Minimum Viable Product #MVP isn’t quite what it claims to be

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If you ever had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on your circumstances) to get involved with an early stage technology company, you would have heard no ending of the abbreviation MVP. For the unfamiliar, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. While we use the term liberally, do we really understand what it means? More importantly, has your early stage product reached the status of MVP?

I would like to argue that MVP is not a single state of a product. In fact, it revolves around three stages, depending on your vision and strategy.

The Minimum Usable Product

Many startups fall into the trap of building a product with many features before inviting external users.  The product can be deemed useful when it delivers a single benefit, irrespective of how small the benefit might be, to an outsider. In most cases, the development team may not consider it as sufficiently of benefit to a user, at this stage. So they continue to add further functionality until such time, the team decides that the product has sufficient functionality to achieve stickiness.

By doing so, you loose the opportunity to test functionality in detail one at a time and gather early user feedback. Whilst some teams love early user engagement, others hate having to answer questions as they are fully aware of the missing functionality without users having to remind them. I’ve personally experienced both.

  • Whilst edocr.com wasn’t build with lean startup principles, we nevertheless launch a product, which can only be deemed as an Alpha product. With hindsight, it had too many functions, but worst of all, was full of bugs.
  • We have not yet launched LiveStax V2. Yet, a version of it was released to support a sport charitable event, Strive Challenge. A similar version could be released today for all, yet, its considered as of not sufficient functionality.
  • Contrast to both edocr and LiveStax, Buffer in early days followed the lean startup methodology to the letter. Joel built and launch Buffer in 7 weeks (read the story here).

Its important to truly understand the goals and objectives of the first usable product. Is this to gain users, who might eventually become customers? Are you using early users to validate the product and vision? Is this to iron out bugs and improve the usability of the product? Or could this be for a combination of above?

The Minimum Saleable Product

The Minimum Saleable Product on the other hand is quite different. This is the very first version of the product that a customer is willing to pay for.

Clarification: Customers pay to use the product. Users use the product without paying.

Drawing from experiences:

  • Whilst LiveStax V2 (history: V1 was launched inside the parent company in Jan 2014) can be released as a minimum useable product, functionality necessary for charging customers is yet to be built.
  • Buffer (history: I’ve known Joel for a long time and thought his idea for Buffer was silly) gained the first customer in seven weeks from starting before even the functionality was there.
  • edocr.com started as a free service and remained the same for many years before pricing was introduced. edocr now operates a freemium pricing strategy, similar to Buffer and other services.

The Minimum Viable/Scalable/Sustaining Product

Whether your product is offered free or generate revenues through subscriptions isn’t the real test. The real test is on the scalability of the solution in terms of sustaining and growing its user base and/or revenues. If its sustainable, the additional functionality can be built and the product can be further refined, in addition to hiring more people and building a business around the product.

You should not confuse yourself thinking above state is same as achieving product/market fit. Your product require significant traction before reaching product/market fit state.

Summary

The Minimum Useable Product provides a small benefit to your users whilst validating the product idea. The Minimum Saleable Product confirms that customers are willing to pay for the minimum product you built. The Minimum Viable Product signals you to continue to build the product with early market re-assurance that people are happy to use and pay for your product. At this point, one can conclude that your product has achieved the minimum viable state, where a business can be built around the product.

evp-vs-mvpIf we compare the three products mentioned against the graph from Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz, then:

  • It is possible when LiveStax is eventually launched to outsiders, it might reach Exceptional Viable Product stage, by passing typical MVP state.
  • Whilst this is my personal opinion, Buffer fitted into a state between Zero and Quite Small on the x-axis, when it was first launch.
  • Whilst edocr was buggy at Alpha launch (we actually called it edocr Alpha), it fitted into Quite Small state, even though, no lean startup methodology was followed. Whilst bugginess should have reflected in Pathetic on Y-Axis, we actually gained decent publicity and sign up rate in the first 3 months after launching.

Enjoy the story of how Joel built Buffer in 7 weeks

I would love to hear your experiences of launching a Minimum Viable Product.

Image credits: Martin Christensen and  Rand Fishkin (Moz)

Ain’t that cool meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace

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Who would have thought an ordinary guy from Gampaha (Sri Lanka) would one day be shaking the hand of Queen of Great Britain and the Commonwealth at Buckingham Palace, and be joking with Duke of Edinburgh and Duke of York.

Well, that just happened to me on 9th June 2014. I was among number of leading figures in UK’s tech scene to be invited to Buckingham Palace for a reception held by the Queen.

Those days when I first got involved with tech, it wasn’t sexy. Very few people recognised its potential. And many took years to recover from the dark days of dot com bust. Today it’s completely a different story. If you ignore tech now, it will be at your own peril.

The UK tech scene has come a long way since Sam Sethi, Ivan Pope, Imran Ali and I plotted to build the ecosystem in 2006, initially as a way to provide Sam with tech startup stories from outside London. Those who do not know Sam Sethi, he was the original Editor of TechCrunch UK. These days TechCrunch Europe is run by Mike Butcher, and I just got back home attending the 2014 Europas he founded. Mike has done a tremendous contribution to the growth of tech ecosystem in the UK.

