Can You Apply The Minimum Viable Product Principle To Information Products?

I recently listened to the audiobook version of the Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

My motivation for “reading” it is to help with the development of CrankyAds, my software startup. Lean startup principles are particularly good for a software company because of the unlimited features you could develop (given unlimited resources) contrasting with the need to just get something out there in order to find out if people actually want what you have.

The Lean Startup model has a concept known as the “minimum viable product” (MVP). This is a version of your product you create that serves only to test an assumption in the real world by giving your customers something they can actually use. It may not be pretty and certainly does not contain every feature you want it to have, but it’s very effective because it forces you to put something out there as soon as possible (perhaps only to a small segment of the customer base).

The Information Product Business Model

I was thinking back to a time before I had released any information products. After building up this blog and having minimal success with affiliate marketing of ebooks, I decided to write my own ebook.

Of course I never finished that book and in fact I still have it, 75% complete, on my hard drive somewhere.

Instead of the ebook I decided to release a membership site. This project went a lot better because I only needed to finish the first module’s worth of content for my members. From that point forward I created each module as the members worked through the program, staying one week ahead of them.

It was still a whole lot of work to create the membership site, but the model I was following was not complicated. I had a basic password protected wordpress blog and an aweber email list, which is all I needed to distribute my course.

I knew from the start that I wanted my system to be simple despite all the wiz-bang tools out there for hosting membership sites. Technology is a major trip-up when it comes to online business, so by minimizing the components I needed for my membership site, even if it meant forgoing certain features, I was able to launch within three months of switching from an ebook to a membership site.

If you are curious for a detailed breakdown of my membership site model, including all the technology I used, grab yourself a copy of my Membership Site Masterplan free report.

The MVP For Information Products

As time went by I started to realize that when it comes to selling information online, or giving away information for free, or even for simple things like blog articles, the MVP principle is relevant (although I didn’t call it that).

It’s more important to just get something out there rather than um and ahh about all the things you could do to make it better, thus delaying the release. For example, you might hold back publishing a blog post until you have the perfect picture for it, or you might hold back finishing an ebook because you haven’t had it spell checked by a professional, or you might be too scared to do a webinar because your slides are too simple.

The fact is there will always be more you can do, but all you need is “enough”. In most cases people will only take away one or two things from what you do. While nice presentation or pretty graphics or comprehensive details are all good things, if they stop you from releasing anything, they do more harm than good.

Lazy Efficiency?

Over the years I’ve become even more “lazy” when it comes to information publishing. Lazy may be an unfair label, but in some ways it is true.

One good example of this is my podcast. I used to spend time doing post production editing of my podcast, adding intro and outro music, presenting a summary at the start and exit comments at the end. I was even considering going down the radio show path, doing transitions between segments, adding sound effects and advertising, etc.

The problem with all of these bells and whistles is that they slow me down. It takes longer to go from recording an interview on skype to actually publishing it on the blog if I increase the production value.

The key question is whether the increase in production value helps enough to justify the work and thus delay in publication. My assumption was no, it doesn’t, so I began publishing my interviews completely “as is”. No theme music, no introduction, just straight from skype recording to MP3 and on to the server.

This suited my “lazy” motivation and meant I could quickly record and publish my show. I assumed people really only cared about the interview content itself, the meat of the podcast so to speak, so why not just give them what they want in raw format.

I could go through many more examples like the above where I have cut things down – simplified – in order to speed up production and get things out the door quicker. I realize most people only want a few key things from my resources and in every case I have caused unnecessary delay just because I wasn’t happy with something.

What Is Your MVP?

While you go about your information creating process consider what is the minimum viable product you need to test your assumptions.

Don’t let this become more confusing than it needs to be. It might mean you just click publish on your blog article without a picture every single time (some of my best blog posts in terms of traffic have no pictures at all). Maybe it means you just use a default Microsoft Word template for your next ebook rather than use a custom format, or you use “boring” dot points for your next slide presentation.

The beauty of the MVP concept is that you strip away everything BUT what you need to get your result. In some cases that means you may actually annoy or frustrate or turn away certain groups of people, but they are not necessarily the group of people you care about.

This often rings true when it comes to comparing your buyers versus your noise makers. Inevitably with all product launches you will annoy some people, who depending on their personality will feel the need to tell you about it. Often the people who complain are the people who do not buy and never would, hence spending time to “help” the complainers may not actually be a smart idea. If “products sold” is your core metric, then testing assumptions like this becomes really important.

You have to get tough with yourself and determine what is really important. This is very hard for creative control freak entrepreneurs or people who do not like it when others are complaining about them or their creations (that’s pretty much all entrepreneurs). We want things to look brilliant straight out the door and keep everybody happy. That’s not realistic, especially in situations of resource scarcity. Applying a MVP process makes this kind of decision making scientific, not emotional, an important distinction.

I for one have benefited from thinking lean. It’s nice to make decisions like this using MVPs and the data they uncover, rather than just what you “think” is right.

Yaro Starak

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  • Thank you so much for this timely reminder!

    I am just starting out as a mompreneur and one of the things that often slows me down is the need to get things to be great, if not perfect.

    I am loving the concept of the MVP because it’s a much needed push to just do something the best you can, get results and improve as you go along. (And probably face a whole lot of constructive criticism in the process.)

    Doing what you’re meant to do, no matter how imperfectly, is way better than doing nothing at all.

  • Holding off from releasing a product until it’s ‘perfect’ is a common fallacy and it’s something that I’m wrestling with at the moment. The concept of MVP is new to me and something to bear in mind.

