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A Reminder On MVPs

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Ramli John wrote a relatively simple but important post recently addressing an often misconstrued concept coming out of the Lean Startup camp – the MVP (minimum viable product). He posits “the MVP is NOT about the product”, that most startups falter in this process by losing sight of the true purpose of an MVP – to provide validated learning. And a testable hypothesis statement is the foundation upon which this learning can take place.

We’ve been a part of this process with MusicBox as of late, and I can attest to how easy it can be to forget the reason an MVP exists. You get so hyper-focused and excited about building your vision and you become so invested in your baby that customer feedback and “moving fast and breaking things” take a backseat to UI and design. You should view your MVP as a customer development tool, not a finished product (click to Tweet).

Bill Aulet notes: “As soon as we build something, we all tend to move increasingly from inquiry mode to advocacy mode at the very time where the former is needed and the latter can blind us.” And here’s what Dropbox’s founder shared about its MVP process:

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Poor Onboarding Example – FlyCleaners

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I’m in one of those perfect situations today that “solving everyday inconveniences” startups like FlyCleaners absolutely love – I’m super busy with work, traveling in two days, and am dangerously close to running out of fresh undies. So why not try the new service here in Brooklyn, especially since I’ve seen their vans driving around my ‘hood a lot recently. Little did I know it would take me 15 minutes and several attempts to become a paying customer. Some notes below, hopefully helping them and you with future design.

1) While the app was downloading, I went online to check it out and sign up. Cool, a $10 discount for “launch”. Click sign up and it seems easy enough.

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2) Not so fast. I fill in my info below and…nothing. No next steps, no “Check your inbox for confirmation email”, nothing. I wait for 5 minutes, reloading my email, and again, nothing. Side note – I’m already wondering when/how the $10 discount comes into play. I don’t see a promo code, so how am I redeeming that?

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3) I decide to try signing up via the app, since they’re probably a mobile first company. Of course this means I have to use another email address. The process is going fine, and they have some decent overlays to tell me what to do next or to call out important areas.

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4) Then “it” happens. On the address page, there’s a field for “Label” with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Does “Label” mean how I want them to label my bags of clothes? Does it mean how I want to save this address in the app? Is there where I give them special instructions about my apartment, like “ringer doesn’t work so call me”?

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5) I try to move forward without filling it in and I get an error notice that, again, is useless and provides me zero guidance.

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5) Frustrated, I just start typing in random words until it allows me to move on to the next step. “Dave” didn’t work. “Home” didn’t work. “Apartment” finally did. (UPDATE: A customer service rep notified me that the “Label” wording will be changed in the next iOS update.)

6) I’m also not a big fan of having to scroll back up to go to the next step. On the Preferences page, you have to scroll down past the fold to complete the page, but the “next” arrow is at the top.

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PS – I still have no clue if, or how, I’m getting that $10 discount.

PPS – There’s an FAQ section in the app, but maybe give me a little bit of “How it works” upfront? I’m giving you my clothes, you could at least tell me where they are being laundered or how long it takes or if you fold them, etc.

PPPS – Every delivery app should have a section to add important information like how Seamless does it. My buzzer doesn’t work downstairs, so I need to let delivery people know to call me when they arrive.

 

 

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From 250 users to 5,500 in 24 hours; A day of madness for MusicBox

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(Note: This post originally appeared on Medium. Oh, and we’re now closing in on 7k users!)

WTF is going on?!” is the text my co-founder, Mike, received Thursday morning around 8:45am. In true Murphy’s Law fashion, I had just sat down at your typical Blue Chip Brand Conference Room Table for a ten-hour marathon meeting, the last box to check before leaving my former marketing agency for good in search of startup glory. Glancing at my Mac, I noticed a few too many email notifications for new sign-ups to MusicBox, a concept we’d been testing for a month or so now.

Neither of us had done anything the previous night to drive irregular amounts of traffic to our site. Even more odd, all these new users were coming in within seconds of each other, and all before 9am. “Probably a bot”, we both noted. As the conference room filled with CMOs and VPs and ad execs, I opened our Google Analytics page and…HOLY SHIT…3,000 hits this morning. Scroll down a bit and….yep, someone on Lifehacker wrote a piece on us, unbeknownst to us!

That kicked off an immense swirling of all sorts of emotions over the next fifteen hours: excitement, fear, validation, relief, anxiety, raging insecurity. You know, the usual. But first, the panic: we had issues with our embedded Mailchimp sign-up form, which decided to tell hundreds of potential users that their email addresses had already been used to sign up, even when it was the first time trying for all of them. MOTHERFUCKER. Luckily, a chunk of those awesome music fans used our site’s contact form to let us know.

I spent the entire meeting doing what I swore I’d never do in my career — ignored every person talking in the room so I could respond in record time to every single email we received. #worthit

Fast forward a few days and Mike and I have 6,000 (and growing) new friends, 6,000 reasons to keep pushing forward, 6,000 signs to squash the doubt (at least momentarily), and 6,000 motivations to solidify and optimize the MusicBox process. We are no startup pros; we’re just fumbling and bumbling through this thing as best we can because we believe in our idea. With that said, here are a bunch of things we learned and realized during this ridiculous experience.

