Your Minimum Viable Product Failed: Now What?

Myth says that between 80 to 90 percent of products fail. That provides a scary outlook for the lean startup. The actual cross-industry failure rate ranges between 30 to 49 percent, according to SpeckyBoy Design Magazine

That still means that after all the hard work a startup puts into its minimum viable product (MVP), one-third to a half will fail. When it is your product that fails, what do you do to successfully pivot and get back on track?

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Before you do anything else, celebrate! The purpose of the MVP is to test your assumptions and help you learn. If it fails, there's lots of potential learning.

Well done! Let's keep moving!

Now, what are your next steps?

  1. Analyze your failure via survey. Ask your target market what went wrong. Perhaps your MVP solved the wrong problem or focused on the wrong purpose. A startup needs demand for a MVP before its creation.

    Task: Determine if you can tweak the MVP to meet an existing need. If not, develop a new MVP that addresses an existing need.

  2. If you can tweak the MVP, rectify and simplify it. The most common failures include:
    • solving an insignificant or minor problem,
    • poor communication with potential customers,
    • poor understanding of customer problems,
    • overlooking alternatives,
    • overbuilding the product,launching too late,
    • lacking data or scale.
    Task: Identify your hole(s) and fill them. Communication is key. Use an end to end to end model. Practice active listening. You can't develop a product for an audience you can't understand. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Admit that their problem trumps your product. Perhaps you built a MVP that really solves one of your own problems or tried to serve everyone. Keep your new MVP minimum. Avoid overbuilding that confuses the customers.

  3. The MVP lacked early adopters or you found the wrong early adopters. Marketing technique can help you identify the right early adopters to court. Find a strong user foundation who will recommend the product to others.

    Task: Hire a professional marketing firm to identify and contact the appropriate early adopter audience. Early outbound adopters help draw later inbound adopters.

  4. Correct pricing mistakes. Customers often tie the price with value. When developing an app, you can still start off free, but consider freemium. Customers accept ad-supported software. Consider the possibility you overpriced the MVP, too.

    Task: Conduct pricing research on similar products and on customer value attitudes. Find the sweet spot of profitability, value and customer affordability.

  5. Analyze your team's strengths and weaknesses. Tendencies toward perfection, over-brainstorming and procrastination lead to failure. Giving up leads to immediate failure. Teams lacking expertise fail, as do those without common goals.

    Task: Honestly consider the personalities, professional talents and priorities of all team members. What you lack, hire. If personality conflicts or priority clashes created the initial MVP failure, hire a mediator to work through immediate issues and coach the team in better communication.

An initial failure of a MVP doesn't mean the end of a startup. It indicates a need for redirection. Use this five step method to successfully pivot.