    My mentor tells me all the time ‘Don’t get it right, get it going’, which is basically the same thing – right?

    • Yes correct, although Eric goes into much more detail and treats MVPs as scientific experiments with controlled variables. My explanations in this article were perhaps a little simple, but like your quote, the gist of the idea is just get going.

  • Thanks Yaro.

    I enjoyed the article and I like this: “if adding extra pics etc stop you from releasing anything, they do more harm than good.”

    Nice concept, I’m often guilty of waiting until an article is perfect before I release it. I’ll keep this mind next time.

  • Thanks for this Yaro! I’m currently going through a moment of confusion as I lapsed into the need for the perfect presentation which had me stuck for the past week. But you’ve reminded me of a statement I say all the time to those who work with me…”you can’t take perfection to the bank”.

    I needed to read this today!

  • Thanks for this Yaro! I’m currently going through a moment of confusion as I lapsed into the need for the perfect presentation which had me stuck for the past week. You’ve reminded me of a statement I say all the time to those who work with me…”you can’t take perfection to the bank”.

    I needed to read this today!

  • Sometimes, waiting to get it right before you release your product or service can be a pain. When i wanted to create my first product, it took me more than a year because i was afraid what my critic will say about.

    I was encouraged to complete it when i bought traffic ultimatum ebook from clickbank. I discovered a lot of imperfections on the product.

    If you product is 90-95 percent accurate, there is no need to fear your critics. In any service you render, let it solve the problem of people that need it.

  • Thanks for this Yaro. I know that perfection is the enemy of done and preach “Wabi Sabi” (the art of imperfection) to my clients all the time. Practicing it is a whole other deal!

    How am I going to start using the MVP concept today? By using it to publish the remaining half of my Inbound Marketing Bootcamp. Who cares about the videos and editing- what’s really important is the content and the value that folks get out of it.

    Another downside to creating those fancy transitions, graphics, and other bells and whistles that you talk about- it’s hard to edit it later on the fly. When you want to add something too what you’ve created, you have to darn near reproduce it!

  • Thanks for the great article Yaro! After buying so many products online I realized that the package wasn’t nearly as important as the content. One of the best ebooks I bought was only about 10 pages and it was pure gold! Long ago I remember a GREAT course I bought called Become A Blogger also 🙂

    Thanks for all that you do!

  • Ross

    Hard to do when you’re a perfectionist, something I am constantly training my mind to accept.

    @Kate – are you really the person behind your avatar?

    • If Kate is she is also the model on my getting started banner in the right sidebar 🙂

      • Ross

        That’s why I asked, this girl is all over the place… Kate you are famous 😉

      • I think a lot of people have bought this photo!!! Now instead of famous girl photo, you can just call her Kate!

    • No, not my pic : )

  • As with the comment a few above I completely agree it’s all about the content. It does not matter if it’s 10 pages or a 1000 pages if you can get the one nugget of gold on page one it was worth the money invested.

    Having said that, I have also struggled with ‘perfectionism’ and is something I am constantly working on. A module that should take me 1 hour may take a few days :S
    “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped” Thought this Tony Robbins quote would be fitting to the post. Get it done people. Great post Yaro 🙂

  • Hi Yaro,

    Your approach is towards this is correct. You should not sway to much to the left or right, but choose the middle path. Or at least the path which gets the most important things done fastest. Now days it’s so easy to get distracted by things which aren’t really worth spending your time on.
    Keep up the good posts Yaro,

    With friendly greetings, Hans

  • Hi Yaro, I like that you just launched your membership site with a simple password protected blog and aweber. That’s an awesome example that you don’t need so much.

    Even in the ‘mechanical’ world – more moving parts means more maintenance and a chance for more things to break.

    The MVP concept allows you to avoid all that – get more things out there initially – which in turn gives you a better chance to find the things that are worthy of your time and worth developing.

    good info. -tks

  • Hi Yaro,

    I heard of this MVP concept somewhere, probably from one of Brian Clark’s podcasts. He also added one more thing…. let me try to recall what he said…

    An entrepreneur needs a MVP to elicit feedback from customers (in other words, “test the assumption” as you said). In other words, the MVP gives you the audience. The purpose of the feedback is to find out what the market wants so that the next iteration of your MVP will be a polished product that is market ready.

    Of course, the idea of MVP is what will make Steve Jobs roll in his grave. No offence to Steve Job… just to highlight that the MVP product is totally antithesis of his philosophy.

  • I’m in the process of testing this out right now – my first product has sold a few copies… but hasn’t exactly “taken off.” I’m developing my next product based on blog posts that have been the most widely shared and questions I’ve received from readers. It’s discouraging to see a product flop, but the discouragement is minimized when you’ve only invested, say, 20 hours in its creation rather than 200!

  • […] of the MVP model is to create things quickly. In that spirit I am going to publish this now so that hopefully you can get some value out of it […]

  • […] wrote a blog post about applying the minimum viable product principle to creating information products, which essentially stated what many marketers have been preaching for years – just get […]

  • […] have with my internet business friends when we talk about what we are getting up to. It was a very lean experiment – just grab a friend, record the conversation, keep it to 30 minutes, and upload it to the […]

  • As Seth Godin says: “Launch and learn.”

  • […] to begin actions as soon as possible so you can learn from real testing, not assumptions (try lean testing). If you don’t start getting some kind of result, good or bad, then often your emotions will […]

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