets).

www.TheFocusCon.com 

We’ll see you there!
Justin

*Dr Emily’s name and photo have been changed to protect the anonymity of her clients.

How to Avoid the Biggest Customer Interviewing Mistake

The biggest mistake you're likely to make interviewing customers has nothing to do with how you interview — it has to do with who you interview.

The biggest interviewing mistake founders make is:
 

They interview the wrong customers.

When you interview the wrong customers, a number of problems arise, primarily:

  1. You have a really difficult time getting the interviews.
     
  2. The problems you hear during your interviews are all over the map and often have nothing to do with the problem you want to solve.
     
  3. Your interviews don't leave you with clear next steps.

So how do you know if you’re interviewing the wrong customers?

If you interview customers across different customer segments, you are interviewing the wrong customers.
 

For Example

Let’s imagine we’re building a “Pandora for Exercise" app that will deliver a customized exercise routine everyday to solve the “exercise is boring" problem.

There are so many customers who could benefit from this app:

  1. People who go running at the gym
  2. New moms who want to lose the baby weight
  3. Overweight people who are activated to try to lose weight
  4. People taking classes like pole dancing or Zumba
  5. Etc.

So which ones should you interview?
 

If you're tempted to interview more than one of these segments, you're probably interviewing the wrong customers.

To understand who you want to interview, you have to recall…
 

Why do we Interview?

We don't interview to validate a problem exists.

You know exercise is boring, I know exercise is boring, there’s no reason to validate that some people think exercise is boring.
 

What we need to validate is that exercise is so boring, that it’s worth building a company to make it less boring.

How do we know if a problem is big enough that it’s worth starting a company to solve it? 

 

Step #1: Validate there are Early Adopters for that company.

We know your successful company will start with your Early Adopters, move on to your Early Majority, then your Late Majority and eventually your Laggards.

Notice how there's no way to get your Early Majority, without your Early Adopters.

Which begs the question…who are your Early Adopters?

Early Adopters are customers who are actively seeking a solution to the problem you want to solve.

In other words, your company will have Early Adopters if, and only if, there are people who are already searching for a solution to the problem your company wants to solve.

Back to our Pandora for Exercise Example…

(…and who we should be interviewing.)

Here’s what we know:

  • We want to interview Early Adopters.
     
  • Early Adopters are people already trying to solve the problem our company wants to solve.
     
  • The problem our company wants to solve is “exercise is boring.”
     
  • Therefore, we want to interview customers who are already trying to solve the “exercise is boring” problem!

So, which of our four segments is already trying to make exercise more entertaining?

  1. People who go running at the gym? No. These people are doing the most boring form of exercise there is. They clearly aren’t taking steps to make exercise more exciting, so they aren't our Early Adopters.
     
  2. New moms who want to lose the baby weight? Just because someone wants to lose weight doesn’t mean they are trying to make exercise more entertaining; these aren't our Early Adopters either.
     
  3. Overweight people who are recently activated to try a lose weight? Again, unless they’re taking some action that indicates they’re trying to solve the “exercise is boring” problem, we don’t want to interview them.
     
  4. People taking classes like pole dancing? This is exactly who we’re looking for! It’s safe to assume (although we still need to validate via interviews) that people are learning pole dancing because it’s more fun than traditional exercise.

    In particular, people who are brand new to pole dancing have a high likelihood of being people who are “actively searching for way to make exercise more entertaining” – and that’s exactly who we’re looking for.

Once you’ve identified your early adopters, you can interview them to validate they are in fact trying to solve the problem you want to offer a solution for.

Who are your Early Adopters?

Your Early Adopters are people who are actively trying to solve the problem you want to solve.

To find yours:

  1. Think about the problem your company solves for your customers.
     
  2. Brainstorm all the people who are actively trying to solve that problem right now.
     
  3. Start interviewing the ones who are most intensely searching for a solution.

That can be easier said than done but…
 

Once you find the people who want your help solving a problem, you'll find the path to Product-Market Fit.

Do you want Help Finding your Early Adopters?
 

The FOCUS Framework has several exercises that will help you find your Early Adopters, and at the upcoming FOCUS Con, we’re going to take those exercises one step further.
 

