How to Launch Your MVP; 5 Tips from the World’s Best Startup School
If you haven't built your MVP yet, you are trying to figure out which features to put in, nobody is using it, or it has been taken longer to launch than you have expected, this article is just for you!
I’ll let Y Combinator’s partner and Twitch.tv co-founder Michael Siebel run you the basics to get you up with speed with launching your MVP, which stands, for those who don’t know, Minimum-Viable-Product. It is the first thing you need to build to get feedback from your early users and customers.
These are not just my ideas. This article is based on the World’s best startup school, run by Y Combinator, namely on the module “How to Plan an MVP” by Michael Siebel. It is part of my personal startup school curriculum, and this article is a way to boost my learning while spreading the word and helping others on their path. I hope you enjoy it!
Your MPV needs to be something super simple
“This [MVP] is the first thing you can give to the very first set of users you wanna target, in order to see if you can deliver any value at all to them. That’s all it is. It’s extremely simple.”
The key here is to start getting meaningful information from your customers early on. It is beneficial to have an MVP; your first customers have something tangible for them to comment on. Otherwise, it is tough to get information that you can really use. I have seen this myself.
In Flowmedik, where I was a founder-CEO, we developed a SaaS solution for remote healthcare that included some nice features solving key pressing problems. To my wonder, I saw that only after we had built it and put it literally in a box, our customers and stakeholders would grasp what the solution actually was. I previously thought that general discussion and explaining the solution was enough, but this totally smashed that belief. Nowadays, I aim to build something simple first and then talk. It is much better.
It helps if you launch quick
“You need to condense down what your user needs, what your initial user needs, to a very simple set of things. A lot of times, founders wanna address all of their users’ problems and all of their potential users, when in reality, they should just focus on a small set of initial users and their highest-order problems, and then ignore the rest until later.” Michael Siebel
I have fallen into this trap my self, and I have seen others do the same. So, when Michael speaks, I listen. So should you.
The whole point of the MVP is to get feedback. Thus, it makes sense to launch quick. Or, just put your MVP out there. In fact, if it helps, don’t call it a launch.
Currently, I’m doing this myself. I needed to get my service out there to hear what others have to say. I wanted to get the initial feedback right away as I felt it had greater benefits to make the bigger announcement later. I mean, I will do the official launch later, when there has been some traction, or at least when I have the reference customers, and I know in more detail what the solution needs to be. All this, since I might get paying customers just with a LinkedIn post, and I don’t want them to be disappointed at the start.
So I have launched quickly, but I haven’t yet really made a big thing announcing it.
If you feel like it, don’t update your LinkedIn, Facebook, nor anything else. Just update your first initial customers and users to get the feedback. You can do the official launch later. Heck, you can do many launches; the main point is not getting stuck in your head before you really engage with your first customers.
Get your initial users fast
“Get anyone using your product. You don’t have to have a vision of how you get everyone using it, but just anyone interacting and seeing if they get value out of the product. You’d be surprised at how many founders’ journeys end before a single user has actually interacted with a product they’ve created. It’s very, very common. So please get past this step. It’s extremely important.”
If you need practical advice on how to get the first users, check Yehoshua Zlotogorski’s The Startup article on bootstrapping your first 10 000 users. It breaks down the growth plan into three tiers; zero to 400, 400 to 1000, and then to 10 000. It is hands-on and practical, just like the everyday business running is. You need to use different methods in different phases.
I can not stress this enough; it really helps to get the first customers. Even for free. My approach, in my current still-undercover venture, has been the following:
- Build the product. It took me somewhat 30-40 hours to have an MVP website running with the offering, web analytics, and accepting payments.
- Get initial customers. Then I set up a simple search ad campaign to test the offering for the next 2 weeks. I spent somewhat 200 euros on the keywords to get somewhat 2000 visitors on the site; nobody bought the service, but I got a ton of valuable information. On top of this, I reached out to my personal network and got a nice selection of initial customers for pro-bono. I made my goals. Boom!
- Get feedback. The greatest joy has been to talk to my prospective customers. I have understood both the value that I am providing them with and several key features I need to fix in my service and website. However, I still need to understand them and their problems better.
Talk to them
“…awesome idea in your head … should be very, very flexible, because it might turn out the full thing that you wanna build isn’t what your customers want at all.” Michael Siebel
I have lived through this; if you are interested, you can check my silver wire business story from my previous article. However, the essence was that I started with a totally different business and then, through a pivot, created my next MVP in less than 20 hours, resulting in +100k revenues in the next 15 months. The site is still running today, though gone through many updates; I sold the business in 2012. My first trade-sale exit. Yei!
Remember, your business really starts only when customers begin paying you. You can think that money is their way of rewarding you for solving their problems. Simple.
Michael stresses that you should not fall in love with your product:
“I have this saying: Hold the problem you’re solving tightly, hold the customer tightly, hold the solution you’re building loosely.”
Michael explains a point through the story of a broken screwdriver and a mechanic in need of the tool. You keep the mechanic and the problem, but you fix the tool. Good business is about solving others’ problems better than anybody, or you have done before. Your business runs better if you improve it, and that is why you need to iterate.
Keep your MVP simple, build and launch it fast, get feedback, and iterate.
Lately, I have been reading about growth hacking. I’ve read about the growth stories behind, e.g. Airbnb, Facebook, Twitter and Tinder. I have learned that, for all of them, their growth has gone through many stages. There have been many ups and downs. Many iterations of design-build-test-feedback; it is a proven formula to success.
Building a business is like that. If you want to succeed, you continuously need to keep on improving.
Now, go and see how you can apply this to your case. And, put some genuine ❤ into it!
Henri Yoki is writing his way through the Startup School. If you are interested in reading his previous work on the world’s best startup school, check out his articles relating to “how to create great ideas”, “how to evaluate them”, “how to talk to users”, and “how to pitch your startup”.