Getting over the fear of MVP

The other time, I talked about picking the right problem. The other half of getting to MVP is the emotional factor, which often times, is fear. Often times, this fear will manifest itself as excuses you make to yourself. It’s not ready to launch because we need that one feature, because the design’s not presentable, because we only get one shot. In fact, it’s just the fear.

What is there to fear? As adults, many of us don’t make things like we did in grade school, so it’s easy to forget the fear that comes with creating things. To start, there’s the fear of negative feedback.

You are not your creation. 

Before the days of mass production, it was much more obvious the personal touch and personality that was imbued in anything that was created. The curve of a brush strokes or wood planes of a carver were fingerprints of their interpretation of their craft. Nowadays, machines create the curves in our objects, but the process of creation is still deeply personal.

While the machines stroke the lines, it is still we who delineate and decide upon those lines. Everything we make has design decisions that must be made beyond what it looks like. And whether conscious or not, these design problem is an interpretation of its creator and how they see the world, what they envision is a solution, and an invocation of their creativity. Great creations and great products have the personality and interpretation of a solution that shines through from their creator. How can it not be personal?

And yet, in the process of creation, you need to separate yourself from your product. You are not your product. If it fails, it does not mean you’ve failed as a person [1]. If people hate it, it does not mean human beings don’t like you. I imagine it’s a bit like being a parent: you can teach the child all you want, but in the end he or she has its own will and will make its own way in the world. Once you accept this, it’s much easier to take criticism and negative feedback in stride, because hey, people are mad at the product, not me. And products are much easier to change than yourself.

Good visions aren’t static

Sometimes, there is a fear of launching because there’s a fear of the negative feedback that would shatter your vision for the product. When we start brainstorming about our ideas, we imagine possibilities of how we’d change the world. However, when doing startups, you need to check these possibilities with reality. Would people really want to take notes on other people? Would people want to have social networks for their dogs? Would people want to write emails to themselves?

Good visions are always changing in response to what you’re learning about what people want. When you first get started, you don’t know much about the shape of the problem and which aspect of it people want. As you get feedback, talking to people, and seeing how they use your product, you get a much better idea of what the true limitations are and where the interesting things in that space are. Think of it as an experiment. You have hypothesis, and you test it out in the real world, drawing conclusions, which will probably raise more questions to answer. That will usually lead you somewhere far grander than your imagination.

You can always improve it later

I have less to say about this one, since it’s been talked about a lot elsewhere, but if you’re not embarrassed by what you put out, you’ve launched too late. The nature of deploying software is different than it use to be. Most of us aren’t doing life critical pieces of software, and we can deploy on the web. That means you can always improve on it after you launch. Launching is the first step, not the last. The advantage of launching is only that you get to test your assumptions against the real world, which is an extra helping hand in guiding your design decisions. 

There’s almost always more potential early users

This is more applicable to consumer products then enterprise products, but there’s often the fear that users are like firecrackers–you only get to use it once and it’s gone. It is true that for any one particular user, they’re only going to check out your site once, maybe twice. But that’s just one user! There are always more potential early users. Of course, in the beginning of a startup, you’ll always be in a niche, but that niche should be big enough that there’s always more potential users can you hit up for a first impression.

The key realization with MVP is that once you hit upon that single, naked, simple, core value that users want, they’ll forgive all sorts of unpolish. Design sucks? No problem because it’s useful. Don’t have a lot of features? No problem because it solve a raging problem I have. As long as you keep iterating and keep making them happier with the value they’re getting, they will stick with you. 

And lastly, it might help to think of your MVP just as a glorified email list. You’re creating something that is one single unit of usefulness, and by signing up users, you’re getting permission from them to contact them when you have something more for them to solve the problem that they were sold on by your landing page. 

[1] You failed as a maker.

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2 thoughts on “Getting over the fear of MVP

  1. It’s great that you referred Reid’s comment here about launching too late. It’s so true. Huge props for the good visions aren’t always static comment. Really important for me and the rest of the world to understand. Still some strong misconceptions there that need to be fixed. I’m curious what do you think about Marco Arment’s comment here:http://www.marco.org/769340032

  2. Thanks for the kudos. I haven’t processed marco’s post entirely, but generally, I think it depends on both how well you understand what you’re building and the people you’re building for and how experienced you are with building from beginning to end.As a beginning builder, it’s easy to default to not taking criticism and being a perfectionist. And also, if you’re not inventing anything new or if you really understand your product and market, you can build exactly and perfectlyHowever, most startups do not have this luxury. Most of the time, startups are exploring something new, and by definition, you won’t know exactly what you’re building, and hence, it’s better to build a little and then keep iterating.

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