MVP and SEO for “Radical Products”

By Craig Danton

Conceiving a product that radically disrupts user behavior – one that seems to break the laws of incremental logic - is what drives many of us to create or even join a “rocket ship” startup.  We signup for the HBS journey and from day one we drink the Kool-Aid of lean startup methodology from a fire hose.  Is this prescriptive and somewhat risk averse method going to galvanize products that will flip consumer behavior in ways we cannot imagine? The answer it seems, as with all things startup, is yes…and a healthy no. 
How Lit motors managed to get as far as they did with $720,000 in funding, is a tribute to some extremely creative MVP testing. But after the size and feel of the prototype is figured out, how close to the finished product do they have to get before we know if someone (without extra $$) is going to wake up and want to hop in their C-1 to get to work? At what point is this still lean if the cost of each experiment increases each time? If you have a vision for product, it could be better to save time and bet on yourself – bet that you have a Jobs-like sense of ‘consumer’ and if wrong, well at least you had the money to bring your dream to market rather than stagnate in a sea of tests – see Aardvark.
The lesson here is that hypothesis testing is about increasing the chance of success for the least cost possible. In the case of a capital intensive project this may just be a few percent but in cases like dropbox perhaps it is orders of magnitude. The pitfall in these incremental changes – especially for radical product design – is that there needs to be a very strong vision for the product from the beginning if you are going to save your idea from becoming a frankenproduct.
Listening to Mark Roberge talk about inbound marketing at Hubspot got me thinking that even if we do make it through all our experiments and bring our product to market, how will people find it if they wouldn’t think to search for it? At least with a piece of hardware like a C-1 you can drive it around and show the world but what about enterprise software that nobody talks about externally for fear of losing an advantage. Mark points out that this, ironically, is the exact problem that Hubspot had at their inception – after all what exactly is an inbound marketing firm and why would you search for one?
Blogging and tweeting about related products and services is just fine – but is there a measurable data-driven way to understand how to reach the primed consumer? After chatting about this blog with my wife (a googler) last night, she explained that if in a pinch for dollars, you could use free tools like Google Trends and Correlate to understand what, where and how user intent changes with regards to a ‘market’ or product.  For example, what did the guys who actually searched ‘inbound marketing’ search for as related terms – perhaps it was ‘inbound outbound marketing definition.’ Well then backtrack from that and see what the related searches are for that term, and perhaps it’s ‘website grader’ and all the volume is coming from India and US. Hone in on your consumer by mapping the path to intent and find the sweet spot where curiosity turns into customer.  


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