PreneurCast is a business podcast. Each week, author and marketer Pete Williams and digital media producer Dom Goucher discuss entrepreneurship, business, internet marketing and productivity.
Pete’s back from his Ironman race, and while he recovers, this week Dom takes the lead to talk about the idea of Minimum Viable Product, and more importantly, the JFDI methodology.
Dom talks to Pete about doing minimum work and get results to make conscious decisions
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Minimum Viable Product
Pete Williams: Dom Goucher. How are you, buddy?
Dom Goucher: Mr. Peter Williams, the Ironman himself.
Pete: Yes, I did finish. I survived, and I’m still in one piece. It is very exciting.
Dom: My legs get wobbly running for the bus. So if you can even stand up now a few days later, I’m in awe of you.
Pete: Thank you, sir. Thank you. It was a tough day at the office; it got to about 38 degree Celsius officially. On the street, it got above 40 at some point. The wind wasn’t great either. It was a tough day at the office, but I survived and crossed the finished line. I was very happy to get it under 12 hours. All in all, I had a good day out and about.
Dom: I understand you did a reasonable time against your original goal.
Pete: The original goal was 12 and a half. When I first started training, I thought I hadn’t ridden a bike or swam in a couple of years. Although, I did it pretty seriously years ago, I hadn’t done much training about until 21 weeks or so. I thought 14 hours would be a decent goal time and that came down to 12.5 pretty quickly. Then I was doing sub 12 hours. So extremely happy, given the conditions and all that sort of stuff.
Dom: Good on you, mate. I am genuinely proud of you for the effort you put in and for the results. Well done.
Pete: Much appreciated. We’ll put a couple of photos up on PreneurMedia.tv site for those who want to see some actions; we might as well throw them up on that.
Dom: Cool, I’m particularly intrigued by the after rather than the before shots. Alright, mate. In honor of you still recovering, I think we might not be too long on this call. We’ll try to keep it at a reasonable time. While you were away, there are a couple of things that come up.
I really want to talk to you about this because both in the Mastermind Group for the 7 Levers and also some of my own clients, consulting clients, there’s a topic that has come up. And it is something that I only recently got the name for but I’ve always been a big believer in this. It is something I call ‘minimum viable product.’ Well, I don’t call it…
Dom: There is a guy, Eric Ries, who I think is known for mentioning this quite a lot. MVP is very often mistaken for something else, so I’m going to try to frame the whole conversation. A lot of people, when they are either starting a business or they are certainly online, they get into this trap of over-egging it, of really going to whole hog setting things up. So, if it was an offline business, they would rent the biggest space they could for their shop or their office.
They would have the office fitted out. They’d have new chairs, tables, computers, coffee machine, et cetera. If they had the funding, they would spend it on getting themselves out. And then on Day One, they’d have spent all of their money without having any business, for example. If it’s online, then especially with things like software products, they would go berserk.
It would have all the bells and whistles and the kitchen sink. They’d spend months specifying and designing and everything. And basically, for what? Because a lot of people literally either run out of time, energy, tolerance or whatever in this initial phase.
The big mistake – and this something our friend Ed Dale talks about a lot and certainly, it is a cornerstone of The Challenge, the kind of free online business training that Ed and his team do, is these people are running off, building these things. They may be building the world’s second best mousetrap, or whatever it is, without finding out what the customer actually wants.
Pete: It happens quite often, I agree.
Dom: There’s no balance between building the next best mousetrap and finding out first what people want. This is where this idea of ‘minimum viable product’ comes in. You can build something in the old days. In the old days of software, you might have called it a prototype. Some people might call it a beta. But it doesn’t have to be a prototype. It doesn’t have to be a beta.
But what it does have to be is the minimum viable product. What is the least thing you can do and put in front of somebody so that your business can start; so you can start asking questions of your potential customers? This is the thing after the market research, obviously, Ed in The Challenge talks about ‘do your market research’ and let that form your product design.
