Original question from Quora:

What is a minimum viable product?

My Answer:

A minimum viable product is not what you think it is. It’s pretty much the opposite of what you think it is. Most MVP’s come with a huge blind spot that most everyone misses.

Allow me to explain…

Imagine you have an idea for a new web app that will replace Twitter. (This is a made up example)

Perhaps you decide that you want to create Twitter for janitors. Call it Mopper.

You say, wow I bet there are millions of janitors working at night that are bored out of their minds. They need funny pictures and videos and a place to share their frustrations with other janitors.

You say to yourself, that’s such a good idea you need to build it right away before someone steals your idea. It’s a really good idea. You have to move fast.

So, if you’re a developer you build it as fast as you can in a weekend (that turns into a month), and if you’re not you either spend months finding a developer partner to found Mopper or you hire out a developer to build your minimum Mopper concept. Either way you’ve probably spent thousands of dollars on legal fees to incorporate in Delaware or something or you’ve spent thousands of dollars on developer fees.

Now, it’s probably months later and you have Mopper ready to go. You put up a landing page and…

Nobody signs up.

This goes on for a while and you decide you need more features because nobody is signing up. Also you play with pricing and you decide to read a bunch of blog posts about pricing and strategy and startup culture.

Your billion dollar social network business is about to take off like a rocket…

More time goes by and you barely notice because you’re working on the next batch of super cool whiz bang features that you are sure that prospective customers are DEMANDING before they will ever hand over money.

Eventually, you notice that you are working really hard and investing a lot of time and money and you aren’t getting any customers.

This is when you decide you need to use growth hacking to make this thing work. So you join all the marketing communities and you start reading and learning about growth hacking and social media.

You tweet, you instagram, you facebook, you blog, you do ALL THE THINGS and you start getting followers and likes and “buzz”.

But you still have no sales.

You know what to do. You need to go bigger. You need to “blow up” on social media so you hustle real hard and you get on Hacker News and maybe even TechCrunch.

Traffic spikes. People show up. You have free trial accounts!!!

A month later nobody is using Mopper.

You keep trying for months after this, but eventually you decide that your MVP didn’t work and something like 6 months and probably tens of thousands of dollars later, you give up and decide this MVP approach doesn’t work.

Or worse…

You get another idea and you do the same thing all over again and get the same result or possibly you spend more time and money to get zero paying customers.

That is the MVP path I see most often taken. Even by startups backed by angel investors and savvy business people.

And there is one huge flaw in that entire process. Can you guess what it is?

There is one thing Mopper forgot to do that would have changed everything. Do you see it?

….

..

.

Nobody ever asked janitors if they want their own Twitter.

Consider that for a minute. When you hear minimum viable product, you think about the product right? You imagine that you need a product. The product is the thing because minimum and viable are adjectives and product is the noun.

The product is not the thing.

Minimum is not the thing.

Viable is the only part of MVP that matters.

MVP is a bad name for a good idea.

The only thing that matters to the core success of a business is a profitable product that you sell successfully.

For example, I have a book called Creative Genius. It sells on Amazon for $9.99. Amazon pays me 70% royalty on it, so I make about $7 per sale. I’m not a bestselling author, but I make at least a few sales a month, every month.

It is profitable and it sells. That makes my tiny little book business worth something.

There was a time where I gave it away for free. There was a time where I had trouble selling it for $0.99. In those times my book business was worth a whole lot less.

When my book wasn’t selling, it was tempting to rewrite it or add to it. Instead, I figured out how to sell it at a good profit. I put all my energy into making it sell.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading books, watching videos, and practicing the art of selling my book. I hustled to do one thing - make sales.

You could call my book an MVP, because when it first came out, I didn’t know how to sell it or who to sell it to. For six months it sat on amazon collecting digital dust.

I worked hard to make it sell and now it sells. I worked hard to make those sales at least a little profitable and now I’m making at least 10x what I was months ago. (It’s not hard to 10x a small number BTW)

The magic is not in the product. It’s in the viability. Viability in business means dollars.

If a product don’t make dollars it don’t make sense.

So, next time you want to do any kind of MVP, start by figuring out how to sell a product. Any product really. Then figure out how to sell to the people you want to sell to. Then figure out what they want. Then get them to sign a contract to buy your product once it is real for REAL MONEY. Once you have 10 or 100 people contracted to buy your product upon completion…

Then think about how to build the smallest version of that thing you have contracts for.

Consider your MVP like kickstarter. If you can’t get over the $10,000 in pledges (or whatever your number is), you shouldn’t build it. Period.

The real business is in selling the product, not building it.

-Brian

P.S. I unpack more ideas in Creative Genius.