From MVP to MVC: Rethinking Early-Stage Startup Strategies

Jason Yeh
August 15, 2023

From MVP to MVC: Rethinking Early-Stage Startup Strategies

The MVP concept for startups has influenced an entire generation of founders. It is flawed. The next generation founders would be better led by a new framework- MVC: The Minimum Viable Conversation.

Background on MVP

If you're a student of startups, you've undoubtedly heard of the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), popularized by Eric Ries, the author of "The Lean Startup." The idea behind it is simple: follow a lean product development strategy and avoid building products that customers don't want or need.

The faster you launch an MVP, the faster you can learn from your customers and build what they actually want.

However, after working with countless early-stage founders, I've observed that using the MVP framework often falls short for them. Inexperienced founders in particular tend to overestimate what an MVP should look like. They are afraid of releasing products that might appear unfinished / amateurish, leading to overdevelopment and adding additional features they think are necessary before launch.

In practice, the MVP is a difficult North Star for founders to follow.

Introducing the MVC

To clarify and streamline the process for these founders, I propose a new concept: Minimum Viable Conversation (MVC). This type of activity will put a company down the best possible path as quickly as possible and send extremely strong signals to investors in the future.

The focus here shifts from rushing out a product as early as possible (which many founders tend to overdevelop), to encouraging conversations with potential customers. After all, the primary goal of an MVP is to elicit reactions from customers and learn what they truly want. How do you achieve that? Fundamentally, by having a conversation with them.

The goal of an MVC approach is to structure your early-stage startup strategy in a way that facilitates easy conversations with potential customers. The MVC approach is about creating the easy situations or opportunities where these conversations can occur. The keyword here is "easy," which means adopting the strategy best suited to the individual founder. What is comfortable for one founder might prove challenging for another.

Implementing the MVC Approach

For some founders, especially those with a sales background, running towards customers can feel a lot more natural. These founders are extroverted and unafraid of cold-calling potential customers to foster conversations. For them, the MVC can easily take the form of a direct call.

But for other founders, that might not come so easily. Investing a little bit of time and effort to create another opportunity for a conversation can save countless hours of developing a feature no one cares about. Founders who are more introverted, or those who take pride in their building capabilities— typically engineers and developers— might prefer to create a product as their angle to sparking the MVC.

While this may seem similar to the MVP approach, there's a critical distinction. In the MVC context, it should be a version of a product that allows them to have a conversation. The product doesn't necessarily have to be 'viable' in the conventional sense. It just needs to get the ball rolling and strike up discussions.

Remember, it's not about trying to showcase a semi-final product; it's about using the product as a conversation starter. This nuanced shift in mindset can significantly influence what first products look like, moving away from being overly robust and leaning towards a more dialogue-oriented approach.

Other Conversation Catalysts

Different founders will find different conversation catalysts more effective. Other than a direct call or product launch, here are other ways to drive conversations:

  • Create Ads driving to your mock-up/prototype: Design ads for your product and monitor the response. This can provide insights into how appealing your product is to your target audience. You can collect email addresses by creating an informational product that helps solve your target customer’s needs, then use that to set up surveys.
  • Write a piece about the problem your startup is set to tackle, or post a compelling question: This can help gauge enthusiasm for your solution, and replying to the comments can initiate pivotal conversations.
  • Host a Meetup or Webinar: Invite potential customers to a casual gathering or an online event where you discuss the problem your product aims to solve. This provides an opportunity to gather feedback and gauge interest.
  • Use Social Media: Share your product idea on platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn and ask for feedback. This can help you reach a larger audience and gather diverse opinions.
  • Engage in Online Forums and Communities: Participate in online forums or communities where your target market is active. Here, you can post questions about the issues you wish to solve and respond to relevant threads with your own unique insights.

All of these efforts can help generate interest and translate that interest into conversations.

Transitioning to MVC

The well-established concept of the MVP has driven startup founders for years, but in practice founders often fall into the trap of overdevelopment and dragging their feet before ever launching.

The Minimum Viable Conversation (MVC) instead encourages founders to prioritize forging relationships and fostering discussions with potential customers early in the development process. By replacing the launch-driven focus that often leads to overdevelopment, the MVC approach emphasizes the importance of just getting to a meaningful conversation and truly understanding user needs before building a product.

By adopting the MVC mindset, founders can create more targeted, user-oriented products and form a solid foundation for their startup's future, all while sending strong signals to investors.

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