The lean startup has been the media’s darling phrase since 2011, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? A lean startup, as defined by the phrase’s coiner is a startup that focuses on a single product, executed simply, using phrases like Minimum Viable Product, or “MVP,” to determine when it’s time to launch into the market and start generating income.
But as the old adage goes, it’s not the best idea to put all your eggs in one basket. This has lead some startups to pursue the “fat” mentality, going out and grabbing more than their fair share of venture capital, turning out two, three, or even four products as part of their business model, and aiming for more well-developed and feature-rich products than their minimum viable product counterparts.
So which is right?
It ultimately depends on what kind of a startup you want to be. Are you a scrappy hustler who enjoys making something out of nothing, scrimping and saving, cutting every corner to rush a product out the door, breaking things and fixing them as you go? That’s the standard mentality at a lean startup: move fast, break things. Lean startups can still pursue venture capital opportunities, or decide to wait a few months to release their first product in order to add some much-requested features that push it beyond the scope of their original MVP, but at the end of the day, lean startups run on fumes and like it that way. And when you run on fumes, there’s always a chance that you run out of gas before you climb the next hill.
Maybe you’re a different kind of startup. Maybe you like the idea of building a billion-dollar idea. Or maybe you just recognize that a team is strongest when it complements each other, and you go out looking to collect as much “smart money,” or investors who are actively involved in your business, typically through advising and mentoring, as you possibly can. Fat startups typically build bigger teams. Instead of two or three founders and an angel investor, there might be four founders, two mentors, six advisors, and the entire might of a major venture capitalist firm behind the business. Of course, the tradeoff is keeping a lot less equity with the founders.
But the original question still remains – is it a poor risk-management strategy to build a lean startup? The short answer is, probably. But you can do things in your lean startup to hedge against some risk.
Don’t settle for a minimal viable product, or at least, elevate your standards of what “viable” means. It might not be enough to just release core functionality if the success of your company rides on the success of the MVP. Maybe instead of looking at just one strategic goal when building the product, take several independently. Find out how your product can serve different needs for different people. Segment and separate, build unique feature sets for each potential user. Even if one product fails to hit the mark, backups are waiting in the wings to save the company.
I like to think of this new product not as a MVP, but as an MSP, maximally successful product. What level of work, what time and money commitments, would it take to create a product that is most likely to be successful? What can you do to transform your lean mindset into building that product, instead?