I recently listened to the audiobook version of the Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
My motivation for “reading” it is to help with the development of CrankyAds, my software startup. Lean startup principles are particularly good for a software company because of the unlimited features you could develop (given unlimited resources) contrasting with the need to just get something out there in order to find out if people actually want what you have.
The Lean Startup model has a concept known as the “minimum viable product” (MVP). This is a version of your product you create that serves only to test an assumption in the real world by giving your customers something they can actually use. It may not be pretty and certainly does not contain every feature you want it to have, but it’s very effective because it forces you to put something out there as soon as possible (perhaps only to a small segment of the customer base).
The Information Product Business Model
I was thinking back to a time before I had released any information products. After building up this blog and having minimal success with affiliate marketing of ebooks, I decided to write my own ebook.
Of course I never finished that book and in fact I still have it, 75% complete, on my hard drive somewhere.
Instead of the ebook I decided to release a membership site. This project went a lot better because I only needed to finish the first module’s worth of content for my members. From that point forward I created each module as the members worked through the program, staying one week ahead of them.
It was still a whole lot of work to create the membership site, but the model I was following was not complicated. I had a basic password protected wordpress blog and an aweber email list, which is all I needed to distribute my course.
I knew from the start that I wanted my system to be simple despite all the wiz-bang tools out there for hosting membership sites. Technology is a major trip-up when it comes to online business, so by minimizing the components I needed for my membership site, even if it meant forgoing certain features, I was able to launch within three months of switching from an ebook to a membership site.
If you are curious for a detailed breakdown of my membership site model, including all the technology I used, grab yourself a copy of my Membership Site Masterplan free report.
The MVP For Information Products
As time went by I started to realize that when it comes to selling information online, or giving away information for free, or even for simple things like blog articles, the MVP principle is relevant (although I didn’t call it that).
It’s more important to just get something out there rather than um and ahh about all the things you could do to make it better, thus delaying the release. For example, you might hold back publishing a blog post until you have the perfect picture for it, or you might hold back finishing an ebook because you haven’t had it spell checked by a professional, or you might be too scared to do a webinar because your slides are too simple.
The fact is there will always be more you can do, but all you need is “enough”. In most cases people will only take away one or two things from what you do. While nice presentation or pretty graphics or comprehensive details are all good things, if they stop you from releasing anything, they do more harm than good.
Over the years I’ve become even more “lazy” when it comes to information publishing. Lazy may be an unfair label, but in some ways it is true.
One good example of this is my podcast. I used to spend time doing post production editing of my podcast, adding intro and outro music, presenting a summary at the start and exit comments at the end. I was even considering going down the radio show path, doing transitions between segments, adding sound effects and advertising, etc.
The problem with all of these bells and whistles is that they slow me down. It takes longer to go from recording an interview on skype to actually publishing it on the blog if I increase the production value.
The key question is whether the increase in production value helps enough to justify the work and thus delay in publication. My assumption was no, it doesn’t, so I began publishing my interviews completely “as is”. No theme music, no introduction, just straight from skype recording to MP3 and on to the server.
This suited my “lazy” motivation and meant I could quickly record and publish my show. I assumed people really only cared about the interview content itself, the meat of the podcast so to speak, so why not just give them what they want in raw format.
I could go through many more examples like the above where I have cut things down – simplified – in order to speed up production and get things out the door quicker. I realize most people only want a few key things from my resources and in every case I have caused unnecessary delay just because I wasn’t happy with something.
What Is Your MVP?
While you go about your information creating process consider what is the minimum viable product you need to test your assumptions.
Don’t let this become more confusing than it needs to be. It might mean you just click publish on your blog article without a picture every single time (some of my best blog posts in terms of traffic have no pictures at all). Maybe it means you just use a default Microsoft Word template for your next ebook rather than use a custom format, or you use “boring” dot points for your next slide presentation.
The beauty of the MVP concept is that you strip away everything BUT what you need to get your result. In some cases that means you may actually annoy or frustrate or turn away certain groups of people, but they are not necessarily the group of people you care about.
This often rings true when it comes to comparing your buyers versus your noise makers. Inevitably with all product launches you will annoy some people, who depending on their personality will feel the need to tell you about it. Often the people who complain are the people who do not buy and never would, hence spending time to “help” the complainers may not actually be a smart idea. If “products sold” is your core metric, then testing assumptions like this becomes really important.
You have to get tough with yourself and determine what is really important. This is very hard for creative control freak entrepreneurs or people who do not like it when others are complaining about them or their creations (that’s pretty much all entrepreneurs). We want things to look brilliant straight out the door and keep everybody happy. That’s not realistic, especially in situations of resource scarcity. Applying a MVP process makes this kind of decision making scientific, not emotional, an important distinction.
I for one have benefited from thinking lean. My team at CrankyAds are currently in the process of rolling out a couple of MVPs that we hope will help us learn more about what our customers want, thus guiding our development decisions. It’s nice to make decisions like this using MVPs and the data they uncover, rather than just what you “think” is right.