There are many examples of well-intentioned companies over-investing in a minimum viable product (MVP) and missing the marketing trail in the startup world.
Many of these organizations lost money because they didn’t know how to appropriately target customers when they were ready for them (but had no way to find them).
The method is simple enough: You build the smallest version of your product or service, take it to market, and see what happens. If it succeeds; great! If not, you learned something valuable about your customer base and market demand. Let’s review some of the misses around MVPs.
The First Kindle
The original Kindle was an example of a minimum viable product that didn’t consider the marketing aspect. The first generation of Kindles was costly and slow, so Amazon did not have enough sales volume to make a profit. This led Amazon to discontinue the Kindle 1 until they could develop a better version at a cheaper cost that could utilize more strategic marketing tactics than the first one.
Peapod Online Groceries
Peapod was the first internet grocery store. It launched in 1989 when few people had heard of online shopping. The company invested heavily in a solid website but failed to consider how to get customers to use it. As a result, Peapod struggled for years before selling to Royal Ahold (a Dutch supermarket chain).
This is a cautionary tale for any business that has taken on too many risks or spent too much money on minimal viable products: Make sure your marketing strategy matches the product you’re offering.
Groupon, the popular deal-of-the-day website, started out perhaps too minimally. Groupon’s original minimum viable product was simply a coupon blog. In addition, Groupon’s original MVP did not include online ordering or online payments, which are now central to Groupon’s business model. It did not include any of the features that skyrocketed Groupon into the multi-billion dollar business it is today.
The founders of DoorDash focused on their minimal viable product and operations rather than marketing. They grew very fast, but their growth slowed down when they didn’t invest in marketing.
DoorDash started with a minimum viable product that allowed the company to launch quickly, so they could test if there was a demand for food delivery services in their area. The founders then worked hard to improve operational efficiency to scale up quickly without having to hire too many people. This led to rapid growth and more users ordering food daily through the app. Still, it also made them miss out on valuable opportunities for generating publicity and awareness of their brand, which would have helped on the customer acquisition side of things.
Google Photos and Products for the Masses (Drive, Docs, etc.).
Google was originally a research and development company. They experimented with various products and services for years, including Google Docs and Google Drive (initially Writely).
When you review the history of these products, it’s clear that they weren’t designed for mass adoption. They were built by engineers trying to solve problems in the way that engineers do: By creating something technically correct and then adding some bells and whistles later.
Yet, the issue is that when your product isn’t ready for prime time, no one wants to buy it. In this case, Google realized that its user base wasn’t as technically savvy as its early adopters thought they were. They needed new marketing strategies to reach out to potential customers who might not be familiar with technical jargon or understand why cloud storage was better than local storage options like USB drives or DVDs/CDs (or even floppy disks).
How did they do this?
Well, it meant rethinking how their products worked from the ground up. Instead of focusing on technical details like security flaws or maximum upload size limits (which could easily dissuade potential users), they ensured ease of use across all platforms.
It wasn’t an easy process for Google. There was pushback internally when people presented ideas about how things should work differently! But eventually, those ideas won out because, ultimately, what matters most isn’t what works best technically but rather what works well across all platforms. Hence, most end-users now feel comfortable using these tools without worrying about compatibility issues.
Amazon Fire Phone
The Fire Phone was a bit of a gamble for Amazon. It used its own version of Android, which meant that users would have to download apps from the Amazon Appstore instead of Google Play. This required Amazon to invest in developing an entire ecosystem around the product. Further, the company wanted to create something unique but with an expensive device with few features and little appeal to consumers.
While Apple introduced products like the iPhone and iPad without being experts in hardware or software development, Amazon had no such luxury with its Fire Phone (or any other products). In short, if you’re going to launch a product that requires expertise in multiple areas, make sure you have competent people on your team who can manage those features well. Otherwise, your MVP will fail like many others before it.
Microsoft had a vision for the Zune: It would be an MP3 player that allowed buyers to download songs and videos from the Zune Marketplace. The company also wanted to compete with Apple’s iPod, which was extremely popular at the time.
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s MVP was unsuccessful. The Zune was heavier and bulkier than its competitors. It also had a smaller display screen, making it harder to use while walking around town or exercising at the gym.
You might have heard of Google Wave. If not, it was a collaborative software product developed by Google that launched in 2010 and shut down in 2011. The product was called an email service, but it also had instant messaging, wiki, and social networking.
While many corporations have tried to create another email client, there are very few instances where this has worked out well for them: AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) failed to compete with MSN Messenger; Yahoo! Mail failed to compete with Gmail and Hotmail, and Microsoft Outlook also failed to compete with Gmail. Although Google announced in 2021 that it was relaunching Wave, we don’t know of many who use it.
In 2010, Microsoft launched Kin. The social smartphone was meant to be a way for people to stay connected with each other and share photos, videos, and tweets with friends. Kin was the first phone released by Microsoft.
However, the company discontinued the product just six months later due to poor sales and negative reviews from customers and reviewers alike. The device lacked many features of smartphones at the time, such as Wi-Fi connectivity or support for apps outside of Facebook’s app store.
Moreover, it had a small screen (3 inches), no camera flash, and only could hold up to five hours of talk time on a single battery charge. This made it difficult for users to use during long conversations without recharging their phones.
Why Not be More Agile About Your Minimum Viable Product?
Agile MVP is an iterative approach to product development that allows you to test concepts quickly and get feedback from users. For instance, let’s say your idea is a new online shopping experience. Using an agile MVP approach, you would start by building a landing page with just enough information for people to understand what they will get if they sign up.
Once this basic version of your idea is in place, you could direct traffic from social media ads and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies toward it and see how many people sign up for the service or download an app based on minimal content. If this iteration proves successful, you would continue expanding on your initial concept until the full version is ready for launch—but only after gathering accurate data about the features your actual customers want. You need to offer users a product that is truly valuable, rather than guessing blindly based on assumptions or wishful thinking alone.