MVP (It’s not what you think)

Preston: Brian, “Ready, Fire, Aim” is great advice in those situations where we feel paralyzed by a lack of information. This is the state in which many entrepreneurial companies find themselves. It is also the state any business may find itself in when developing a new product or service. “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) is the term used to describe a lean approach to new product/service offerings. It comes back around to your words of “test the market without committing large quantities of resources.”

Focusing on developing an MVP is also a great way to overcome the temptation to over-engineer. An MVP is easier to test in the internet world than it has been previously. This is particularly true with software products and services where the internet is the delivery channel. Beta testers can be recruited easily and quickly (if they can’t you know it’s back to the drawing board). You can even use sites like Kickstarter to get funding for an MVP.

It’s all about experimentation. You want to get quick, inexpensive, and responsive iterations to the market. Don’t defend the current version of the product or service when you get criticism, improve it. Whether your offering is tech-based or not, use technology to speed up the process. SaaS (software as a service) makes the cost of historically expensive software design tools affordable to smaller companies. 3D printing is even making it possible to produce small quantities of physical products without having to finalize design before expensive manufacturing equipment can be used.

Don’t consider being small a disadvantage. Use your smaller size to be quicker and more adaptable. Disrupt the market with the unexpected, it slows down the competition and brings attention to your offering. Attention brings you feedback. Feedback brings you the information you need to improve.

Brian: Good points all, Preston. Not surprisingly (since I’m a marketing guy), I’m going to extend your premise to include the beta testing of web-based marketing campaigns.

Back in the marketing Stone Age, direct mail was one of the most cost-effective tactics available because of the ability to measure variables and fine tune until you achieved predictable results. You’d start by testing, let’s say, two different headlines, determine which one worked better, then move on to elements such as graphic design, price, added value, list, time of year and many more. By the time you were done, you could almost guarantee a certain percentage of success every time you sent out another mailing.

The beauty of the internet is it enables you to do this faster, cheaper and more efficiently than direct mail ever could (although direct mail is making somewhat of a comeback, a subject we can address in a future article). If you’ll allow me to be self-serving for a moment, here’s an example from my own recent experience:

When I’m not immersed in running my company, I write novels on the side. I’ve branded myself as a Las Vegas author who “knows where the bodies are buried” — so to speak — which has allowed me to establish an identity beyond being just another mystery writer. While more than half of book marketing still takes place at the grass roots level (presentations, book fairs, readers’ and writers’ groups, book store appearances and the like), more and more of it happens on the web. And so, for the last six months, I’ve been testing the same variables described above, but now I’m playing in the digital world through techniques such as banner ads, Google Ad Words, Facebook boosts, pay-per-click and myriad other delivery systems.

The results, while not instantaneous (a degree of patience is still required), allow me to market with greater clarity and flexibility than ever before. It’s a fast-moving landscape that can change daily, but one that’s well worth the time and effort.

Brian Rouff is a creative business owner. As managing partner of Imagine Communications (www.WeAreImagine.com), a leading Las Vegas based marketing communication firm, he is responsible for business processes. However, Brian is also part of Imagine’s creative team and a published author, so he has a foot in both camps.

Preston Sumner, President of CEO Focus of Nevada (www.ceofocusnv.com), is a curious observer of and participant in business. His curiosity extends to domains such as psychology, sports, physics, and warfare. He finds that these other domains offer models and lessons for business performance. Preston is fascinated by the intersection of knowledge and performance. Together Brian and Preston will explore this tension between creativity and the process of business.