  1. The lean startup method is something we both believe in and follow when it makes sense. When we decided to chase MusicBox as a pivot from a previous music venture, we threw up a website in the matter of a few hours, spent $5 on a logo, decided upon key messaging, and asked for sign-ups. We ended up with about 250 users and that worked well for us. We’ve been manually matching up user music tastes with our inventory of independent artists and sending free tunes out via email, customized to each recipient (or segment, when similar preferences are apparent). Well that doesn’t scale to 6,000, let me tell you. And not virtually overnight. Should we have built a detailed algorithm and system from Day One? No, that would’ve been irresponsible. But it never hurts to ask yourself what you’d do if you experience a similar growth spurt in the blink of an eye.
  2. No matter how intuitive you believe your onboarding process is, you’re probably missing something. I thought we had it on lockdown, but boy was I wrong. First, a surprising number of visitors to the site filled in the “Contact Us” form instead of the actual sign-up form, thinking they had just joined MusicBox. Additionally, many new users expected to receive music immediately after hitting “Submit”, and even more wondered at which point they are supposed to fill out genre preferences. This is where good customer development effort pays off in droves. I was astounded by the quantity of folks who proactively alerted us to the issues in our messaging flow then dealt with my nagging questions, and in mostly positive ways.
  3. Normally, a sign-up tech glitch like we had would be disastrous. But our one saving grace was what most startups have over the Big Dogs — agility and personal attention. I responded to every single person who had problems signing up within a few minutes, and saw the frustration and anger turn to gratitude and, quite frankly, surprise. Given the current state of customer service, there is monumental opportunity to impact your users and your brand reputation by genuinely giving a shit. It ain’t rocket science, folks.
  4. People are friggin’ awesome. From the thousands of new sign-ups, to the media folks connecting with us, to the social shares, every moment of that day was kick-ass. What stuck out the most was the uninitiated support we received from peers we hardly knew. Pats on the back fromr/startups meant more to me than I ever expected. An IT company owner, upon hearing about the Mailchimp issue, went out of his way to email me about it and test it on our site, to work towards a solution. Another startup guy I know only from online forums private messaged me a CSS tip to improve our site without me asking. And in maybe our best moment, a transgender user told us “you made my day, you rock!” because we consciously offered more than just “Male” and “Female” on our sign-up form.
  5. It was mostly a day to bask in our glorious state of validation, but I often felt the fear and anxiety creep in. “We’re not ready for this. We’re going to disappoint a bunch of people with high expectations. I look fat in this shirt.” As a marketing guy, most of my career has been about carefully crafting words and images in carefully selected environments with carefully predictable outcomes. Letting go like this was not in the plans. But it’s necessary, otherwise you don’t get to enjoy the great moments in between the struggles and uphill battles.

Mike and I are beyond stoked to be in this position to share killer independent music with courageous headphone jockies, and we’re working to level up on our systems as best we can. If you want to join us, you can sign up here (oh Dear God please work), tweet us here, or email me here.

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Two Free Tools For Lean Startup Idea Validation

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One of the biggest challenges when first exploring a startup idea is finding focus, which leads to prioritization of action items, a significantly important step so that you don’t chase your tail and burn valuable time. I’ll be the first to admit that I let my mind run wild at times, and get ahead of myself in many areas (specifically growth pre-first user). Luckily, I found two super super useful Lean Startup tools to really help frame your entire situation, so you can zero in on major assumptions and test/validate before moving on to bigger things.

Lean Canvas – an easy-to-use one pager that offers a much more relevant version of a traditional business model shell for startups.

Experiment Board – a slight variation on the Lean Canvas document, it’s enhanced and a bit more modern looking.

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When Marketing Is A Second Thought In Startups

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Here’s another post-mortem from CPUsage, a company I actually wrote about recently on Medium in a post titled You Need Me On That Wall. The topic is worth talking about further, in my opinion…and I’m not biased at all as a marketing guy.

The business landscape, particularly Startup Land, is changing monumentally. Marketing – that is the practice of acquiring customers – has matured more in the past 10 years than the 50 years prior (I’m making those numbers up, but you get the gist). The old model of build the product, then push your message out to the world in hopes of capturing some leads is gone and dead, certainly for those of us involved in startups. Back to that post-mortem I mentioned. Read the open and honest words Matt uses. See a pattern?

Customer validation is key…We built a great product, had trouble with market fit…Customers are the only thing that matter…we were an engineering organization…[we] engaged with customers in [our] spare time…

In my admittedly limited experience with startups, achieving product/market fit is the key milestone for any early stage company. That process entails a whole bunch of marketing type tasks and responsibilities. Market research, customer development, surveying, interviews, doing things that don’t scale like having coffee with any user who takes you up on the offer, finding awesome ways to get more sign-ups, and so on (blah blah growth hacking blah blah). And that’s only one step of many that requires a marketing mind.

Consider this my call for startup founders to strongly consider the implications of not having a marketing type person as part of the core team from Day One. “If you build it, they will come” is a pipe dream.

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When Calling A VC An “Idiot” Is The Right Move

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Here’s something we’re not used to hearing from VCs, and a great shot across the bow to entrepreneurs who doubt themselves (and let’s be honest, we all do at some point). Care of Marc Andreesen:

There is this theory in venture capital that you want to back coachable entrepreneurs. But the entrepreneurs who have really radical ideas are not only not coachable, but they generally react with hostility to being coached. One of the things we test for is – we say, “Have you thought about doing this the other way?” What we are not looking for is them say, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” What we are looking for is a stare, “You idiot. You moron. You’ve been sitting here, listening to me for 20 minutes and I’ve been working on this for 5 years and you think you understand this so well that you can make me a suggestion. And not only you’re an idiot for thinking you can do that, but now I explain you in detail why you’re that big of an idiot”. We love those! Those are fantastic!