Minimum Viable Product isn’t just for tech startups…

Yesterday a friend asked me for some advice.

Upset by everything that’s going on with police shootings in the US, she wanted to encourage people to take responsibility for the situation as a way of helping us all as a nation deal with the matter.

Her vision was to create a platform to inform people on local initiatives. The site would have members’ areas, forums and other engagement tools.

Also she wanted to produce a high quality video to kick things off where people would share testimonials of how they personally planned on taking responsibility.

She was already talking to contacts, finding out information and interviewing technology partners and I was on her list of potential advisers.

Her Idea was well intentioned, ambitious and totally righteous.

But there was a problem.

She has a full time job and no money.

And building even the simplest tech platform can take months of development. Talking to political organizations can take months of bureaucracy. Creating high quality videos can take months of production. And all of this stuff takes strategic planning and at at least some sort of initial investment.

I thought her idea was awesome. But based on my experience with projects like this her chances of success miniscule.


Her resources simply didn’t match her vision at this point in time.

We as creative people all have great ideas for projects, businesses, and new inventions.

And when we visualize these in our heads, we see them for all the great things they can be. An idea for a movie becomes a 6 feature franchise and merchandise line. A life coaching business looks like a 6 day seminar in the Bahamas with 3000 clients having multiple breakthroughs and walking on hot coals.

Then when this vision becomes sufficiently powerful to move us to action we go for it.

We take our high level grandiose plan and start tackling components – bit by bit, one by one and sometimes all at once.

We do this because we are ambitious and that grand vision is very compelling.

But then problems arise.

Running out of resources is one.

But also, we often model our ideas based on mature franchises and businesses that had time to grow their complexities organically. They hadn’t started as grandiose visions. They started out small with simple goals solving simple problems for small groups of people.

And when a project becomes too complicated or overwhelming momentum slows down and often grinds to a halt.

Then we discard the project and move to something else.

I love grand visions, but I’ve seen too many potentially great ideas never see the light of day because founders attempted to attack the entire vision all at once.

But there is a way to achieve these grand visions.

It’s called minimum viable product.

In short, it’s the absolute simplest way to solve the problem.

Make your plans and create the long term vision because that’s what will truly motivate you to act.

But then take the time to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the core problem my concept solves?
  2. If my concept solves several problems, which one is MOST important?
  3. If I had to solve this problem in 1 month and for under $500 how would I do it?
  4. What existing platforms and technologies can I use to do it?

I believe there’s always a way to pair ideas down to their core, validate them in the market and let them generate their own steam.

The journey of a thousand miles ALWAYS begins with a single step.

But that step has to be in the right direction.

So my friend and I spoke at length about her concept and what she can do to make it a reality. We came up with a simple plan that would take less than a month to execute and could be effective to get her message across. Not only that, it would validate her idea to see if it would have the impact she wanted.

For the platform part of the concept we would set up a simple landing page and a Facebook page. This would effectively leverage two existing platforms – Facebook and simple Squarespace landing page (basically a simple, one page website with sign-in form).

Instead of creating a long video, my friend would upload a video she could make at home in 10 minutes talking about how she could “take responsibility” Then she would urge all her friends to do the same. The result would be a page where you can hear different voices sharing their ideas on how they could take responsibility in our current climate.

Then, a link would feed into the landing page where people could sign a petition to accept responsibility.

This simple to set up system, would get across the core concept by creating a showcase for people taking responsibility, as well as a place for people to take action. Basically everything the larger concept would have achieved in two simple steps.

Katie could set the whole thing up in less than two weeks and put it out to the world.

Then she would gauge the result.

Is it working? Is it inspiring people? Can she promote it to other outlets and movements congruent with her message?

She could have the answers to all her questions in weeks and then see if the project deserves more resources.

And this approach can be applied to nearly any project.

When I set up this site I did the same thing. I spent 3 weeks putting the materials and website together and launched. I knew it would need work and take time to evolve, but I needed to get feedback so I can develop it in the right direction.

That’s the beauty of living in the digital age.

Now just to play devil’s advocate – this approach may not be right for everything. Creating a minimum viable product means the first product people see will probably rough around the edges and not fully mature. While this is often ok, some products will definitely need more love.

Especially products whose value lies in unique design.

The important thing is to recognize the type of product you have and what it needs. Can it be scaled back? What is the core function? Can it be achieved with less?

Then go for it. Get it out there. Make it happen. The world needs more creators creating positively charged projects, testing, and solving the world’s most important problems.