Way back in 2008 Mark Prisk, who was then in the opposition and later became the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, was an early proponent of tech startups. In 2011, British Prime Minister, David Cameron announced the creation of Tech City around the Silicon Roundabout in Shoreditch. Now its the turn of Duke of York to bring the support of the Monarchy.

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Many folks have asked me to share my experience of meeting the Queen.

First of all, I thought it was a hoax when I received an email from the Private Secretary to the Duke of York requesting confirmation of my details so that she could send an invitation to attend the Tech Reception.

Receiving the invitation by post resulted in my wife finally believing it. And the kids were overjoyed. And so was my father.

So I treated myself to a new suit, and let the shop manager select the shirt and the tie for me. Didn’t quite believe in the pink tie at first, but the sales manager was spot on.  Wonder how much revenues UK retail have generated as a result of this single visit. Almost all of us have invested in a new attire.

It was quite surreal waiting outside the gates of Buckingham Palace among the tourists until it was 17:30hrs. I was in great company with friends from the tech industry, some of whom I have known for many years. Tech is a great industry where you learn from your peers. Its a give and take industry, where those who have made it, shares their secrets of success openly.

palaceWhilst we all had car park permits allowing us to drive-in, I decided to travel from Manchester by train and taxi, some of the others drove in to the inner car park. I wonder how they must have felt.

We had a two-hour long reception where canapés and champagne were served. We then lined up to meet Her Majesty the Queen, something I was not expecting. What an amazing moment.. And the brilliant smile on the face of her Majesty the Queen. Felt very honoured to be in her presence.

I wonder how Oli Barrett must have felt when he received his MBE sometime back. May be I should have asked him..

Later Prince Philip just walked in and started to chat with us. Instead of talking about tech, I shared my story of growing up in Sri Lanka and waving at him and Queen as they travelled to Kandy from Colombo by train. Whilst I saw the train go past, we never actually saw them in the train.  It seems his first visit to Sri Lanka was in 1940 and he remembers Sri Lanka well. Who would have thought one day I would meet them in person in their own home..

Whilst I have not spoken to Duke of York until yesterday, I have met him once at Sci-Tech Daresbury. Both Duke of Edinburgh and Duke of York moved among us with ease.  Perhaps tech may have played its part in bringing monarchy closer to the general public.

So what’s next? May be I should aim high..who knows where this might leads to..

Hope my lovely wife would forgive me for not celebrating our 21st anniversary, which fell on the same day.

Lastly, I know the person who recommended me. And its nice to be appreciated and recognised. Thank you.

Twitter List

Press Coverage:

Social Media Coverage:

  • Had an amazing respond on Facebook. Lot less on Twitter.

Great quote on failure

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“I do believe, though, that those who have tried and failed to build their own dream make for the finest startup employees, the best sergeants and lieutenants, as long as you can make them feel that the enterprise they are joining can in some small way become their own. I would always choose someone who has failed repeatedly over someone who has never really tried to achieve anything. If nothing else, failing again and again teaches you how to keep fighting; and while helping to build someone else’s dream isn’t anywhere near as rewarding as bringing life to your own, it’s miles better than not dreaming at all.” John Evans, TechCrunch

Death by email? Say NO!

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How often do you hear of colleagues moaning about the size of their inbox? Today, I heard a similar issue from a colleague who is having more than 300 emails in their inbox. I remember the days when I used to receive more than 300 emails a day. These days, my inbox is less than 10. And I do have multiple email accounts. Here is how I managed to reduce my emails and maintain these levels for well over a year:

First of all you cannot start the process until you clear the backlog. I suggest the following steps to get email count back to zero:

  1. Take a quick glance of each of the emails over 3 months old and delete them without responding.
  2. If the email is about a critical issue, the sender would have sent you few reminders
  3. For the remaining emails, reply to the sender with a response that is no more than 3 sentences.
  4. Do not send the response to everyone copied on the original email. This will only create more emails.
  5. You may need to lock yourself in a room to respond or delete the backlog. Its better to do this in one go if you can, rather than split over a number of days.

Having cleared the backlog, here are few steps you can follow to reduce the quantity of emails you receive:

  1. Unsubscribe from all unwanted services to stop receiving email newsletters
  2. Keep responses to three sentences or less.
  3. Do not send responses to all those copied on the original email. Send to the originator only, and if you have to, only to those who must see you response.
  4. When writing emails, ask yourself the question whether you need to send it to more than one person. Only copy to others, if they will act on your email. Do not send if its just for information. Your colleagues are overloaded with information just like you.
  5. Consider using a collaborative solution such as Jive, LiveStax, Chatter, Yammer etc for sharing information.
  6. Unsubscribe notifications from all your social media channels.
  7. Visit your key social media channels daily to check their respective inboxes. Don’t forget to maintain them just like your emails.
  8. Lastly, make sure you clear your inbox daily.

This should help you to be in control of your emails. Hope this helps! If it does, do consider sharing this blog post!