Pete: Fundamentally, for those who are familiar with The Challenge, all The Challenge is really about is finding out what is not going to work. It is one big test to see what is going to work and what isn’t going to work. Fundamentally, the whole process that gets taught throughout The Challenge is a test in itself.
It is market research in itself to a certain degree. That is what, I guess, this minimum viable product is about as well. What is the minimum amount of work you can do to start getting some results you can make some conscious decisions and analysis from and grow from?
Dom: There are two important lessons and this is really why I want to talk about this. I come from a software-engineering background, I don’t always admit it. Technically, on paper, I’m more geeky than you. But so far, that is being disproved in reality. I come from a software-engineering background. So one of the things I want to impart is that when you think about minimum viable product, you have to think about it from the mentality of a prototype.
The whole thing about a prototype is, you have to be able to throw it away. You cannot get attached to this, it is for a purpose. So, if your long-term goal is to have a hand-coded bespoke software development that spans the globe, with dedicated processing here, there, insert-technical-words, everybody fast-forward for a minute. Great, that’s wonderful. But if we can build one on WordPress now in half an hour, let’s do that.
Dom: Yeah, so few people can grasp that. I’m going to come back to that. But the other point – this is one that I’m equally passionate about, is just because it is the minimum viable product, don’t you dare put crap out there.
Pete: Yes. Very, very true.
Dom: Because minimum viable product does not mean, what is the least amount of work I can do to take money off people? And that is, and again I was watching – sorry to keep dropping the same name. But Ed Dale did an awesome presentation at James Schramko’s Fast Web Formula Conference. And, as Ed said he had nothing to sell so he could say what he liked, and he did. This was the cornerstone of that speech; it was you can no longer get away with producing rubbish.
And there’s no excuse either. The tools to build quality products quickly and easily are available to everyone, whether you do it yourself or whether you outsource for a very reasonable amount of money. You can produce an awesome product in a very short space of time, and proven by your own piece that you did recently for the Market Samurai boys. You and Dave Jenyns did some videos recently; and yours was about the Content Leverage System.
That shows an awesome way, assisted by someone like myself, that you, the content producer, the person with the idea, can do the minimum amount of work and get seven or eight different pieces of content, different modalities of content produced. The effort isn’t necessarily all yours; and these are all very, very common mistakes. The core message here, from me, is what minimum viable product should be the minimum amount of work, the minimum number of features.
So, again, coming back to software, if it is an iPhone app, the best and most popular apps out there do one thing, they just do it really well. The first edition, it usually does just one thing. And then when they’ve got feedback from their customers, they extend it, they expand it. They may throw, you don’t know, they may have thrown away every line of code they ever wrote. Yeah?
Dom: The other thing to emphasize it is, do not put crap out there. Gone are the days when people are faceless entities, businesses are faceless entities on the internet or anywhere. People want interaction. Why does Facebook work? It works because people want social interaction and they want to know the people that they are dealing with. If you put crap out there, then it will come back at you.
Pete: You are absolutely right. I guess, for those who are Tim Ferriss fan girls and fan boys – for want of a better term, Tim speaks about this in a different kind of frame when he talks about ‘minimum effective dose.’ He really harps on it quite a bit in The 4-Hour Body, which is a fantastic book and a very, very well-written and highly researched book. He talks about the minimum effective dose you can do to get the result you are after. This is based on taking that theory and that practice and applying it to a business context.
What is the minimum viable product you can create, get the result you are after, whether it be a sales page or a web page you are wanting to put up, just get something up there. Something that is a seven out of ten and is implemented is better than something that is a ten out of ten and is not implemented. You have to have this mentality, something where you are getting data is much better than something that is not getting you any data at all because it is not live. So a poor website that is getting a little bit of traffic is going to give you much more learning.
