At startup pitch competitions, it is common to hear some version of we’re going to be the Uber of some industry or we are building Instagram for a specific user base.
Those comparisons are an easy trap for new founders to fall into, says Randy Etheredge, partner at R&Y Labs in Atlanta.
“If they haven’t built a technology product in the past, [founders] tend to think that they have to get on that level [of a big tech company] in order to participate in that market,” he told Hypepotamus. “Saying you’re the Uber of X isn’t enough. What you really need to be asking yourself is what is the problem you’re trying to solve? And what is the lightning bolt path — or the path of least resistance — to solve that problem?”
In order to do that, it’s time for founders to adopt a new definition of MVP, says Etheredge.
Not to be confused with the “most valuable” individual performer on your team, MVPs are the lifeblood and initial product developed by a business. Early-stage tech founders are told that building out a “Minimum Viable Product” is the way to attract investors and the perfect group of customers. But those following a traditional MVP building model are often caught up in creating something “perfect” as opposed to something that can be iterated on.
That pulls focus away from the true goal of a new software product, according to Etheredge. Instead, companies should be thinking about building their MVP: the Maximum Value Product.
“If [the product] is valuable, people will use it and give [the product] some grace. They may complain, they may say there’s this issue…but if they’re complaining about it, that means they’re using that piece of it,” he said. “In that case, the customer is telling [you] what to build. You’re not trying to anticipate that.”
Early on in the product life cycle, teams should be focused on the ratio of spend to value. That can help companies build the right product while ensuring costs stay under control.
BUILDING AN MVP MINDSET
Etheredge and his team are so passionate about redefining the MVP, they’ve built out their own MVP Sprint program to help more companies. Unlike traditional dev shops, the goal is not just to build out absolutely everything a client wants right at the beginning. Instead, they work intentionally to build a “prioritized product roadmap” for customers moving forward into the development process.
That move to Maximum Value Product is personal for Etheredge and his team. He started R&Y Labs back in 2014 and has seen even the most technically-savvy business owners need “rescue work” because an MVP went awry during the development process. He’s seen misalignment in goals and priorities lead to software being over budget at best and completely wrong at worst. Etheredge wanted to eliminate this problem before a company invested in lines of code.
“The person trying to deliver the software had a certain expectation. The group working on the software didn’t have a process and were just literally taking orders. That can cause businesses to be over time and over budget,” he said. “The idea of being perfect in order to launch is the death by 1,000 cuts. There’s this desire to just add one more thing or get to this point before you ship [a product or feature], But if you spend all this time writing and there’s 20% of it that everybody uses that 80% that nobody touches, you’ve overspent by 80%.”
B2B companies, fintechs, healthcare startups, and local B2C brands alike have used R&Y Labs to build out their software and ultimately change their team’s definition of an MVP. Those companies looking to explore more about R&Y’s view of the MVP design sprint process can learn more here.