It's time for the tech industry to admit that MVP is dead
Tech today is different from tech ten years ago, and even five years ago.
Back in 2011 every young wannabe Zuckerberg was raving about Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup”.
Such quotes as:
- “If you’re not embarrassed about your first release, you waited too long”
- “Move fast and break things”
drove startups like Airbnb and Dropbox to massive success. They filled an immediate market need with a rough ‘n ready product and polished it up along the way.
For those who have been living under a rock for the past 15 years, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product.
It was a backlash against traditional waterfall-style development which had projects dragging on for years without shipping anything.
The idea of the MVP served as a counterweight to dangerous over-perfectionism and helped to focus teams on aggressively cutting features and scope to get something useful in the hands of users as early as possible.
It was an excellent tool to combat feature creep and bloat and maintain a user-centric viewpoint.
Unfortunately, in today’s hyper-competitive online landscape, MVP no longer cuts the mustard.
The tech industry has been in denial about this for some time, and much as I hate to say it, so have I.
Why MVP no longer works
The cold reality of B2C tech today is that the bar is much higher than it was a decade ago. Consumers have come to expect polished and delightful experiences. Attention spans are shorter than ever.
It’s no longer easy to launch a simple app with average UX and expect to gain market share.
Any new technology product today (especially if targeting the masses) is competing against the likes of Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for their users’ attention. And those behemoths invest hundreds of millions of dollars into creating a slick user experience.
What’s more, most of the low hanging fruit is gone. People can usually find “close-enough” alternatives to your product so their need isn’t burning enough to overcome the resistance of ugly sign up flows or clunky UX.
In short, if your B2C product gives one single frustration or sticking point, people will give up and use something else.
It’s now a competitive game for your users’ attention and they will not hesitate to “fire” your product over a confusing onboarding flow or a search bar that doesn’t really work.
MLP: a more useful analogy
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There is still space for newcomers to break into the market.
This is because there are a vast number of digital products and platforms that, while usable, do not yet offer a DELIGHTFUL experience.
Instead of minimum viable product, new startups should be aiming to create a minimum lovable product.
This means doing a ton of user testing and spending the time and resources necessary to make something really polished.
If you release something before it’s polished, and it doesn’t land favourably with your users, you run the risk of getting a false negative.
This is a particularly dangerous trap for two reasons:
- The people who tried your burnt pizza and didn’t like it are unlikely to come back for a second helping. So by rushing the product out the door, all you’ve succeeded in doing is alienating your early adopters.
- The failure of your product may lead you to the false conclusion that people don’t want a product like yours.
A great way to understand this is JZ Zhang’s burnt pizza analogy.
The idea is, if you serve burnt pizza to your customers and they don’t like it… it doesn’t mean that people hate pizza.
They just hated YOUR pizza because it was an inferior product.
When to use MVP vs. MLP thinking
MVP is designed to validate a market need when there is little-to-no existing offering.
People will eat burnt pizza if they’re starving and it’s literally the only food available.
But nobody is going to touch burnt pizza when there is an entire buffet of delicious alternatives just one click away.
But they might chose to eat a delicious, piping hot, thin crust Italian margarita pizza with a casual smattering of olives that was just pulled out of a traditional, stone oven.
MLP is designed to help focus you on creating an outstanding product when there is already stiff competition.
Adjusting to a post-MVP world
I predict a huge rise in demand for talented UI/UX designers over the next 5-10 years.
Better user experience has become the competitive advantage for B2C digital products.
Your sign up flow needs to be slick.
Your product needs to guide the user into taking the correct next step at every stage without seeming to do anything at all.
There must be as little friction as possible.
And on top of all that, you need to add a few dashes of panache that surprise and delight your user.
In a digital world where people spend more time on their phones than talking to actual humans, your product is a stand-in for the salesperson.
You must imbue your product with personality, and use it to build and maintain a positive relationship with your users.
This is not easy.
It takes a lot of time, work and effort. And it requires experimenting and going down false rabbit holes.
It’s a complicated problem that lies at the intersection between sales, UX, UI and systems thinking.
The companies that win will be those that spend the time to get things right, as well as hiring creative talent who can think deeply about the user’s emotional journey from their very first interaction all the way to actually solving their problem is required.
Because in the end no one cares how fast the book was written, they care about how good the book is.
Very few people can do this, and if you are one of them you’ll be writing your own cheque.
Thanks to Debbie Widjaja for reading drafts of this.