Top 3 Mistakes Startups Make Building their MVP

polorbarAs you may have heard,  I just launched MVP Design Hacks – a program I’ve been incubating and refining for awhile. I’m tremendously excited to share my road-tested MVP design process and resources with startups worldwide.

I’ve used the MVP Design Hacks approach to help dozens of teams bring their early ideas to life.  Some teams THRIVE with this approach, and go on to great success.  Others don’t.

Sadly, some teams I’ve worked with were mired in problems that prevented them from building an effective MVP. Here are the 3 most common MVP mistakes I see startups make that can cripple their team.

Mistake #1: Lusting after hi-res visuals too early

There’s a certain type of person who cannot grasp a product concept with sketches – they need to see something that looks finished.  These same people are often fooled by hi-res visuals – they think something is further along than it actually is. Let’s call it “The Clinkle Effect.” 🙂

Recently, I worked with a brilliant young CEO – a product marketer by background – who came to me with some beautiful, hi-res mockups of an innovative product concept. So we set out to create the MVP and test the core concept. Unfortunately, he was convinced that the polished mockups that got the company funded were “close to the final product” – and pushed to see that level of visual polish in every version of our MVP. This slowed down our build-test-learn cycle dramatically (as you can imagine). Even worse, members of the team became attached to the beautiful visuals we’d spent so much time on – even when customer testing told us the value prop wasn’t right

LESSON: Don’t fall prey to The Clinkle Effect. Try not to slow down your team by lusting after – and investing in – hi-res visuals too early. Instead, focus on building a low-res, high-value, easy-to-update prototype for your MVP  – it will setup the right incentives to maximize your team’s learning.

Mistake #2: Dismissing Tester Feedback

These days, many  of us worship at the alter of analytics – which are great for many situations, but not all. When you’re doing early MVP design and testing, you’re collecting subjective responses and looking for patterns and “hot spots” of excitement. If you’ve got the right testers, you only need a handful to know if you’re on the right track.

I once worked with an inspiring, fast-growing startup to upgrade their website design and internal processes. We used MVP Design Hacks techniques to mockup and test several variations on the core functionality – and found a winning design that met our product goals, and improved key metrics and subjective ratings for our carefully selected testers.

However, one project manager hated the design – and (along with a branding firm that wanted to redesign the site themselves) dismissed all our prototyping and user feedback results as “too small to count” without analytics on thousands of people.

The company now has a re-branded website with a fresh new logo and colors…. and largely the same core functionality and layout as before. A few months later,  their key competitor launched am almost identical version of the key design element we’d developed through iterative prototyping and testing. It looks and works GREAT. That was a bittersweet moment.

LESSON: The best designs come out of iterative prototyping and testing. Analytics come later. Know when to use both powerful tools.

Mistake #3: Selective Listening

As an entrepreneur, it’s very hard to listen objectively and hear criticism of your great ideas. But if you’re committed to building something people want and need, customer feedback is a gold mine.

A recent client of mine – a toy rental company in the collaborative consumption space – had a great idea for an online community to deepen customer relationships. So we set out to prototype and test that concept. As we interviewed Early Adopters, it quickly became clear that they wanted – some even NEEDED – a curated stream of educational and creatively enriching videos to enthrall their toy-obsessed kids.This was VERY different than the community we’d imagined. The CEO wrestled with the research results, looking for signs of interest in the original idea.

Then – happily – he embraced the key message we were hearing, and set about defining and building the MVP for that community – which is now live and thriving.

LESSON: Listen objectively, like a scientist, for the key message your customers are communicating – even (or especially) if it challenges your core assumptions.

If you want to turbo-charge your MVP progress and avoid boring old mistakes, check out my MVP Design Hacks program