In 2006 I started the development of a Unified Messaging Server as a side project; with the server, you were able to send out messages via E-Mail, SMS, Letters, Fax and other channels. The software was quite flexible by using a plugin concept for the different channels. My goal was to sell the software to companies. It was a great project as it took my development skills to a new level; I learned so many new technologies, libraries and design patterns. I always had ideas for improvement, however, after six years, the product was still not finished.
In 2012 I finally started to do some marketing to notice a hard truth: Nobody wanted my software. The project wasn’t a complete waste of time, as I earned money as a freelancing developer with the skills I acquired in the project. However, I never reached the goal of having my own scalable product with it. Luckily I just spend my time on the project and no money. Otherwise, it would have ruined me.
In case you want to start your own business, don’t fall into the same trap as me. In this article, I want to tell why it’s crucial to build Minimal Viable Products (MVP) to validate your business ideas.
Guess of a great business idea you have in your mind. You are sure it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, you cannot produce the product by yourself, so you need a team of people you must pay for. Maybe you have some savings to pay the team members, or you apply for a loan. But that doesn’t seem a big problem since you are sure you will make a lot of money with your business.
Over the next months, you develop the product with a lot of passion, which feels well. You keep your business idea as a secret till the day you are finished with your first product. Finally, launch day is there, but nobody wants the product. After trying every marketing hack in the world, you finally give up. Now you realize that you have a lot of debt. You have a new business idea in mind, but you cannot start the project, because you are financially not in the position to go for the new business.
Something like this happens to many entrepreneurs. You can avoid this by building simple minimal viable products (MVP) and work in iterations. The MVP might be a sketch, a website mockup, a Powerpoint presentation or a simple form with a value proposition in a first iteration. You can show this to a few target customers and get their feedback. Sometimes these customers open their wallets in this early stage already, which is an excellent sign. In the next iteration, you go a bit further in the direction to the final product to show the product again to the customers you acquired in the first iteration. In each iteration, you can gather more and more customers. This way, you can also learn which marketing channels work and which not. At some point, you try to get the customers to pay for your product, although it’s not finished yet. In case you are on the wrong track, you can always pivot. The iterative way reduces your financial risk since you focus early also on marketing and sales.
When we have a business idea, we often fall in love with it. We develop a future vision for it. In our mind, we produce products we want to sell, which is usually not something terrible. However, we often tend to start product development right away, which takes a lot of effort and time. What we forget is that starting a business is more than product development; other elements make a successful business. What does the excellent product help when you cannot sell it?
Therefore it’s essential to focus on all parts of what makes a business from day 1. This way, you work more efficiently, you save time because you ensure that the company as a whole is working. If it’s not working out, you can stop to follow the idea. You can change it or do something else.
But how can you focus on all parts? Isn’t even more work instead of less? No, by building tiny minimal viable products (MVP) you save a lot of time. The art is to create the right product: The goal is to deliver the most value with minimal effort. However, it’s also possible to sell a vision with product sketches or presentation like mentioned before.
Many people think that a great product sells by itself. That might happen from time to time. However, most products fail, and you lose a lot of time and money with the approach of developing the final product. Marketing and Sales are essential parts of the process of starting a business. You must be able to show the world that your product exists and you have to be able to sell it.
Honestly, in case you are not able to get your marketing and sales right, you are not a businesswoman/man. That is a bitter truth. You might think that you can outsource this, but do you think it is essential to hand something like this to somebody else who doesn’t have the same passion as you have? I think it’s not a good idea.
The good news is that you can learn about marketing and sales. Try to visualize your target customers, what their typical day is and learn where you can find them.
Talk to these customers and show them your product vision, demos, mockups or simple first versions of your product.
Your focus must be to learn as much as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Maybe you are in the lucky situation that you have many business ideas. In that case, you have the problem to find out which of these ideas is the most promising one. It would take most probably the whole life to evaluate that; your financial situation is another limiting factor. By building simple Minimal Viable Products (MVP) and put some effort into marketing, you can find out which is the best business idea.
You could build a landing page with a value proposition and order button without even having the product. You can easily set up a low budget ad campaign on Google, Facebook or other channels where your target customers are hanging around to drive traffic to the page. Then you check how many orders you can get. Make the order as realistic as possible. For sure you pay the customers the money back for their orders because you were obviously not able to deliver them something. You can tell them you are out of stock or find another excuse. It’s essential to follow this approach with a different brand/domain name as you don’t want to hurt your final brand. The goal is to get insights: Does your (not existing) product sell, are you able to acquire customers. You can also find the best price that way.
What makes a perfect, Minimal Viable Product (MVP)? Like I said before, the perfect MVP is the one with which most the most insights can be achieved with minimal effort. However, you have to deliver something valuable to the customer. Sometimes it can be a laser-focused value proposition to the customer’s problem. Copywriting skills can help you with it.
Sometimes you must be creative with your MVP; physical products, e.g. are often challenging. You can hire a designer Fiverr, that design realistic-looking mockup.
Let’s imagine you have an idea of a new fancy restaurant with a special kind of food. You could hire a food truck and try to offer your cooking from a food truck on the street to get insights.
Do you want to open a new kind of gym in your area? You could print out flyers which you drop in the letterbox. On a landing page, people can signup for a contract for a discount, before even renting a place. Then you check how contracts you can sell. In case you are not opening, you pay the money back.
For an online product, you could build a web application; however, the complicated process behind the scenes are you handling by hand.
You can validate business ideas with the help of creative Minimal Viable Products since you include all aspects of a successful business from day 1. You save time and reduce the financial risk to a minimum.Written on July 17th, 2020 by Jens Laufer