4 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Building an MVP
Every entrepreneur gets personally attached to his or her product. Only some of them, though, see how dangerous that is.
Although minimum viable products do get concepts to market faster, that’s only part of their purpose. MVPs also serve as gut checks for entrepreneurs, preventing them from pouring money into their grand idea before giving the market so much as a peek. By minimizing entrepreneurs’ upfront investment and generating feedback, MVPs prevent costly, emotion-driven mistakes.
But while “minimum viable product” might sound self-explanatory, too many entrepreneurs misunderstand or outright skip the MVP. And unless their investors are exceptionally forgiving, startups only get one shot. If they build a start-to-shelf product that flops, it’s too late to try again.
If you’re ready to take your product beyond the drawing board, congratulations: You’re about to experience the single most exciting part of entrepreneurship. Just don’t let the following derail your MVP:
1. Failing to prototype.
Especially when working with new technologies, it’s easy to make predictions that don’t pan out in practice. When app shop Yeti started work on Tiny Eye, a VR seek-and-find game, it initially looked to high-end VR gear like Oculus Rift. But after prototyping the app, Yeti realized that Google Cardboard was the better choice for a casual, kid-oriented game.
Prototyping is the art of spotting and validating your riskiest assumptions. They don’t always have to do with hardware, either. Is your product’s user interface unclear? To find out, wireframe it and show your target audience. Is a key feature missing? Users can tell you that, too. Prototyping is a guess-and-check process, so don’t spend too much on any one iteration; you’ll almost certainly need a few to get it right.
2. Thinking “M” is for maximum.
Feature creep. Featuritis. Feature bloat. The issue goes by many names, but the same misunderstanding is always behind it: that more features translate to more value for the user. The truth is that more features usually make a product less usable, not more. And an unusable product can be deadly: CB Insights ranks a lack of usability No. 6 on its list of the top 20 reasons startups fail.
Whether it’s investors, team members, or even users pushing for peripheral features, stand your ground. Think back to the original challenge or solution your product should solve, and incorporate only the features that are necessary to do that. Anything else is worse than extraneous; it’s downright detrimental to your product's -- and startup’s -- success.
3. Pushing onward when the market says “pivot.”
Take it from a venture capitalist: Blue Skies Ventures co-founder and partner Phil Stover admits the products his startups build are rarely what their founders thought they’d be. Although stubbornness can serve entrepreneurs well in some cases, he notes, pivots are part of the product development process.
How can you tell it’s time to pivot? Look for a lukewarm response from product testers. Phrases like “I’d actually prefer X” also signal a new direction may be best. Watch for external factors, too. If an enterprise makes a seven-figure investment in the same space as your product, realize you may not have the resources to fight back.
4. Over-investing in marketing.
Marketing an MVP is a Goldilocks process: On one hand, your product needs to acquire enough users to prove its viability (and to gather resources for its next iteration); on the other, a true MVP should still have some kinks to work out. If you attract too much attention, your product may get a bad rap before it’s ready for primetime.
For that reason, Kibii's marketing director, Britt Armour, suggests skipping traditional outbound approaches like commercials, print ads and events. Instead, he points to inexpensive tactics like blogging, building influencer relationships and building backlinks to the product page. Your goal should be to build buzz around your brand while convincing your most loyal customers to try your first version. Then, use their feedback to make improvements before the masses buy in.
As tempting as it is to build a “perfect” product right off the bat, don’t. Before you get too invested -- emotionally or financially -- the MVP gives you a real-world look at what your customers want. Your MVP may be a product, but more importantly, it’s a process to help you build an even better one.