FOCUS Con: Mastering Customer Interviews - A Digital Conference

This first-ever FOCUS conference is December 1st and it’s dedicated to Mastering Customer Interviews. We've designed this conference for founders who are looking for their Early Adopters with…

  • Hours of live, interactive workshops
  • Mentoring from top TechStars, Startup Weekend and Founder Institute mentors
  • Networking with other founders
  • A customer interview conducted…LIVE
  • All with no hotels, no flights, no jet lag required

I hope you join us, and the hundreds of founders who have already registered, at FOCUS Con:

www.TheFocusCon.com 

I want to make sure you're interviewing the right customers, and help you find your Early Adopters.

See you there!
Justin

The 2 MVP Mistakes Every Founder Makes

Two weeks ago I offered free Landing Page MVP feedback to our Customer Development Labs community. What I saw was 40+ beautifully designed pages but…

Virtually every founder was making the same 2 mistakes.

Those mistakes were leading to lower conversion rates.

Mistake #1: Product vs Problem

Of course, you’re selling a product, but here’s the thing about products…

Customers don't buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems. Click To Tweet

We know your customers will buy your product because it will create a change for them – solve a problem for them, change their emotional state, etc.

The mistake founders make is that you “know” the above to be true, but your landing page doesn’t reflect it.

When your landing page MVP talks about your product more than the problem…that’s a problem.

Take a look at the video above for a pile of examples from real landing pages.

The Fix

To solve any Product vs Problem mistakes, all you need to do is:

Lead with the problem.

When the headline of your landing page speaks directly to your customers’ problems, they’ll immediately buy-in:

Save thousands on your student debt
The above is a fantastic example of leading with the problem.

Once customers know you’re going to solve their problem, you’ll have all the time in the world to tell them about your product.

Next Steps

To figure out what problems your customers are trying to solve, and more importantly, the words they use to describe those problems, you need to talk with them via 1-on-1 interviews.

In fact, the words customers use to describe their problems will be the basis of your headlines:

Your customers will write your landing page copy for you.

For details on customer interviews see my articles on:

 

If you want some help figuring out where/how to find customers to interview, check out the FOCUS Framework Exercise 1.4: Where are Your Early Adopters?

Your Early AdoptersThat exercise will show you exactly where to find customers who are willing to be interviewed, and how to approach them.

If you already know the words your customers use to describe their problems but want help converting them into effective landing page copy, check out FOCUS Exercise 2.4: Offer Design.

The Offer Design exercise will help you transform your interviews into emotionally-driven landing page copy, that converts.

Mistake #2: Flying Car Syndrome

The 2nd most common mistake I see is landing pages that promise to solve several different types of customer’s problems, and in doing so, solve none of them.

I call this the “Flying Car Syndrome.”

Flying cars suckFlying cars are an amazing idea, and have existed for decades – so why don’t we use them?

Because flying cars suck.

By trying to be too many things, for too many people, the flying car is simultaneously a crappy car, and a crappy plane.

What you don’t realize is that by building a landing page that appeals to more than one type of customer, you’ve created a digital version of a flying car.

Your landing page isn't converting because you're selling to pilots and drivers at the same time. Click To Tweet

Watch the video above for what this looks like on real-world landing pages, so you can avoid it.

Put another way, if you know you need to lead with the problem not the product (see Mistake #1), what problem does a flying car solve?

  • Helping drivers avoid rush hour traffic? Nope. Not unless they’ve got a landing strip near where they’re going to and from.
  • Helping drivers save money? No. They’ll burn way more fuel keeping that hunk of junk in the sky.
  • Helping pilots be able to fly more than they normally do? Yes, until they die…then no. Flying small planes is already dangerous – strapping wings to a Geo Metro is only going to make it worse.

Once you start focusing on the problem you solve for customers, you quickly realize…

Each type of customer has a different type of problem.

If you want to speak to any of your customers, you must speak to only one of your customers. One landing page, solving one problem, for one type of customer.

As soon as you start combining problems from multiple segments at once, you end up describing no one’s problems well – and turn your landing page into an “interesting idea” that no one wants <cough>flying car</cough>.

The Fix

The remedy for this mistake is simple:

Sell cars. Then sell planes.

Niche to win.Start by solving a single segment’s problems. Solve that small segment’s problems in an incredible way. That small segment will help spread the word and tell your next segment, which will help spread the word with your next segment.

Eventually you’ll serve both drivers and pilots (a la Rolls-Royce) but you’ll do it with great cars and great airline engines…not with a sub-par combination of the two.

