Time to create a minimally awesome product

If you hang around entrepreneurs long enough, you’ll hear them start talking about MVPs. The first time I heard the acronym, I was thinking baseball: most valuable player, thinking here we go again with the sports metaphors. (Put the wood behind one arrow, have our product hit a home run, etc.) But it turns out that the term means minimally viable product, or for a new company to create something that is just good enough to gain traction and customers.

It has become an abused term however. I came across a post from a VC friend of mine from Pittsburgh, Sean Ammirati. Sean and I worked together at the misbegotten ReadWriteWeb a few years ago and he ran their business operations. Now he works with a lot of startups and you can tell from his post where he explores five myths about MVPs.

His first suggestion is that minimal doesn’t mean that it is crappy. A lot of startups interpret viable to mean that you slap something together quickly. But your interface matters. “I’ve met with too many entrepreneurs over the years who mistakenly interpreted a lack of demand around a concept when it really was at least partially due to an ugly or unnecessarily complicated interface,“ Ammirati says. The cruder the product, the harder it will be to understand how people will react to it, and an entrepreneur could be getting lots of wrong information because users are responding to the crude pieces, rather than the overall vision and what the product will ultimately supposed to be doing.

Next, the MVP is not a destination, and entrepreneurs have to remember that any product or service is more about the process of refinement. What is viable today may be obsolete tomorrow. Ideally, he says, “you end up having multiple iterations that test different core assumptions about your business based on different customer interactions” and refine and adjust dynamically to this feedback.

Don’t be afraid to take the actual “product” out of the equation, and look more closely at an actual idea. Ammirati suggests a simple sketch can do wonders here – remember the famous Compaq napkin idea for a luggable PC?

Don’t always swing for the fences (sorry) and try to come up with an idea that will appeal to millions of users. Far better is to examine the overall user experience, responsiveness and what you can learn and how you can validate your initial hypotheses.

Finally, built lots of landing pages to test various hypotheses and see what is gaining traction. “ If you aren’t a designer and don’t have a designer on your team, you are crazy not to spend the $300 with DesignPax or a similar service to ensure the landing page isn’t so ugly that it affects the conversion rate,” he says. Startup guru Eric Ries calls this the “Adwords Smoke Test” and it is a good concept.

Ammirati has come up with “minimally awesome product” as a replacement for the MVP acronym, and I think it is a dandy term.

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