Users aren't adopting your MVP. Now what?
A serious congratulations are in order! You followed the advice of those at 1871. You went to Technori pitches. You met with your tech-savvy friends. You read and shared countless articles in Fast Company and have now successfully launched your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). You have shown your investors that you can ship. You have proven to yourself that you are a true tech entrepreneur. It's a tale only Disney® could write and cast you as the main character. The marquee went up, the show went on and the reviews are in: It's not good. Users simply aren't adopting your product. Now what?
This is not a matter of intelligence. Unfortunately, all the work we put in to release our MVP was just training for this moment. This is the place where the real entrepreneurs are separated from professionals and technicians with ideas and money. There are many books on the subject of goal setting and what to emotionally anticipate: The Dip by Seth Godin. There are also many books on the difference between what it means to be an entrepreneur and a technician with an idea: The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber. If you haven't already, I would encourage you to read both.
It's okay if this is the end of the road. This path is a statistic that anyone with a degree in finance or a soft spot for investment is counting on. However, if you are poised and have the conviction that your best is still yet to come, read on.
I've spent the last 15 years experiencing first hand the tests and tribulations of this moment: will my idea fail or be refined, liberated and celebrated by the masses. In that time, I have developed some guiding principles that I, and the brands I have had the pleasure to help, successfully implemented to go on to achieve post-MVP greatness. If you have other tips, please add them in the comments below.
Listen to your early adopters. Early adopters (popularly referred to as influencers) are the hunters of the digital plain. They are most satisfied when they find products that align with their beliefs. I'm phrasing that very carefully. Their bounty comes in the form of credit when sharing your product with their networks. Your MVP does not have to be polished to effectively solve a problem. In fact, most early adopters would prefer it not be feature complete, because it proves that they found it first. This demographic can tell you very quickly just how clear you're communicating your beliefs. This will give you incredible insights for what you're doing right or wrong.
Tell other people about your idea. Qualitative research at a startup typically involves asking colleagues, friends and family what they think and whether they'd adopt your product. This is rarely productive. We surround ourselves with people who like us. This means they're going to be tactful about giving you feedback. Instead, start going to meetups outside of your comfort zone. If you're more business oriented, start going to design meetups. Find the customers of your biggest competitor and lay out your idea to them. There are countless ways to gather feedback. The point is to start gathering information from people that don't give a shit about your emotional well-being. They represent what your startup is to the real world.
Stop trying to open all your own doors. Are you trying to do this all by yourself? I've never met a successful entrepreneur who couldn't quickly point to the many people and institutions that lead to their success and character. Try thinking about your startup as a person (I'll bet you already treat it like your baby). Instead of trying to raise your startup by yourself, give it a chance to learn from others as it grows. What are the strategic relationships and partnerships you have made to bring your product to market? Use the tools that lead to your personal success as a way to help your product attain adoptive success.
Assess your marketing like you would plan a party. Your MVP may be fantastic, it's just that know one knows about it. Digital advertising is rarely the solution all by itself. Try thinking about your product like you would when planning a party. What type of party would you find your ideal customer base and why? Who do you need to invite? What does the invitation look like? How will they remember your product after they leave? I've found analogy to be fantastic tool. It helps you shape your messaging. It also helps explain why more famous entrepreneurs are able to attract users and investors to their products with seemingly no effort. I have found that when you look at your product through this lens, you will quickly see where your marketing is succeeding or failing.
Stop asking what features your MVP could have and instead ask what your MVP should do. I blogged at length about entrepreneurs who ask the question 'could' instead of 'should'. Take this one to heart. When you're sharing your vision with anyone, start posing the question of what you should do to better achieve your goals. You'll be surprised to learn how many people hold back their true opinions until this more strategic question is asked of them. Read more thoughts on 'should' questions here.
Congrats again on getting to this point. You have our attention. Despite how difficult and complicated creating products can be, this is just the beginning of the true "path less traveled." MVP's are now the beaten trail and you have now entered the real game of survival of the fittest. The next step into the forest is the big one. This is the place where your leadership and resourcefulness will finally be tested. It's as thrilling and challenging as it sounds. I can't wait to meet a few of you along the way.
Illustration by Jordan Polonsky
Written by John W Ostler
Principal and Co-Founder of Eight Bit Studios