I think the concept of Minimum Viable Product(s) or MVP(s) makes a lot of new small business owners roll their eyes.
And then they fail. Because they waited for “it” to be perfect.
It’s never perfect. Not life, not your relationships, not your finances, and definitely not your products.
I know this all too well. I used to force myself to have ev.er.y.thing down to a T before I would launch a collection (and it was ALWAYS an entire collection, never just one product). The packaging had to be beautiful and just so, with little details. The collection had to be fully fleshed out, and include multiple SKUs (sometimes in multiple scents). I’d throw hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars into a collection that I thought was totally done. And then I’d launch it.
And wait. And wait. And see that credit card payment day come closer and closer without any sales.
Most of my launches would be considered…maybe not failures outright but they definitely took more work to recoup my costs than I would’ve liked. Some, yes okay, were total money pits and took me a long time to recover.
I did this over and over again, never knowing what the hell was wrong. It took me many years for the slap in the face to come that showed me what I had been doing wrong the entire time.
Ready? I wasn’t involving my fans in the launch at all. I was throwing up a collection, thinking I knew best when I knew nothing at all
“I was throwing up a collection, thinking I knew best, when I knew nothing at all.”
So, my darling follower, you are here to learn from my mistakes, yes? So this is probably one of the biggest lessons I can teach you:
You cannot launch a perfect product. If you want to succeed, you must launch a “good enough” product. This is known as a Minimum Viable Product or an MVP.
The rundown on what a Minimum Viable Product really is
There are a ton of websites that can teach you this with theory and case studies, but a picture says a thousand words, right? Here’s my favorite interpretation of a minimum viable product, courtesy of Henrik Kniberg
Releasing a minimum viable product isn’t about piecemeal that doesn’t make sense. Instead, MVPs are more about starting with the basic idea, vetting it against your fan base, and then building on top of that.
Think of it like running a bakery. Your end goal is an entire shop full of pastries and delectables, right? But you’d drive yourself crazy trying to come up with recipes, packaging, and the funds to make it all happen. So instead, what you do is start with cupcakes. Once you get feedback from your customers on their favorite cupcakes, and you have learned what works and what doesn’t, you start to make a cake based on that recipe. And then that cake sells out, like, all the time. So then you start to make another flavor, and you test that.
Pretty soon you’re off to the races (er..whatever the bakery version of that would be) and you’ve got a full product line that you know will be profitable, because you’ve created it with your customers each step of the way, guiding you and steering you in the right direction.
So what are some of the ways people figure out if their MVP has legs? A couple of ways:
- They Pre-Sell. One of the times I did a launch properly, I offered a pre-sale via IndieGoGo for a face care collection I was launching. This helped me see if it was going to be an actual collection that sold AND got me working capital. This is one of the best ways to determine if you’re heading in a good direction, or if you need to start over again. Pre-selling is totally terrifying, I know, but it’s less terrifying than figuring out how to pay the bills with a product that people won’t buy.
- They survey their customers at each step. Offer incentives for your customers if you need to, or just keep it to your VIP customers (I talk about how to do this with ConvertKit in Perfect Product Launch). Ask them open ended questions instead of yes/no so that you can figure out how to satisfy their needs.
- They keep it lean. No fancy bells and whistles, no distractions. Successful small business owners start with the foundation, make sure that is good, and then build on top of it. Like the skateboard in the above picture.
The first step to determine how to make the MVP is to figure out your original end game and work backward. So if I were starting a new skincare company, I’d probably want to have products that cleanse my skin and maybe treat acne (or dry skin, etc). So my MVP would be…an unscented soap.
From there I learn how that formula helps/hurts my customers. Is it too harsh? Does it have a good lather? From there I begin to build, tweak, and perfect. I don’t launch with a collection of 17 different soaps, never knowing if ANY of them will work. I start with 1. It’s simple, it’s not fancy, but it’s a good foundation and it’s the best way I learn how my product sells.