If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with my 6-month challenge and table of contents of weekly posts for the past 9 weeks.
tl;dr Just been working on MVP v3. I want to finish by end of this week and start user testing it next week. I’ve found a coworking space to work out of and am working on simplifying the product while being diligent at the same time.
I don’t want to hype up this pre-launch, since it will still be a very private soft launch to still help me determine if it is meeting user demand. But it will be a polished and refined product that people can still use without me needing to majorly tweak it behind doors (at least, not at this stage).
A lot of people may think the MVP may be the end goal, since so much time and effort is spent pre-launch building the product, doing customer interviews, potentially pitching it, user testing it, etc — and then they sit back and say “Whew, that was a lot of work! I finally finished building the prototype — I’m done.”
In fact, your work is just beginning.
You may end up having to scrap the entire thing and rebuild another one after you put your baby out in the wild and people calling it ugly, but — that just comes with the territory. It happens and you shouldn’t be disappointed if it does. Or… people may love it, but still request features here and there.
Remember, take each step as a learning experience, not a failure. Never stop moving and never succumb to inertia.
Take breaks every once in a while, but don’t lose focus — achieving product/market fit — and stay motivated towards your goals.
I. Coworking and office space
II. Importance of a support system
III. Simplify, but be diligent
IV. Next week and key lessons learned
2. Launch fast.
The reason to launch fast is not so much that it’s critical to get your product to market early, but that you haven’t really started working on it till you’ve launched. Launching teaches you what you should have been building. Till you know that you’re wasting your time. So the main value of whatever you launch with is as a pretext for engaging users.
3. Let your idea evolve.
This is the second half of launching fast. Launch fast and iterate. It’s a big mistake to treat a startup as if it were merely a matter of implementing some brilliant initial idea. As in an essay, most of the ideas appear in the implementing.
– Paul Graham, Startups in 13 Sentences
I. COWORKING AND OFFICE SPACE
I am very excited to share that a colleague recently opened his own office (codenamed “the studio”) in Redwood City and invited me to work there for free. He’s a UI designer and the office is for his own web development firm. A bunch of his friends also stop by during various periods to work on their own projects.
It’s been difficult for me to work alone and by myself, floating among various locations, including my room, the local library and rotation of coffee shops. I’m glad to have found a coworking/office space and with like-minded people who are also in tech, working in a startup and/or busy hacking their own things.
It’s not just the physical space of a coworking space, but also the interactions and people you meet and the discussions you have. I guess you can liken the analogy to self-studying courses at home off-campus vs. attending classes on-campus and living on-campus at the college dorms — sure, the material may be the same, but you miss out on the sheer quality of people around you and the potential benefits of their own networks, connections and knowledge.
There are a lot of coworking spaces out there, some paid and some invite-only (by application), and even some free — that I would highly recommend checking out to see if they’re for you.
Sometimes I work much better by myself, other times I need some motivation and support from others — it really depends on you and your situation and how well you know yourself to work best.
There’s no right answer or formula. Do whatever works best for you.
II. IMPORTANCE OF A SUPPORT SYSTEM
I also can’t understate the importance of a support system. This may not even be your informal board of advisors, but just your friends who can give helpful advice and motivate you and kick your ass when you need some motivation. My family doesn’t quite understand what I’m doing, but if yours do, they can be some of your strongest support pillars.
Startups are freaking hard, and especially as a single founder like me, it’s very easy sometimes to just live in my head with swirling thoughts of doubt and pessimism that I sometimes lose sight of the greater goal and bigger picture.
In fact, I just wanted to highlight another 3 of PG’s sentences in the essay mentioned earlier:
10. Avoid distractions.
Nothing kills startups like distractions. The worst type are those that pay money: day jobs, consulting, profitable side-projects. The startup may have more long-term potential, but you’ll always interrupt working on it to answer calls from people paying you now. Paradoxically, fundraising is this type of distraction, so try to minimize that too.
11. Don’t get demoralized.
Though the immediate cause of death in a startup tends to be running out of money, the underlying cause is usually lack of focus. Either the company is run by stupid people (which can’t be fixed with advice) or the people are smart but got demoralized. Starting a startup is a huge moral weight. Understand this and make a conscious effort not to be ground down by it, just as you’d be careful to bend at the knees when picking up a heavy box.
12. Don’t give up.
Even if you get demoralized, don’t give up. You can get surprisingly far by just not giving up. This isn’t true in all fields. There are a lot of people who couldn’t become good mathematicians no matter how long they persisted. But startups aren’t like that. Sheer effort is usually enough, so long as you keep morphing your idea.
– Paul Graham, Startups in 13 Sentences
As a single founder who is very prone to succumbing to those three vices above, having a strong support system (if not a cofounder/team) can help stave them off.
III. SIMPLIFY, BUT BE DILIGENT
Remember, your MVP should only have the bare essential features needed for you to validate (or invalidate) your assumptions about users. You should also make sure to measure important metrics that you deem indicate “success” for your product.
Don’t get caught up in the bells and whistles — just the bare essentials.
Would it be great for the user to filter restaurants by price? Sure, but that would take a bit to build and integrate. Is it absolutely necessary? No. It’s a nice-to-have.
Would it be really good for the app to automatically detect and ask for a user’s location, and then show him nearby restaurants? Absolutely. This is much more valuable to the user, especially if he is on-the-go. This is much higher priority than filtering by price, especially for mobile responsive web.
Simplify. Ruthlessly prioritize.
Stop making excuses not to launch. Stop your perfectionism impulses.
Things aren’t perfect. They won’t ever be perfect. They’re hacked together, seemingly looking professional (but not really).
…But your product can’t get better unless you launch it.
So don’t wait.
At the same time, while your first build is going to be the “worst” version — be diligent and don’t cut corners. Focus on delivering a great user experience, user flows and design — as much as you possibly can.
I know for me, sometimes I just get so sick of staring at my MVP for so long and wondering why I haven’t finished it yet (this is where Parkinson’s law comes in too).
Don’t stop. Keep going — and even go the extra mile, if you can, since this will also be the first impression users will have of your product.
This goes without saying, but QA your product as much as possible before showing to a user. You don’t want things to look sloppy and broken here and there where it shouldn’t be (or a quick fix could take care of it). You should absolutely know common user interactions and how they work, both in expected and unexpected ways, and not be caught off guard when a user tells you something that you should already know.
As the product owner, you should essentially be the user (in my case anyways, and ideally if you’re building a consumer product) as well as absolutely know every nut and bolt about how your product works. Know every single little detail. Don’t gloss over things saying you’ll figure it out and things will work out — because really, you’re the one responsible for everything.
IV. NEXT WEEK AND KEY LESSONS LEARNED
So this MVP v3, given enough data and inventory of restaurants, is something I would actually personally use as of this moment! Seriously. Though I would like deeper visbility into listing actual menu items on search queries, it’s just one click (or tap) away instead of two.
I’m really, really excited about it. I have a meeting with Rock Health on Friday and so that is when I want my MVP v3 to be finished. I also want to potentially meet up with 5-7 users next week for in-person usability testing before I announce it to my beta testers.
Maybe I’ll post screenshots next week.
Key lessons learned:
- Barring a cofounder/team, working with others in a coworking space can definitely help you stay motivated and not get demoralized.
- Having a strong support system with friends and family is also very important.
- Simplify your feature list/product specs and ruthlessly prioritize, but be diligent about it.
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