Because you can manage what you are measuring than something you are playing around with on a piece of paper, and just drawing and sketching and not live yet. So, it is very much important to make sure you take those steps in the right order and not try to launch the greatest thing from Day One. So many products that are overnight successes are that because they have been minimum viable products for five or six years beforehand, and have been refined and been re-launched once they have all that data over the years of being that minimum viable product-type aspect.
Dom: Yeah. There’s a lot of different books and things that talk about similar things. For example, you just said, I have this policy and it’s funny, these things I’m normally finding terminology. I have my own words for it. For example, from a design point-of-view, if you are into design or you are producing something that has some kind of design aspect to it; and occasionally, I’m asked to do that. When the client has no idea you could sit there for days, weeks trying to ask them to give you input or whatever.
I have this policy, I have this thing I call ‘give them something to say no to’. A lot of people are very precious about design and very precious about things like that. Me, it’s feedback. I’m giving them something they can either say ‘yes’ or they can say ‘no.’ Yes is great and no is must, more feedback. There’s an entire book on that subject called Go for No, which is tipping everything on its head by saying, “Look, ‘no’ is just an indicator that you tried and got some feedback. It is not a failure.”
We’ve talked before about check moves, about making an action that potentially could lead to a sale by making some contact with your clients. The more check moves you make, the more you will get feedback, and the more you might potentially get a sale; just like the more you put up a website, even if it is getting a little bit of traffic, you are going to get more data and feedback than if you don’t put up any site at all; if you are stuck in what they call ‘analysis paralysis’.
Pete: Exactly right. It’s a way of getting out of that.
Dom: Yeah. I actually have, from my old days of being a technology consultant and that kind of thing; I used to work in a very big corporate and there was a lot of speak around the table if you’ve gotten with all the big boys like Deloitte and Andersen, and they were all into that project management methodology and their implementation methodology. And it’s still there today.
Everybody has their favorite methodology for this or that. We came across one years and years ago that we used to pull out if we were in one of these meetings, if they ever asked us what we were going to do. It stuck with me and I still do this because I do believe in it, because we would respond quite seriously. We are going to use the JFDI methodology.
Dom: Yep. Just Effing Do It.
Pete: Nice. I love your little acronyms.
Dom: Seriously, people get bogged down in analysis paralysis and they get bogged down in ‘what will happen if I do this’, ‘what will happen if I change this’, ‘what will the customer think’, ‘what will the next visitor to the site think’. A lot of people won’t do basic split-testing because they are afraid that somebody might notice.
For example, that the headline changed between two visits to the site. Until you get started, until you do this, you can’t really get over that fear. So, it is a case of JFDI. You are never going to know until you do it, and it is all feedback. It is all input into the process.
Pete: I couldn’t agree with you more, mate. That is what it is all about. Getting off your butt and taking some action, and just taking the minimum effective level of action, the minimum viable product to actually get out there. That product doesn’t actually have to mean a product; minimum viable action is another way to look at it as well. What is the minimum action you can take to move you towards your goal? There’s the whole Couch-to-5K, if we want to bring it back to the Ironman-type of thing.
If you want to run a 5K distance, whether it be a fun run, a race, or for your own fitness, going out there and doing this Couch-to-5K application is very handy. It is all about just getting out there and walking to start. That is the minimum viable amount of effort you can make – just going out and walking. And you build on that every day and every week. It is basically taking that and applying it to whatever you are working with, whether it be a sales latter, or direct-mail piece, or things like that. Even a direct-mail piece that is written poorly is better than no mail piece at all.
Dom: That is it. In all aspects, whatever it is you are doing in your business, if you stand back and just before you start this, and I do this; if anybody comes to me with a problem or a complex system, the first thing I do is stand back and say, “What is the goal of the page?” We talk about, when we look at other people’s websites in the Mastermind we’ve been doing, or anybody that comes to us and asks us to review their site and ask why they aren’t getting a conversion, or they are not getting traffic; we’ll look at it and say, “What is the goal?”