I know it feels scary to only target one customer segment. I know it feels like there’s no way that one segment is big enough for you to be able to start a successful company. I also know…

The only way to get big, is to start small. Click To Tweet

Facebook didn’t start as the preferred social media tool for 1 billion people around the world. It didn’t start as the preferred social media tool for the US. It didn’t start as the preferred tool in colleges. It didn’t even start as the preferred social media tool for Ivy League colleges.

Facebook started at one college…Harvard.

From there it gained traction at Ivy League schools, then colleges around the US, then the general US population, and now the world.

Facebook didn’t start trying to serve everyone. It started by serving just one.

Watch the video above for an example of how Apple followed the same path.

Bring customers back to your store without the messy punchards
This is a great example of focusing on just one customer – retailers who hate “messy” punch cards – not all retailers. Also the headline doesn’t mention loyalty programs, apps, revolutionizing shopping, etc.

Note: for details on picking which side of a two-sided market to start with, click here.

Next Steps

To alleviate “Flying Car Syndrome”, you need to:

  1. Prioritize your customer segments
  2. Pick the single best segment to start testing with
  3. Create a landing page MVP just for that segment

scaleIf you want help with the prioritization process, you can either use the SPA Treatment, or you can use the updated version: SCALE-ing your Segments – Exercise #1.5 in FOCUS.

SCALE will help you prioritize your segments based on the factors I’ve found most important for identifying true Early Adopters within your market.

Conclusion

Creating the highest converting landing-pages possible is straight forward:

  1. Always lead with your customer’s problem
  2. Focus on just one type of customer at a time

Do that, and you’ll avoid the most common Landing Page MVP mistakes and you’ll maximize your currency.

Want More MVP Articles?

This is the 4th article in my MVP series. You can check out the others below:

  1. What is an MVP?
  2. The 5 MVPs of Product-Market Fit
  3. My 9 Favorite Tools for Building Landing Page MVPs
  4. (This one) Is your Landing Page not Converting? Here’s why.

Be sure to subscribe to get my next article: “What are Early Adopters, and Where are Yours?”

Riskiest Assumption Assessment

The 5 MVPs of Product-Market Fit

In last week’s post, I described the one thing your MVP should do – check it out for good and bad examples of MVPs.

To recap…

An MVP tests your riskiest assumption, with the least effort. Click To Tweet

Based on the above, a couple things about MVPs become clear:

  1. To know what MVP to build, you must know your riskiest assumption.
  2. As your riskiest assumption changes, your MVP will change.

In other words, creating your MVP(s) is a journey – one that starts by validating your riskiest assumption.

Once you validate that riskiest assumption, a new assumption will become the “riskiest.” That means you’ll create a new MVP, or modify your current one, to validate it. You’ll continue this process until you acheive Product-Market Fit.

Of course to start the journey, you have to know what your current riskiest assumption is…

What’s your Riskiest Assumption?

Determining your Riskiest Assumption can feel like black magic. With so many assumptions to choose from…

  • You can build a product that makes customers happy.
  • You can find customers who will buy it.
  • The customers will pay enough for it.
  • Etc.

How do figure out which one is “riskiest?” How do you even evaluate the “risk” of an assumption?

After helping thousands of startups at accelerators and 1-on-1 validate their business models, I’ve seen a clear pattern of “riskiness” has emerged. A pattern so clear that I’ve been able to create a simple tool that quickly tells founders:

  1. What your Riskiest Assumption is.
  2. What MVP should you build to test it.
  3. Where you are on your path to Product-Market Fit.

Just answer the questions in the Riskiest Assumption Assessment and then take a look at the 5 Phases of Product Market Fit below to understand exactly what your next step should be.

If you want a hand taking that step, the Assessment will also tell you the most helpful exercise for you in my upcoming workbook series, “FOCUS Framework: How to Find Product-Market Fit” (launching May 3rd).

What MVP should you be building? Let's find out... Click To Tweet

The 5 Phases of Product-Market Fit

On your path to Product-Market Fit, there are five phases of assumption validation you’ll progress through. In order of “riskiness”, those phases are…

  1. Finding Early Adopters for your product
  2. Offer Testing: You can reach your Early Adopters
  3. Currency Testing: Your Early Adopters will pay you
  4. Utility Testing: You can satisfy your Early Adopters
  5. Scaling to Fit: You can achieve Product-Market Fit

Based on the results of your Riskiest Assumption Assessment above, identify which phase you’re in now to learn more about the MVP you should build, and see what’s ahead of you on your path to Product-Market Fit.

