Over the last 10 years I’ve been a single digit employee at two startups in the Tampa area and both companies had completely different approaches to product development. At The Online Outpost we build an inventory management and listing platform for eBay consignment shops (remember those?!). The product was originally developed around the business to help automate the processes that were already in place (cataloging, listing and cutting checks). The decisions were made based around a genuine need and nothing more. After a while the company pivoted and became AuctionSound which provided the same platform as a white-label solution for eBay listing. The pivot was successful and the company is still around today (makes me so happy, even if most [if not all] of my code is probably long gone at this point :)
After a stint back in Corporate America I worked at CrowdSavings where I built a Groupon clone. Most of the product development was geared around what everyone else in the industry was doing. Within the last year before my departure we had started to make strides to build solutions that solved our internal struggles. I think that came about simply because the departments that needed better automation had grown to the point that their group “sighs” were more prevalant. The company sold recently and I’m unsure if there will be a pivot or if they will persevere as the daily deal space still seems to be on a decline.
Okay, so that’s what I’ve been through with some local startups, lived in the trenches been through some changes and all, but that’s was all just some preface to topic of this post. The accidental MVP I’m referring to in the title is the minimum viable product I built for SceneKids.com. The site had been through two previous failed iterations (social network for musicians and a concert search engine) before the little accident of 2011.
So for the most recent pivot on that domain (which has been getting great organic traffic for ages) was very barebones (by design), the focus was microprofiles and an online popularity contest. The idea was to get people to spam their link on other social networks to get people to view their page and increase their number of views so they would show up higher on the leaderboard. That was it, the entire site was a series of pages representing the pages of the leaderboard. You could view boys and girls or everyone together, upload a single photo and edit a prety short profile and bio. I did not consider that to be the minimum viable product, I considered that the final cut. Keep it simple, build it fast, be done and move on to the next project.
Fast forward nearly two years later, the site has grown to a full blown social network and the platform itself has grown from a single site to most recently 8 different sites. I hate to admit it, but my 3rd idea/iteration for the site was about as doomed as the previous two. The big difference was that I received a ton of feedback from users over those first few months, something that didn’t really happen previously (something I’m very thankful for). There were many late nights fueled by Absinthe and cola’s at the beginning because I did listen to the feedback and pivoted very early after the initial launch. I was on vacation the week of the launch, that next week strides were being made towards becoming the full blown social network I have today.
The obvious lessons here are that minimum viable products are great, but you can’t be so in love with your idea that you aren’t willing to budge on it. I see it quite often where folks are 1000% married to their idea and there’s no feedback loop with their customers to sway their opinion on it. It’s sad to see as the web is full of stale websites that were built, sometimes even funded out of some poor child’s college fund and then left to rot after gaining little or no traction. Setting a goal of some sort to help you measure your success can be helpful, but you have to willing to accept the fact that maybe your best idea ever wasn’t quite as good as you thought (or your friends told you it was). If it’s not, pivot or close up shop, don’t let it rot. I know, it’s hard to admit defeat, but seriously, wouldn’t you rather avoid those awkward conversations when your friends and family ask you about that business you started in going?
Also, some recommended reading: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (yes, affiliate links, don’t judge me)