Steve Blank is quoted as saying that “startups aren’t real companies.” He suggests that startups are actually temporary organizations trying to find a scalable business model. It’s not until that model is uncovered that a “real” company is born.
During this time of trying to become a “real” company, every startup knows about focusing on your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). I love Eric Ries and completely agree with his Lean Startup methodology which focuses on iterative product releases and “validated learning” to figure out how to meet the needs of early customers. However, many startups still struggle on correctly defining and figuring out what is their MVP. And because we use the word “product” I often see startups focusing on features and benefits where they convince themselves that they need more features to differentiate their “product” before launch.
What if I challenged your thinking and said we need to change the focus away from products? Instead ask yourself, what is the Minimum Viable Job (MVJ) that someone is willing to pay for? There is a great paper from Christen, Anthony, Berstell and Nitterhouse from 2005 in the MIT Sloan Management Review that got it right.
“Most companies segment their markets by customer demographics or product characteristics and differentiate their offerings by adding features and functions. But the consumer has a different view of the marketplace. He simply has a job to be done and is seeking to ‘hire’ the best product or service to do it.”
What I love about this shift is that a job is something someone is willing to pay for. So your focus as a startup radically changes. Most startups begin with an idea (which hopefully solves a problem—a job to be done) and then start thinking about the product they are going to build but really, your first task is to simply test your idea which is nothing more than a hypothesis at this time, you should not be building a product at this early stage. Start simple and figure out what is the minimum job to be done, because in today’s noisy marketplace, if you build it, they won’t necessarily come.
Airbnb is a great example of uncovering a MVJ. They did not start building an entire platform from the get go. Let me repeat this: they did not built a platform to start. Instead, they had an idea and simply built a quick and easy website with a blog and with maps to test out it’s effectiveness (i.e. test their hypothesis) within the market. That’s it. Then they started to re-iterate their offer and came to the realization that they needed to improve the photos on the site. From there, things started to quickly turn around and today, the company has a $10 billion valuation.
Too often we see startups building out huge platforms with all of these features, only to learn much too far into the process that the consumer is not interested. Instead, do this: start small and find a niche “job” to offer within the existing marketplace. Fake it until you make it and start getting some jobs to pay the bills to keep the lights on early on.