Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Limitations & Danger

By Yasi Baiani

Lean startup methodology and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) are the two terms heavily used these days among the entrepreneurs, technologists, investors, journalists, professors, and students. When a concept becomes so prevailed as MVP today, it’s hard to not step back and think if MVP really applies to every product, business, and industry. The learning that comes from the MVP can definitely be helpful for many businesses. However, Eric Ries’ MVP approach is not one-size-fits-all.  I want to challenge the general perception that MVP is the way to test and launch a product. Here, I highlighted a few cases that the MVP strategy falls short and could be dangerous to use:

  1. Sustaining innovation vs. disruptive innovation: Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits recently had a great blog post at Pando Daily, guiding entrepreneurs to when prevent the MVP route. Their argument is that if you are in “sustaining innovation” business, you should prevent launching with an MVP. However, if your company offers disruptive innovation, the users, especially the early adopters, are willing to take the risk and use your imperfect product. Alternatively, if you are in the sustaining innovation business, you are fighting with competitors based on the features and a better product. So you can’t afford to put an MVP in hands of your users. If your product is not better than existing solutions, there is no reason for people to switch. Thus, going-to-market with an MVP, not only doesn’t result in any useful learning, it could provide a false negative and be detrimental to the team’s spirit.
  2. Certain industries and products: Depending on the nature of the product, the MVP practices could become less relevant. If your company is the next Tesla, your MVP development could be long and expensive enough that one could argue that it’s beyond the scope of MVP practices. MVP in its core is a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. How will you be able to learn about a customer’s experience and willingness to pay for an electric sports vehicles like Tesla without at lease having a prototype for customers to test drive? Does building a prototype of a car really a minimum product?
  3. Businesses with network effect: The idea of developing MVP and testing the demand could be limiting when a business has significant network effects. Building a network or even a mini-network (for the testing purposes) is challenging and time consuming. Until a company offers a compelling enough product, attracting a large number of users wont be feasible. Thus, having an MVP will not necessarily provide as much learning; particularly if the company is in sustaining innovation.
Given these limitations of MVP, entrepreneurs should know their industry and customers very well in order to decide if they want to initially go-to-market with an MVP and if so, what level of minimum features they need.


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