If you’ve ever launched a product or service, you know that it’s no small feat to get it off the ground. Coming up with the business concept, obtaining funding (or pulling together your own resources), developing a prototype or basic service to start with, putting together a sales and marketing plan, and timing the whole thing so that it launches at the most optimum time to take advantage of consumer trends, economic climate, seasonality, or any other current or upcoming event that might give your product or service a boost out of the gate takes grit, determination, patience, farsightedness, and often…a little luck. The launch timeline may end up being longer than you’d anticipated and even if your project gets off the ground, it may never reach cruising altitude.
Your chances of success are significantly increased by tapping into the wisdom and insight of others who’ve gone before you. During my career, I’ve found myself in the position of gathering the aforementioned wisdom and insight first-hand, and I’m happy to share what I learned in the hope that it may help you avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced.
In 2008, I found myself in the fortunate position of having enough money in hand to undertake developing a new software application for the hospitality industry, something I’d been thinking about for a while. I was already affiliated with a software company as an investor with a minority stake. We got an offer to purchase the software for $250,000,000. That is right $250 Million! It was interesting to watch to say the least. The infighting between the founder of the company and the major shareholder was something I have never seen. I could write an entire thesis on perception of fair equity, however to make a long story short, the company imploded with the infighting of these two over the money and how it was going to be disbursed. I was in shell shock watching it all and being on endless phone calls playing counselor and negotiator trying to salvage the deal. At the end of the day it died on the vine. I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and began creating software applications to fill a niche that I saw as lacking. Although I was still in recovery mode from the crash of my mortgage bank as well as a painful divorce, making the decision to tackle this new venture seemed like the thing to do. The challenge was good for me. It gave my mind something to dwell on other than my past misfortunes. I decided to move forward.
The software development landscape is very fluid and is loaded with competition. Speed to market often plays a determining factor in whether your product or service wins or loses in the marketplace. My plan was to develop a property management and reservation system for hotels, vacation property rentals, and B&Bs across the country – something that was a unique offering back in 2008. I quickly got to work and spent the next two years trying to develop a full-featured product with complete functionality that would satisfy every need of my target audience. Or so I thought.
Developing a product on your own dime is a scary proposition. You have to spend money to build the product; and the more you spend on development costs, the faster your cash reserves dwindle. It soon became clear that my runway (cash reserves) was too short. If I didn’t take off soon, I was going to crash and burn. I needed another option.
That’s when I learned about the minimum viable product. A minimum viable product is one that has just enough features and functionality to satisfy early users of the product but isn’t completely finished yet. Features may be missing, functionality may not be quite what you would hope for in a finished product, the customer interface may be lacking, etc. But the idea made sense to me, and I wasn’t sure what else to do so I took the leap. Launching the minimum viable version of my software application gave me a chance to collect valuable feedback from a select sampling of customers who were representative of my target audience. They let me know which features they liked and which they didn’t. They told me what was missing and where it didn’t meet their needs the way they’d hoped. They provided tons of valuable feedback that allowed me to tweak the design to make it the best it could be.
Launching a minimum viable product not only made my product better prior to full launch; it saved me from going down the rabbit hole of developing custom features and functionality for individual clients – an effort that would have been impossible to sustain in the long run. The information I gained through the “soft launch” of my product was invaluable in developing the final version. I went on to launch the product and eventually sold it to a Department of Defense contractor who used it to manage reservations for hotels on military bases across the country.
I came out okay in the end. I only wish I’d known about the minimum viable product before I spent two years of my life trying to make my software application perfect. I would have achieved takeoff much faster.