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Minimally Awesome Products

When we published our Birchmere Labs manifesto I was really curious what entrepreneurs reaction would be.   We strive to be completely transparent about our beliefs and the manifesto is an attempt to codify these principals.  We will continually update and elaborate on it to provide increasing transparency.  This post is a first attempt to elaborate on one of the themes.

By far, the biggest area of conversation from the manifesto in the first month has been the principal:

We don’t have MVPs but do believe in minimally awesome products (MAPs).

So I thought I’d elaborate on what we mean by this.

First of all as defined by Eric Reis, I have no issue with MVPs.  Eric’s definition is:

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

However, I think way too many entrepreneurs misinterpret “viable” as “sloppily put together”.   We believe the experience matters and frankly I’ve met with too many entrepreneurs over the years who mistakingly interpreted a lack of demand around a concept when it really was at least partially due to an ugly or unnecessarily complicated interface.  While an MVP should only contain the  core features and trust visionary customers to fill in the gaps, those essential benefits can’t be delivered through a horrible experience.

On one level you could argue this is just a change in vocabulary.   However, I think the semantics matter in all of these agile methodologies.  For example when we deployed scrum at mSpoke, the specific defined vocabulary was extremely helpful.  If I had a conversation with my CTO about “progress” we could end up talking past each other way  too easily.  However, if I asked about the “velocity” and to review a “sprint’s burn down chart” we both knew exactly what I was referring to.

I think the lean startup methodology has provided the same benefit to startups.  If you have an organization which has read the book and  integrated the techniques deeply, then the entire organization knows what “validated learning” is and more importantly what it is not.  However, in the case of MVPs I’d argue  the term “viable” is just putting people on the wrong path to start with.  (As a side note, I also like the acronym MAP better then MVP but that is really just a secondary benefit.)

Another important point, is this even extends to MAPs that are really landing pages & a small budget adwords campaign.  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.

Finally, the last thing I’d like to clarify is that this also does not mean that every MAP needs to be engineered to scale to millions of users.  One concept that is deeply integrated into the best software organizations I’ve worked with is “reuse ideas not code”.  Given this it’s unlikely regardless of how well architected  your first MVP is that the code base will live on well into the future.  Rather then focus on an architecture that scales to 10 million users focus on the experience, responsiveness and what learnings you plan to validate.

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