Baby Inspired Lesson 1: MVP

My son Jiaxu was born on February 6th, 2017. As a nerd, I never miss a chance to be nerdy. Jiaxu’s birth announcement was no exception:

We’re pleased to announce the release of Chang v2.0 on 2017–02–06 at 11:31PM pacific. This release represents a major upgrade to the previous version and is the culmination of 9 months of dedicated development by chief architect Bingbing Feng. Needless to say we’re very excited to see it released into the world.Summary
- 8 lb 5 oz
- 19.5 in
New and Improved Features
- Reskinned UI with major aesthetic improvements
- High intensity auditory early warning system
- Enhanced sleep mode
- Improved optical detection (does not need the cumbersome ocular correction workaround)
We hope you’ll enjoy this new release and welcome your feedback.

While most regular people would look with wonder upon their new firstborn, the first thing that struck me was that a baby is the perfect example of what an MVP should be.

An infant is the original MVP. It is minimum” in the sense that it doesn’t know how to do anything other than suckle, poop, and cry. And it is “viable” in the sense that it’s a complete human being. It is being released at the perfect time — being born too early would endanger the baby (literally a viability problem); being born too late could mean running out of nutrition. Finally, a newborn also satisfies the second (and just as important) criteria for “viable” — it must delight the user.

I wish I had learned this lesson before starting DataPad. When we launched the product and brought in beta-users, we had built more than we had to (e.g., we spent weeks on hexbin visualization that was never used) and we didn’t build enough (e.g., couldn’t properly pull in a CSV file with imperfect formatting). This meant that we could show very flashy demos (look ma, sub-second response time on aggregations on millions of rows!), but it didn’t have enough value for real customers.

Most advice for founders focuses on the “minimum” part, and not nearly enough is focused on the “viable” part. Just imagine how ridiculous it would be if babies were born with only the head and promised you the rest of the body would be “on the roadmap”. Yet products are often built this way, where one core component or a demo feature is done really well but delivers not a single complete user workflow.

Of course, knowing what is “viable” is legitimately hard. It requires a lot of research to learn exact where the pain-points are. And it takes a lot of customer empathy to know just exactly what will delight the users. But bad MVPs waste time and can easily kill good ideas. So it’s important to make sure you get it right on the first try.

Jiaxu, thanks for the lesson on day 1 of your life and welcome to the world!

Twitter: @changhiskhan

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