Forget MVP - Here's How You Build Your Minimally Awesome Product

As a graduate student, I took a class on Lean Entrepreneurship that was taught by Sean Ammirati, who has been in and around the start-up world for quite some time.  Besides serving as an active partner at Birchmere Ventures and an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Sean is also the former Chief Operating Officer of ReadWriteWeb and co-founder and CEO of mSpoke, which was the first acquisition of LinkedIn.

During the class, we learned the essential elements of Lean Entrepreneurship, such as understanding the processes to efficiently validate core hypothesis at each stage for a given startup, how to conduct customer discovery and development, differentiating between different digital business models, and how to build and lead an effective team at each stage of development.

One of the class’s lectures looked at the idea of a Minimally Viable Product (MVP).

The MVP, as defined by Eric Reis, is "that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort."

During the lecture, Sean posited an idea that doesn’t get enough merit in the Lean Startup world. Sean’s position was that the MVP acronym for Minimally Viable Product should be changed to MAP and stand for Minimally Awesome Product, because excited entrepreneurs were misinterpreting “viable” as meaning “sloppily put together”.

To illustrate, Sean tells the story of two young guys who had an idea for a website that would help streamline a major life event (wedding, funeral, graduation, etc.) planning process for couples. The founders had read and re-read Eric Reis’s Lean Startup and were devout believers of the book’s wisdom. For their first MVP, they created a landing page and then bought some pay-per click (PPC) advertising on platforms such as Facebook. They got ZERO responses!

Thinking something was wrong, perhaps their submit button was malfunctioning, Sean agreed to look at their landing page out of curiosity. What he was confronted with was a black hole of a product: a webpage with all black text and a white background, zero formatting, no images, and just pages and pages of text. The issue was clear. These two entrepreneurs had made something a little too minimal, something that was more mind map than product. Nobody was getting to the email subscribe part of their webpage because no one wanted to scroll through pages of plain text. 

As he explained:

“We believe the experience matters and frankly I’ve met with too many entrepreneurs over the years that mistakenly interpreted a lack of demand around a concept when it really was at least partially due to an ugly or unnecessarily complicated interface.  While an MVP should only contain the core features and trust visionary customers to fill in the gaps, those essential benefits can’t be delivered through a horrible experience.”

The two entrepreneurs from Sean’s story had interpreted the MVP as a simple shortcut or quick way to do things right. Rather, even an MVP takes time, craft, and patience to build something that will matter and last. This common misinterpretation around MVP is why you need a Minimally Awesome Product! When you change the vocab to anchor the product creators in the mindset of creating an awesome product - that is, a product that is just awesome enough to make your visionary customers eager to use it - you have a better chance at actually having a successful build, measure, and learn cycle since you’ll actually have some demand for your product which will then provide you with learning. You're ready: lets stop building MVPs and start building MAPs.