What is the goal of this site? What is the goal of the page? What do we want? Because in a way, what do you want from a page is the minimum viable product. It is like, what do you want? I want them to fill this form out. OK, then the minimum you want on the page is an opt-in box. And believe it or not, I’ve seen it work where there is only an opt-in box on a page and the call-to-action because that is the minimum viable product.
If you’ve driven traffic to a page from an AdWords campaign or from Facebook ads, then they’ve already got some kind of frame. They’re already predisposed to follow an instruction. They know what it is that they clicked and why they clicked it. So as long as the two match up, that’s minimum viable product. Admittedly, you will probably get some feedback that quite a few people bounce off that page, and maybe you need to give them a little bit more of a sales letter or maybe a video to inform them or to just make them feel better.
But, that is what you need to do. You don’t need an entire website full of awesome content with lots of product pictures and details necessarily. And if you wait until you’ve got it, you’re losing time for feedback and things like that. You may be doing work in the wrong direction, and that is definitely one of the things you need to avoid.
Pete: I could not agree with you more.
Dom: Here’s another one, and I love this example. You mentioned Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body but The 4-Hour Workweek, his original book, I love this story. He was in dispute with his publisher about the title, they were maybe an apocryphal story or it may be true. But I know it is perfectly reasonable and viable to do this. We were discussing that they think the market would think this title is awesome and he said “I don’t.” They wouldn’t budge because there was no way to get evidence because you can’t publish a book in a traditional sense without a lot of capital expenditure, paper books, shipping and going through a traditional publisher.
You and I know you can publish a book on-demand and do what you want. But when you look at something on the scale of that publication, then you can’t do it. So how did he get around it? Well, he did the minimum viable amount of work to do market research, he ran AdWords campaigns where the title of the advert is the various titles of the books that were being proposed. And the one that got the most clicks was the title of the book. That’s the minimum viable product approach to market research.
Pete: I think at one point the title of the book was going to be Selling Drugs for Fun and Profit.
Dom: Yeah, that was one of them. I remember that. And that would have worked too.
Pete: I don’t think it would have had the same level of impact as The 4-Hour Workweek, but it is quite funny.
Dom: It wouldn’t have had the global appeal, but it was a good alternative title. I would have personally put that as a subtitle as well.
Pete: So what is the action point for the listeners this week? Should it be going off and taking action at a minimal level on some particular project? Is that what we want people to be going off and doing?
Dom: As the roles reverse and you bring me back on topic, yes. This week’s action point, well, each week’s action point should be JFDI. In fact, we should have some t-shirts made. PreneurCast JFDI, just to stay away from certain sports shoe manufacturer slogans. But yeah, seriously, the action should always be JFDI. But this one is a focused one; it is what are you in analysis paralysis on. What are you trying to make perfect before you go live?
What product are you trying to finish with all the features and details that you could stand back from and ask yourself what is the minimum viable product? And that includes putting your hand on your heart and saying, “Am I skimping? Am I cheating? Am I releasing crap? Am I not giving quality to my clients?” If you can say this is the minimum viable product, this is the minimum number of features to make this work and be a good product whether it is content in a training course, features in a iPhone app, or whether it is items for sale in a store, then ask yourself, what is the minimum viable product?
And then JFDI. Put up that website, outsource WordPress installation. Go to Fiverr.com and outsource the installation of a WordPress site with a jazzy theme. You could even outsource photography, or product photography, or anything – get your cousin’s nephew’s dog walker to take some photos of the product. Get them up there and get some feedback.
Pete: So, should we do one of our crazy podcasts episodes like we did a few weeks back and actually cut it short and give people 20 minutes of their week back to JFDI it?
Dom: I’m with you, dude. Let’s do it. Alright, everybody. We appreciate the time you spend listening to us. We normally go on for 40-odd minutes, here’s 20 minutes back. We want you to use this time wherever you are. If you are out on a run, if you are in a coffee shop, wherever you listen to us, in a car, take some time and think about minimum viable product and JFDI. Go for it.
Pete: See you next week.
Dom: See you guys.