1. Finding Early Adopters for your Product

The riskiest assumption, for every startup, is that there are people actively trying to solve the problem your product will solve for them – these are the people we refer to as your Early Adopters.

In particular, your goal during this phase of testing is to validate:

  1. There are people already trying to solve the problem (Early Adopters)
  2. You know how they describe the problem
  3. You know the emotions they experience associated with the problem
  4. You know where/how to reach them
  5. The deficiencies of their current solution

Experiment to Run: The best technique for validating these assumptions is the customer discovery interview.

Interviews will answer any questions you have regarding the assumptions above, and set you up for success in validating the rest of your assumptions.

Metric to Measure: What percentage of customers you interview report taking steps to solve the same problem w/n the last 6 months? Once 60% of your last 10 interviewees report actively trying to solve the same problem, in my book, you’ll have found your Early Adopters.

2. Offer Testing: You can Reach your Early Adopters

During your interviews, customers will tell you where and how to reach other Early Adopters. Your goal in this phase is to validate what they told you.

In other words, you’re testing that you can find more Early Adopters, you know what to say to them when you find them, and that they’re eager enough for a solution to the problem that they ask you for more information.

MVP to Build: To validate this assumption, you’re going to test a combination of marketing channels and marketing messages based on the results of your interviews.

Potential MVPs:

  • Ad campaigns
  • Cold email outreach
  • Cold calling campaigns
  • Becoming member of forums/communities
  • Social media outreach
  • Attending conferences, meetups, etc.

Metric to Measure: Once your Early Adopters’ response rate to your “Solution Offer” (i.e. click on your ads, respond to your emails, etc.) is high enough that you can clearly see a path to Product-Market Fit, you’re ready to test the next assumption.

3. Currency Testing: Your Early Adopters will Pay you

Once you’ve validated you can reach your Early Adopters, you need to test if they’ll “pay” you sufficiently to solve the problem.

In this case “payment” can be in the form of actual cash, or it can be something else that leads directly to your Product-Market Fit (e.g. usage of your product, personal data, etc.) depending on your business model.

MVP to Build: To validate this assumption you’re going to actually ask for “payment.” While you won’t usually take the payment (because your product hasn’t been built yet), you’re going to ask for it and measure how many Early Adopters try to pay you.

Examples include:

  • Landing page with pre-order functionality
  • Requesting a Letter of Intent after a solution interview
  • A mobile app w/ just enough functionality to measure the number of downloads and opens

Metric to Measure: Once your Early Adopters “payment” conversion rate is high enough that you can clearly see a path to Product-Market Fit, you’re ready to test whether you can start solving the problem!

4. Utility Testing: You can Satisfy your Early Adopters

Now it’s time to test whether you can actually solve your Early Adopters’ problems. While it can be tempting to automate your first couple attempts at a solution, there’s usually a more efficient way to to test this assumption.

MVP to Build: manual solutions are the best way to test whether you can solve an Early Adopter’s problem.

While they make take more of your time to solve a customer’s problem, manual solutions are much faster to build, and even faster to iterate on, than automated (i.e. software) solutions.

Examples include:

Metric to Measure: Once you’re solving the problem sufficiently well that your Customer Lifetime Value and your Viral Co-Efficient are high enough that you’re tracking towards Product-Market Fit, you’re ready to start scaling your solution!

5. Scaling to Fit: You can achieve Product-Market Fit

Once you’ve validated that Early Adopters exist, you can reach them, they’ll pay you, and you can solve their problems sufficiently, the only assumption left is that you can scale until you achieve Product-Market Fit.

MVP to Build: now is the time you get to automate your solution, scale to multiple marketing channels, and branch out to your second and third customer segments.

Examples include:

  • Beta version of your software
  • Software-based pilot for a large customer
  • Running outreach campaigns in multiple channels simultaneously
  • Multiple, simultaneous, landing page test targeting different customers

Metric to Measure: At this point you’re measuring that all your previous metrics (e.g. response rate, conversion rate, Lifetime Value and Viral Co-Efficient) are all still tracking towards you achieving Product-Market Fit.

Want Help?

I know that’s a lot to digest, but you now have an overview of the entire path to Product-Market Fit.

