“Our MVP is to build a landing page.” That’s what I heard from one of the participants at the recent Lean Startup Machine (LSM) in Toronto after I asked him how they’re testing their riskiest assumption.

I was dumbfounded. As a mentor and speaker in the last two LSM in Toronto, I’ve heard my share of face-palm comments. But that has to take the LSM Darwin Award.

There’s a misconception that landing pages are minimum viable products and a sure path to a bazzilion-dollar valuation. Here’s how it goes:

Step 1: Think of an awesome idea

Step 2: Create a sexy MVP landing page. Make sure all the pixels are in place, and all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.

Step 3: Get a billion sign ups before the product is built.

Step 4: Build the product

Step 5: Make a bazzilion dollars.

That’s usually not how it goes. Yes, some people might be rockstar marketers and get 1,000+ people to sign up on their landing page. But, you’re forgetting what a Minimum Viable Product is, according to Eric Ries.

A Minimum Viable Product is version of  your “product” that maximizes validated learning for the least amount of effort.

The key words here are “maximize validated learning.” A landing page might be a good smoke test since it doesn’t require a lot of effort, but you’re far from maximizing validated learning.

Look at it this way. Let’s say somehow you were able to lure your friends or some poor souls through Google AdWords to your awesome landing page. There’s two possible scenario for this visitor to your landing page:

Scenario 1: They sign up with their email. Ok, great, they’ve signed up. He or she must really like your product to sign up. What is their biggest pain point that made them want to sign up? Will they be willing to pay? What features would they like to see built? You don’t know. You can email them. Good luck trying to get a response.

Scenario 2: They don’t sign up. Why didn’t they sign up? WHY?!?! Your product is so awesome. Was it poor copy, poor product/market fit, or both? You don’t know. There’s no way to reach out to them.

As you can see from both scenarios, you’re far from maximizing validated learning. In fact, you’re leaving a lot of possible validated learning on the table.

Instead of creating another humdrum landing page, get out of the building, talk to possible customers and hack together a creative solution to solve their problems. Try one of the following MVPs.

1) Email MVP

My friend Ryan Hoover wrote a really interesting blog post a few months ago about startups that started off by email. Yes, you heard that right, the low-tech, un-sexy and annoying technology called email. Some of the email-first startups included TimeHop, which began as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo emailing Foursquare check-ins from exactly one year ago, and even AngelList, which started off as a weekly email with a curated list of angel investors.

2) Blog MVP

Another creative way you can solve your customer’s problem is through blog. Did you know that Groupon, according to an interview with founder Andrew Mason, started off as a blog? They simply took a WordPress blog, hacked and customized it with the Groupon brand, and posted daily discounts, restaurant gift certificates, concert vouchers, movie tickets, and other deals in the Chicago area. Then, they simply emailed the coupons to the customers who bought the deals.

3) Video MVP

If your product is too technical to create an email or blog MVP, you can make a video instead. One of the best examples is Dropbox. In parallel with their product development efforts, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston created a five-minute video of their product as it is meant to work (here’s a link to the original video). This increased their signup for their product from 5,000 to 75,000 overnight. You can even take the next step and launch a Kickstarter campaign with your video. Money, money, money is the best validation of a business even before a product is built!

4) Hustle MVP

Finally, if you can’t think of an elegant way to crack a problem, you just have to solve it by brute force. Hustle MVP is, as its name implies, simply getting out of the building and selling your product. One of the winners from last year’s LSM Toronto made over $950 in a weekend, by sifting through resume to find ideal candidates for companies. In a blog post, Jason Little from the winning team explained that after creating paper prototypes to explain how they can find better candidates for clients, they made their first sale in less than 24 hours! Of course, who can forget about last year’s winner of LSM Ultimate San Francisco, Mark Abramson and his team, who made $4,500 in a weekend!

More Learning For Less Effort

Next time you get the itch to build a landing page as your MVP, stop yourself. Get out of the building. Talk to customers. Then try to hack and build something that will maximize validated learning for the least amount of effort.

 

This post is part of my MVP blog series. You can read the rest of them here:

Interested to read more about product development tips and Lean Startup tactics? Subscribe to my email list or follow me on Twitter (@RamliJohn).

Edit: After I wrote this essay, Joel, CEO of Buffer, responded by writing an essay about how Buffer used a landing page to connect and talk to customers to get validated learning. The key here is that they used the landing page as means to talk to customers and eventually make their first sale in less than three days after launching.

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Written by

Growth, analytics and inbound marketing professional. Computer science educated from University of Waterloo, full-stack developer turned growth hacker. Follow me at @RamliJohn. Ready to help you with your growth issues at http://bit.ly/help-me-ramlijohn

16 thoughts on “A Landing Page Is NOT A Minimum Viable Product

  1. “Nothing validates a business than getting paying customers before the product is built.” It think there’s a word missing in your sentence :) Great post.

  2. Thoughtful stuff, I could not agree more. If you are going to launch a successful start-up, you’ll need to be incredibly pro-active, imaginative, and forward looking. You never get to rest on accomplishments.

  3. Eric Ries’s definition is theoretical and is best interpreted (in my opnion) by the more pragmatic Steve Blank, who states: an MVP is:

    – a tactic for cutting back on wasted engineering hours,
    – a strategy to get the product into earlyvangelists hands as soon as possible, and lastly
    – a tool for generating maximum customer learning in the shortest possible time

    I think were confusing the two types of MVPs. The first is called the ‘low-fidelity’ MVP – the idea here is to determine what ‘not’ to ship, exposes the germ of the product to the target as early as possible with the least amount of resources. In this case, the landing page actually is a low-fidelity MVP as long as it’s gathering customer feedback. The goal isn’t sales, it’s customer feedback at this point mirrored with rapid testing and iteration. The ‘high-fidelity’ MVP is the result of agile development with continuous deployment and continuous feature refinrefinemenates. By this point you have far more data insight on users to better inform or ‘pivot’ on the business model. Many startups have recently been successful with this approach: MyShoeBox, Mantry, Woof etc…

  4. As with everything in the product management/startup space, it’s an “it depends” situation. If the thing you need most to learn right now is “is there anyone in the world who might find this valuable?” then a landing page might be a good way to answer that question. I probably have a lot more “validated learning” to do after that, but it’s a start. I think the landing page idea came from Reis’ own story about how no one even clicked on the call to action on their first landing page and the recognition that making sure you can get some clicks is more important than building a high quality product – at one point in the cycle. If I don’t have anything but a conjecture, and want to know if I should invest in the conjecture, the minimum I can do to test it might be a cheap AdWords campaign and a landing page.

    • absolutely agree with this. Instead of building an MVP, you can validate the ‘need’ for your product with a simple landing page. The trick is to be as ‘lean’ as possible, even building an MVP takes time and hence money. IMHO A landing page is the best/cheapest way to validate that your idea is even worthwhile.

  5. Would you consider a KickStarter campaign (like the one from Peeble) a MVP?
    It is not delivering value to the costumer but it brings a lot of learning ( how many people are interested, how much money are they willing to pay).

    • Hey Luiz, yeah a KickStarter test out one of your riskiest assumption – demand and willingness to pay. In this case, you’re capturing value (money) before you even deliver value (delivering on the promise). I think what you have to watch out for is whether people would be disappointed with the product and return it.

    • Definitely! I love to use Kickstarter as an illustration of the importance of finding a good market problem and of taking your solution to market well. You don’t even have to have a solution to get paid for it! Of course, if you don’t deliver a good solution at some point you won’t have a successful business.

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