Change the startup language to build better products

woman wearing headphones writing in diary with laptop next to her

Product Market Fit is the gold standard. It is the first significant milestone on the startup journey. To prove Product Market Fit companies are rushing out Minimum Viable Products and jumping straight in with both feet. Validating their idea with the smallest product they can build.

The result? Failure. Product Market Fit is not found, not much is learnt, and downfall is assured.

We have lost the core of what a Minimal Viable Product is. It is not your actual product. A Minimal Viable Product is a tool to create fast learning loops. It is an artefact that provides beneficial learning outcomes. As Eric Reis calls it in The Lean Startup (the bible); Validated learning. Look around the beautiful world of tech startup land. You will see Minimal Viable Products that resemble complete systems. Slick, refined, featureful platforms. Not the rough and ready learning tool that is intended by the Minimal Viable Product. You know the saying; "you cannot polish a turd!"

By skipping ahead, creating a small product, founders are losing clear, fast learning opportunities. Gone are the clear hypothesis-result learning opportunity. The quick learning loop has taken months. We have lost the ability to understand our assumptions and instead have entered a quantitative world of it works/it doesn't work. Flip the coin, pray to the startup gods and see how it falls. How can any startup expect to win in such a world? Resources are finite, yet the push for this high functioning Minimal Viable Product is burning through resources. No learning, no progress.

I place the issue on language. The intention of the Minimal Viable Product is sound. But, the language is too easy to misunderstand. PRODUCT is the word that stands out in the minds of founders and investors alike. Like one of those glowing blue bug zappers drawing everyone to it and sparking each time another victim has gone too far.

It's not a surprise. Solutions are like a drug. They kind of are with the dopamine hit that coming up with solutions gives us. Ah, I love that feeling of solving a gnarly solution! This pleasure draws us to solutions. We forget that the role of an early-stage startup is to validate assumptions. Solutions can wait a bit. So in skipping ahead, we try to prove all our assumptions at once. Depending on how the market responds, we get the thumbs up or down.

Here is a thought. We need a subgenre of Minimal Viable Product. A stepping stone on the way to Minimal Viable Product and Product-Market Fit. Something that gets across our idea of fast learning loops and assumption testing. A new language that sets the stage for a tremendous early-stage Minimal Viable Product. I propose a Rapid Assumption Test (RAT). I would love to hear your ideas (throw them into the comments or email me at phil@oxogen.co.uk).

To be clear. Rapid Assumption Test is not trying to change the intention of the Minimal Viable Product. Its original and intended purpose and approach is spot on. We are changing the language to prompt the proper behaviour. It is a subcategory. A tribute to the Minimal Viable Product. Something that works to correct the common misunderstanding of the Minimal Viable Product.

By pulling away from the product aspect and focusing on the testing of assumptions we set our sights on a more important aspect for the new venture. Learning. We are using words that focus our awareness on a fast build, measure, learn cycle we allow ourselves to spend more time exploring the problem.

So let's set our sights on what an early Minimal Viable Product or RAT (ahhhh! so many opportunities for rodent based puns coming!) could look like.

Smelling a RAT

queue of people in the street

I'm waiting

Why even build anything at all. You can test if the need is out there by shouting about the problem you will solve. Pop up a landing page. When customers hit 'buy', they are on a waitlist, and you have a measure of your potential. The great thing about this is you can test your language-market fit (I heard this term earlier today and loved how it fitted the concept). You don't have to know the problem exists; after all, you have to articulate it to other people (your customers). The great thing here is that it is so quick to change your language, and A/B tests what works and what doesn't. You learn so much in such a short time. With Social Media tools, you can get your message out there well before a product exists and gauge the interest today. Go on, do it now (well, once you have read this obviously).

puppet hanging in the sunset

It's all a Façade

Particularly good for a digital experience. We can prove our value to customers (value proposition) by creating a simple interface. A facade without any of the clever stuff in the background. We can put together a simple app or website with no-code tools (see below) or a fraction of investment (time or money). It is often the behind the scenes tech that is the most complicated to change. So if we can develop without writing a single line of complex code, we open new opportunities. We can rapidly 'launch', try it, learn and iterate. With people in the loop acting as the behind the scenes 'brain', improvement is only a conversation away.

tablet unable to connect to the internet

Let's take this offline.

Digital tools are excellent for scaling but are they needed to serve just one customer? Could you help that one customer offline? Perhaps, face to face or using everyday tools like email and Zoom? Serving a tiny fraction of your desired customer base is hardly scalable and not practical. Still, the learning you will gain from interacting daily with your customers will tell you what is most important. You will gain a lived experience that no digital face your company could provide.

woman shrugging

No clue? Then No-code

Ahhhh no-code. What a wonderful thing. Allowing anyone to build really complex things. Apps, SaaS any custom software used to be the sole prerogative of the software developer. Inaccessible to the likes of most of us. Now we can enter the fray. No-code enables us to try things out, play with ideas and put them in front of potential customers. We can even get people to pay for our hacked-together solution. It can be that good!

Do you have any no-code tools you like?

Those are just 4 possibilities for you. Some different ways you can develop what we should know of today as a Minimal Viable Product, but I am calling it a Rapid Assumption Test. You are not going to definitively prove Product Market Fit at this stage. You are going to get solid pointers on the right way to go. Most importantly, you are building fast learning loops into your startup's culture. Something that will serve you well well beyond the point you breakthrough Product-Market Fit.

Photo credits:

nappy.co

Photo by Min Thein from Pexels

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Photo by Chris Ainsworth on Unsplash

Photo by Cátia Matos from Pexels

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

woman using loud hailer

do you agree?