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7 Sins of Startups Working on Their First MVP

Photo by Kai Pilger

Here’s the truth if there ever was one: startups tend to underestimate MVPs. How time-consuming it is to make one. How different what you need is from what you think you need. And so, they make bad calls.

Believe us, we’ve been there, a long time ago, and had to figure it out the hard way. But here’s the upside: now you can learn from the experience of others.

Behold, the 7 sins startup managers make when working on their first MVP!

1. Trying to reinvent the wheel

The idea behind the MVP is to bring the core value to the buyer. But as early as in this stage, new ideas and goals tend to pop up. Why not try to develop a product and software solutions at the same time? Why not try and create your own AWS platform and low-level software for hardware controllers? Why not add this and that, because you can and because it seems so cool?

If this is the case, you need to ask yourself: Is all this work really necessary for you to offer that core value we mentioned?

You are supposed to build a Minimum Viable Product. Do just that. Don’t overgrow your MVP. Your target users need to see their benefits, that’s all. You want to give them something that fulfills their immediate needs and nothing more. Focus on the target. Use the most accessible tools to create the exact product that your customer needs. In the MVP, everything beyond that is a waste of time.

2. Popping the cork too early

Sometimes your idea is good, and even your MVP is good, but you introduce it to the market way too soon. It might prove deadly for your product.

Numerous factors have to align in order for you to succeed. You might be 100% right about the innovation that needs to happen, but the market conditions will stop you right on your track. Thus, you need to watch out for any signs that your product may be ahead of its time. In this case, let it sit on the shelf and wait for a better moment.

3. Being overconfident in your abilities

The no. 1 reason for delayed releases are technical challenges. As a Product Owner, you’ve surely heard some optimistic estimations. “Seems easy enough, we can deal with it quickly, 3 months and we’ll get it done.” And then it took 6 months. If you’re super lucky, everything will go exactly according to plan, but frankly, we don’t know anyone with this much luck. Even if you are prepared and experienced, don’t underestimate Murphy’s laws and give yourself a margin of error.

Scalability is another challenge. Setting up new clients manually can take forever, and the demand could outgrow your ability to supply. So it’s not solely about making a product that works, but also about making a commercial package that is ready for the consumers. Be realistic about your software development estimates. For your own good.

4. Being too optimistic about investors

Oh boy, there’s a new investor coming on board literally next week! Everything is going to be just fine! Right?!

Not really. News about investors tends to be overblown. Don’t count on that truckload of money you were promised, even if they seemed really, really interested when you talked with them last week. You can get rejected after months of seemingly successful negotiation. You can get rejected literally at your ultimate meeting.

Stay positive and open, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch. You got the money only when you actually got the money.

5. Having the wrong customer in mind

What is your Ideal Customer Profile? Without knowing and understanding them deeply you won’t create a product that will deliver what they need. If you decide to create an analysis tool and research your users’ view on the product, you might discover that the topmost value is what you consider a secondary feature. They may use side modules while ignoring the primary functionality!

You should remember that not everyone can or should be your client. Determine what kind of client you want. Understand their needs, and this story will have a “they lived happily ever after.”

6. Multiplying bad prototypes

So you’ve finished a prototype, but now someone else wants something similar. Do you jump at the opportunity? Doing so might actually not be the best solution. Evaluate if it’s worth the effort because you’re probably stretching your resources already. One good product will benefit you more than a dozen half-baked prototypes.

In other words: find your focus. Make sure that your software prototyping leads somewhere.

7. Making delusional plans

You know what they say about promising things. Promises are cheap. Your business plan shouldn’t be just an empty promise. In theory, you can plan ahead for years and even take a whole lot of factors into consideration. But trusting such long-term plans on a project that’s just been born is a symptom of delusion.

During the early stages, you should manage your startup like it’s a child that needs your care. Learn by iteration. Try and try again. Never assume that what you wrote on a piece of paper is the ultimate truth. Instead, calculate your resources, then update your calculations next week, and next week. Use Scrum or other methodology for management.

It’s not about improvising along the way or allowing for chaos. It’s about going forward step by step, reaching milestones on the road to the ultimate goal. Observe the monthly horizon, pinpoint objectives, and strive towards them.

It’s about the nuances

Making any of the above-mentioned mistakes doesn’t make your startup, or your startup’s manager, bad. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. It’s so easy to lose what the MVP is about from your sight. Notice that most of these sins are about just that: going for something else than a Minimum Viable Product.

Make your life easier and simply ask yourself three questions:

  • Does your customer need the product you’re working on?
  • Is your product truly viable? (In other words: is it of solid quality?)
  • Does it offer the core value you’re going for?

If it seems simple, it’s because it is. Don’t overcomplicate it. The reason behind many companies’ problems is overthinking their MVP.

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