If you’d like more detail on any of the phases above, including:

  • How to define your Product-Market Fit metric (i.e. how do you know if you’re on track to achieving Product-Market Fit?)
  • How to conduct your customer interviews
  • How to do marketing channel and messaging testing
  • How to do payment testing (without losing/upsetting your customers)
  • How to manually test your solution
  • How to scale your solution

I’ve spent the last 18 months developing and testing that upcoming workbook series I mentioned – the FOCUS Framework. It includes 40+ experiments, exercises and tools, all inspired by my experiences teaching Lean Startup and Customer development at accelerators, and to founders 1-on-1, around the world.

FOCUS officially launches May 3rd, and if you’re interested, you can get a $20 off launch-day coupon here: http://focus.customerdevlabs.com.

Recap

Based on the “Your MVP Should do 1 Thing” post, you know that:

An MVP tests your riskiest assumption, with the least effort. Click To Tweet

In this post you learned:

  1. Your Riskiest Assumption
  2. What MVP you should use to test it
  3. Where you are on your path toward Product-Market Fit
  4. What phases of Product-Market Fit validation are ahead of you

What’s Next?

In the following weeks I’ll be continuing this MVP series:

  1. What is an MVP?
  2. (This one) What Kind of MVP Should you Build?
  3. My 9 Favorite Tools for Building Landing Page MVPs
  4. Is your Landing Page not Converting? Here’s why.

Subscribe to get all of these posts in your inbox.

Like last week, if you leave a comment below with a link to your landing page MVP and if it provides a good lesson for others to learn from, I’ll post a (public) video review of what you’re doing well, and what you might consider changing.

Thanks to those who submitted their last week. I’ll be compiling everything for the final post in this MVP series!

I’d also love feedback on the new Riskiest Assessment Tool. Let me know what you like, and what you don’t, in the comments below.

Bounce screenshot

Your MVP Should Do Just 1 Thing

Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) are tricky:

  • How “minimal” should yours be?
  • What does “viable” mean?
  • How do you keep it simple, without ruining your reputation?

MVPs only need to only do one thing. To understand that one thing, you want to understand the definition of MVP.

MVP is the new Beta?

Remember when “betas” were a thing – as in, “we’re working on our beta version”, “we just launched our private beta”, etc.?

In the last few years, that term has been replaced with “MVP” – “we’re working on our MVP”, “we just launched our MVP”, etc.

This is where the confusion around MVPs stems from…

MVP is *not* the new beta Click To Tweet

The original definition of MVP from Frank Robinson is:

A version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In other words, your MVP is the version of your product with the highest ROI when you optimize for “validated learning.”

So how do you optimize for validated learning?

Test your “Riskiest Assumption”

For your business model to be successful, there are a number of assumptions that need to be true:

  • Customers know they have a problem
  • They want your help solving it
  • They will pay you to solve it
  • You can solve it
  • etc.

All of your assumptions can be prioritized in terms of “riskiness” where the assumptions that are most critical to the success of your startup, and/or are least likely to be true, are considered more “risky” than the other assumptions.

For example, “you can solve your customers’ problems” is critical to your startup’s success, but it’s very likely to be true (humans are natural problem solvers and since you’re a human, I’m confident you can solve your customers’ problems). On the other hand, “customers will pay you to solve the problem” is not only critical to your success, it’s also (unfortunately) less likely to be true – so you would consider that assumption more “risky” than the former.

Once you order your assumptions by their “riskiness”, to build an MVP, you build the simplest version of your product, that tests your riskiest assumption.

In other words, an MVP is:

A version of a product that allows a team to collect a maximum amount of validated learning of customers test their riskiest assumption with the least effort.

Notice how this definition changes the focus of an MVP from building a product, to running an experiment. That’s critical to understanding what an MVP is – remember that.

MVP or Not an MVP?

Use the examples to test whether you understand what an MVP is…

Example 1: Explainer video

Dropbox famously gauged demand for their product via a demo video that, thanks to some video editing, demonstrated functionality they hadn’t built yet.

What do you think? MVP or not an MVP?

Let’s look at the definition again:

A version of a product that allows a team to test their riskiest assumption with the least effort.

Does a demo video of functionality that doesn’t exist represent a:

  1. Version of a product that
  2. Tests the team’s riskiest assumption with the
  3. Least effort?

If Dropbox’s riskiest assumption was “people want a new service to sync/share files” and if it took less effort to edit video than it did to write code for the functionality that didn’t exist, then yes, this is an MVP!

