Things to Do Before You Build a Minimum Viable Product

As a founder and an engineer I understand the strong desire to build and ship a product, then collect feedback to see how customers feel about it.  So when founders come to me stating they are ready to build their product, and need to recruit technical teammates to make it happen, I dig into their idea: Who is the customer specifically? What is the common feedback they’ve given on the idea?  What is your product roadmap?

Why would I bother asking such questions instead of just making an email intro to the engineers in my network?  For a few reasons.

I want to make sure you’re actually ready to build.

You might think you’re ready to build because you have an idea, but if you haven’t at least done the following steps:

  • Market research to understand competitors and figure out how you’re going to differentiate your product from theirs
  • Market segmentation to figure out who your early adopter is.
  • Usability tests on paper prototypes to get potential customers (not your friends) to valid the concept and provide feedback.
  • Built a product roadmap based on feedback from the usability tests to guide the direction of what you’re building.

Then you’re just not ready to build, and truthfully any stellar candidate I refer you to isn’t going to want to work for your either.  Even if they come on board you’ll have a hard time retaining them.  The one rare exception I’d make is if you plan to bring them on as a co-founder, then it makes sense for them to be involved early on in the process, but still no one should be writing any code!

While there are a number of arguments floating around about how cheap and fast it is to build, truth is still takes an number of iterations to get things right, and the last time I checked engineer salaries were only on the rise…  You need to perform some keys steps before you bring someone on board to build, because whether someone is getting paid or working for sweat equity, people want to know what they are building and for whom.  They don’t want to run around in circles with you, that’s exclusively your job as the founder at an early stage :)


Things to Do

  1. Market Research.  Perhaps this is becoming an antiquated concept, but I think more founders need to do this step to avoid too many pivots later on.  There is no substitute for knowing the market your in, competitors, their product offering, the customers they are servicing, and customer sentiment about their product.  If you do this step well you will actually be able to expose customers, their needs, and how you can differentiate your value proposition to attract them and make your MVP succeed.
  2. Market Segmentation.  Once you’ve done market research, you want to segment. I know once again there is desire to solve a problem for a LOT of people, but you’ve gotta start somewhere, and attract early adopters.  From the market research figure out who actually needs or wants your product craft that into a persona, and that will be the early adopter you go after.  
  3. Usability Tests.  The early adopter is the customer who you’ll have initial conversations with and perform usability tests on.  At BizeeBee, we uncovered that independent yoga studio owner who were sole proprietors as our early adopters.  I had a number of conversations with them, and showed them a series of paper prototypes for nearly 6 months before writing a single line of code.  These folks became our customer base when we launched 2 years ago.  Since then the customer base has broadened, but it was wise to have the early adopter have a very specific persona for targeting and providing a clear value proposition.  Ours at the time was making it easy to take attendance and track expired yoga students.  Have a specific persona also made it easier on my teammates when it came to thinking about the customer.  
  4. Product Roadmap.  Through the process of performing usability tests on some paper mockups you should be able to solicit feedback from potential customers, figure out what are absolute needs, prioritize them, and have a bucket of nice-to-haves.   All of this will go into the product roadmap, and that roadmap will need to be showcased to potential hires, so they know where you are going before they decide to hop on board for the ride.

So if you tell me you’ve performed all those steps, then I’d say yes you’re ready to recruit!  The next step for you will be to learn how to recruit!  But if you haven’t completed your to-do list or you’re stuck on how to do any of those steps and want to learn the techniques you need to accomplish a number of these to-do’s then check out our Lean Product Development Course, where we cover all of these todo’s and provide you individualized feedback Learn more!

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