Common product development mistakes

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As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m not in favor of the MVP concept. Why would you launch something that is just minimally viable in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace? That means barely able to survive!

Be that as it may, the article by Rashan Dixon, 4 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Building an MVP on Entrepreneur.com doesn’t just apply to MVPs or MRPs (Minimally Remarkable Products), they apply more broadly to the development and launch of any startup’s products. I’ve seen these mistakes in my own startups as well as many others. As I say to my mentees, “Be creative, make your own mistakes, don’t repeat mine!”

1. Failing to prototype

Prototyping is absolutely critical to successful product development. By the time you get to alpha or beta testing major changes cannot be made; you’d basically have to restart the product development process. As Rashan Dixon writes:

Prototyping is the art of spotting and validating your riskiest assumptions. They don’t always have to do with hardware, either. Is your product’s user interface unclear? To find out, wireframe it and show your target audience. Is a key feature missing? Users can tell you that, too. Prototyping is a guess-and-check process, so don’t spend too much on any one iteration; you’ll almost certainly need a few to get it right.

Of course, two important steps need to precede prototyping: customer discovery and demoing to prospective customers. With that feedback in hand you can move to the prototype stage with some confidence you are building a product customers actually want.

2. Thinking “M” is for maximum.

“Feature creep” is endemic in product development, but especially so in software, where writing a few lines of code can easily add a new, but unplanned and probably unwanted, feature. Everyone loves to add their favorite feature but few people get nearly the same kick out of fighting to remove extraneous features. Yet Steve Jobs was quoted as saying he was as proud of what he said “no” to as to features and products he greenlighted. Feature creep is the enemy of simplicity, the enemy of speed to market, and a proven way to ship a bloated, unusable product! As they say in the film industry, be willing to leave your favorite scenes on the cutting room floor.  Whether you are of the minimally viable or minimally remarkable camp, minimal is critical for a resource-constrained startup.

3. Pushing onward when the market says “pivot.”

It tough to say “when to hold ’em vs. when to fold ’em.” Being persistent is usually what separates the winners from the losers in the startup world. But keep in mind you need to be persistent in your vision and your mission; when it comes to your product you need to be not only fast and focused, but flexible. If your demos and prototypes elicit lukewarm response (“interesting” is the most common sign of this) you just may have to go back to the drawing board. Making this call is an art, not a science.

4. Over-investing in marketing

The valuable lesson from Mr. Dixon’s article, courtesy of Bren Armour, VP of Marketing at Kibii, is to skip traditional outbound marketing like advertising and events. These are expensive and premature for an MVP.

Instead, he points to inexpensive [inbound] tactics like blogging, building influencer relationships and building backlinks to the product page. Your goal should be to build buzz around your brand while convincing your most loyal customers to try your first version. Then, use their feedback to make improvements before the masses buy in.

So whether it’s your first product or your fifth, these four rules should be kept in mind. Violating them is a good way to ensure a failed product launch. The major difference between large established companies and startups is that large companies can afford to make mistakes, startups, not so much.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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