Idea for a new Service? UniversalGroups!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image7065759Most applications, whether they are designed for the web, smart phone or tablet, or for consumers or businesses have the ability to create groups. Groups are an effective and universally understood way to manage lists of contacts.  But they are becoming a pain in the back side to administer, as you need to repeat the same across your favourite web applications. What if there is an app which could be used across web applications that simplify this nightmare?

Commenting

Few years ago, commenting on blog posts was a nightmare. This was simplified by services such as Disqus and Livefyre. These services plug in with blogging platforms and bring your comments and any responses into one manageable space. They seem to have also overcome the spamming issues of yesteryears.

May be something similar could be setup to address the issue of Groups. Instead of creating application specific groups, you add contacts in web applications into a UniversalGroup, which you can use inside other web applications. There is a danger in the UniversalGroup becoming another contact management solution such as Full Contact. So lot of thought would need to go into making sure it address the core problem.

 

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Analysis of Salesforce.com’s growth – Key is marketing & sales spent

sfdcWhilst mapping out the strategy for LiveStax, I spent few hours analysing the growth of Salesforce.com, the most inspiring tech company right now. The spreadsheet can be accessed here. As you can see from the graph, Salesforce.com has achieved phenomenal growth since inception in 1999. Salesforce.com filed for IPO in 2004, and a decent summary can be found on David Cumming’s blog.

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Whilst there are many factors to Salesforce.com’s success, what stands out for me is nothing other than their marketing and sales spent. Salesforce.com has spent a staggering $1.5 billion in its first 10 years to generate over $1bn in revenues by year 10.

In 2013, Salesforce spent over 52.92% of their revenues in marketing and sales, a mammoth $1.6 bn. But what is remarkable is that having launched the product in Feb 2000, Salesforce.com spent $25.3 million in marketing and sales over the next 12 months (start of Feb 2000 to end of Jan 2001), a whopping 467.19% of revenues that year.

To achieve revenues of £5.4 million in first 12 months is still a remarkable feat today. Would be interesting to watch how these % change as Salesforce.com marches towards $5n and $10 bn annual revenues in near future.

In case your interested, here is the 2013 annual report.

 

 

Testing edocr WordPress Plugin

Let’s see how this renders by simply adding the edocr Document URL http://www.edocr.com/doc/110658/white-paper-how-get-started-skilled-trade, which then uses #oEmbed – same plugin displays the document thumbnails on the right hand side bar

Above was not good. Let’s try again…

Ok, it seems the URL has to be on its own. Need to fix the width. This may be due to edocr oEmbed releasing fixed width 658px

My first exit (asset sale) – Northern Tech Awards

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This post should have been written on 1st August 2013 when I sold Northern Tech Awards to GP Bullhound, a boutique investment bank, as I was emotionally fired up on that great scorching day in Manchester.

Since 2004, I founded few businesses, some have gone horribly wrong and others have thrived. Northern Tech Awards was not a business, but a key asset that emerged from Techcelerate. It was setup as the highlight of the year, when I used to run over 20 events a year, and our strong community of 2,300 tech entrepreneurs, senior managers of tech companies, investors, deal makers and service providers demanded of a key annual event.

Running a tech startup is damn hard. I have scars to prove it. Northern Tech Awards was the annual event, where the community as a whole recognised those startups which stood above the rest of us. It was a night to dress well, be recognised and celebrate in style.

My tiny team and I ran Northern Tech Awards for three years with no budget, and it was getting bigger in terms of expectations for us to manage effectively. And out of the blue, Hugh Campbell of GP Bullhound came with an offer I could not resist. Big thanks goes to Garyy Partington of Apadmi and RealityMine, the only unbeatable winner of the three years we ran the Awards, who introduced me to Hugh the afternoon of this years Awards.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who made it happen, from the judges who gave their time and put up with my spreadsheets, to sponsors, applicants and attendees, and not forget to mention my wife Nishani who continues to put up with my entrepreneurial efforts, and my good friend Stuart Scott-Goldstone who has not yet given up on me.

I look forward to supporting the new team, especially Hugh and Bev from GP Bullhound to continue and build upon our success.

In case you wonder, yes, we drank Champagne, and I do have a picture to prove it!

Are you an awesome UI/UX Visual Designer?

LiveStax, when launched will blow your mind! It is an amazing product created by Phil Brown and Ross Alderson, and a team of highly talented software engineers over a period of 2 years.

We now need to give LiveStax a soul, and that’s where you come in, if you are a highly talented UI/UX visual designer, who’s prepared to break existing design boundaries, and create a paradigm shift in design innovation for SaaS web applications. You are the missing piece in our talented team.

LiveStax is a SaaS framework. Imagine it as a canvas, where the canvas is filled with information coming from many software applications. We need the awesome buttons to be created, corners to be crafted and amazing colour combinations to be introduced.

Here is an example of a design that tick us.

 

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Image rights Ashok Ramesh

We are flexible to suit your terms from a short term contract to full employment. Please contact me directly regarding this amazing opportunity.