“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:
- A Landing Page Is NOT A Minimum Viable Product
- My Buffer MVP – Idea to Paying Customer In 1 Day Without A Landing Page
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.