As long as the riskiest assumption is being tested with the least effort, it’s an MVP.

If instead they’d built a simple version of their product (i.e. a pilot, a beta, etc.) and measured how many people used it everyday, the wouldn’t have been testing their riskiest assumption, and they wouldn’t have done it with the least amount of effort.

Example 2 – PowerPoint Demo

PowerPoint Slides

Let’s say you are going into a pitch meeting with a customer using a slide deck with mockups of your software. You’re not going to demo any functionality at all, you’re just going to talk about the problems you’ll solve while showing them some pictures, what do you think, MVP or not an MVP?

Recall the definition of MVP:

A version of a product that allows a team to test their riskiest assumption with the least effort.

As long as you’re testing the riskiest assumption during that meeting (e.g. “customers will pay us to solve this problem”) with the least effort (a slide deck is less effort than even making a video), it’s an MVP.

Keep in mind that a slide deck is just like a video – minus fancy transitions. If a video meets your team’s criteria for an MVP, a slide deck might too – especially in B2B scenarios.

If on the other hand you went into that meeting hoping the customer would create an account on your platform and try it during the meeting – you’d be testing the wrong assumption, and you’d have done so with far more effort than a simple slide deck. A working prototype wouldn’t be an MVP.

Example 3 – Landing Page

Landing Page

If you imagine a landing page is just like a PowerPoint deck that you scroll through instead of click through, then you can already tell, a landing page can be an MVP as well.

Again, you want to use the least amount of effort to test your riskiest assumption – as long as you’re doing that, you’re building an MVP.

Anything more than that, and you’re getting closer to a “beta” product, than an experiment.

Example 4 – Facebook Advertisement

Facebook Ad

If you capture the essence of a landing page in a FB ad, with a title, image, description etc., then…what do you think: MVP or not an MVP?

What was that definition again?

A version of a product that allows a team to test their riskiest assumption with the least effort.

So really, as long as you’re testing the riskiest assumption with the least amount of effort…you get the picture.

If we go back to the Dropbox example we can even see that depending on their riskiest assumption, they too could have used a Facebook ad to test this out.

If their riskiest assumption was, say, “people have problems syncing/sharing files” the Dropbox team may have been able to test that with a Facebook ad!

Example 5 – Simple App

Bounce screenshotA friend and I gave ourselves 24 hours to build a proof-of-concept app that would help people get to their appointments on time. It had basic GPS, traffic and calendar integration, rudimentary UI, and we only built it for Android.

It got written-up Forbes and as a result, we were able to collect the email addresses of 3,000 people who wanted the iPhone version.

What do you think? MVP or not an MVP?

To know the answer, we have to look where we always look…our riskiest assumption.

If our riskiest assumption was genuinely, “We can build the app”, then it would have been an MVP. The truth is though, our riskiest assumption was, “People will pay for this app” and there was no way for us to test that with this app.

So, no, despite the app being simple, newsworthy, and popular…it wasn’t an MVP.

If it doesn't test the riskiest assumption call it a beta/pilot/POC - just don't call it an MVP Click To Tweet

What’s your Riskiest Assumption?

Now that you know what your MVP needs to do, you just need to figure out your riskiest assumption so you can build one.

Good news! My post next week will tell you your riskiest assumption and the best MVP is to test it! Subscribe to get it in your inbox.

To Recap

  • MVP is not the new beta
  • Definition of MVP = (Say it with me…) The simplest version of a product that tests your riskiest assumption.
  • Before you build an MVP, you have to know your riskiest assumption.

Want More MVP Help?

This is the first of a four part-series on MVPs:

  1. (This one) What is an MVP?
  2. What Kind of MVP Should you Build?
  3. My 8 Favorite Tools for Building MVPs
  4. I’ll Fix your MVP: Send me your MVP and I’ll tell you what, if anything, to tweak to make it perfect.

Stay tuned for those.

Bonus: Want me to Review your MVP?

Leave a comment below with a link to your landing page MVP and if it provides a good lesson for others to learn from, I’ll post a video review of what you’re doing well, and what you might consider changing.

The videos will be public so you and the rest of the Customer Development Labs community will learn from them which this is an ideal opportunity for startups who are:

  1. Confident in their landing page MVPs and want other startups to see it or
  2. Not confident in their landing page MVPs and want help fixing it.