Why "Minimally Viable Products" Aren’t

The entire startup community is currently enraptured with the concept of the Minimally Viable Product, many of which may not be what Lean Start-up guru Eric Reis (had in mind?).

So what’s wrong with this idea? Well, it borrows heavily on the concept of biological viability—and then redefines what that term means. Something is viable if it is able to thrive on its own. Apply this to a living creature and it means that it will have the necessary systems and capabilities to live and reproduce. Apply this to software and it means that it will promise enough value for someone to pay for it and perform well enough to keep being used.

But that is not the concept of Minimally Viable Product that is the holy grail of followers of the Lean Start-up innovation model. For example, the Freemium business model is based on getting something into the market that people will try without payment and then upgrade for a very low price. Survival comes not from viability but from life support in the form of Venture Capital.

This is not an effective way to fuel innovation. The majority of new cloud software offerings simply take a very small subset of already existing desktop or server functionality and provide it through a simple user interface. To many observers, Words with Friends is just a simplified mobile version of Scrabble. People have been taking photos and uploading them for decades—from the dozens of mobile applications that provide this same feature where is the innovation in Instagram?

None of this is may be particularly harmful, but that changes when Minimally Viable Products are introduced into the enterprise as is the case with Enterprise Social applications. A critical question that is almost never asked and based on the products we have seen seldom understood is whether enterprise fitness was one of the features included in the “Minimally Viable” set?

To be continued