The minimum viable product (MVP) is one of the great concepts pioneered by the Lean Startup methodology. Conceptually, the MVP includes only the basic set of features that make a product production ready and nothing more. Obviously, the MVP concept has become one of the essential mechanisms to ship software efficiently and quickly incorporate feedback from real customers. However, while the MVP mechanism has proven to be an incredibly effective vehicle in the consumer market, there are some major challenges on develop solid MVPs in the enterprise world.
The whole MVP principle is based on shipping the essential feature set to make the product usable, get it in front of customer, study their behavior and incorporate their feedback into subsequent versions of the product. AS you might imagine, this process is not that simple in the enterprise software world in which the complexities of companies can complicate the dynamics between an enterprise software startup and its potential customers.
Having struggled with the characteristics of the right enterprise software MVPs for almost a couple of years now, I can point to a few challenges that most enterprise software startups will encountered when trying to get customers to adopt MVP-type products.
The User is Not the Buyer
One of the reasons that make the MVP concept works so well in the consumer market is because the user of the software is typically the ultimate buyer. Because of this reason, user feedback will directly make the MVP more appealing to potential buyers. This story is quite different in the enterprise world on which the people trying the MVP are rarely the ones making the ultimate purchase decision. In that sense, enterprise software startups need to be able to carefully evaluate the feedback received from an MVP, filtering the noise from the features that will make the product more relevant to potential customers.
Getting enterprises to commit time and resources to evaluate an MVP-type product can be a really challenging endeavor. Differently from the consumer market, potential buyers in the enterprise are constantly bombarded with different assignments that will distract their attention from your valuable product.
For decades, enterprise software has evolved in the middle of a culture that value the number of features over the simplicity and usefulness of a product. By presenting an MVP version of your product to enterprises, you might run onto a wall of prejudices that tend to associate the number of features in a product with its robustness and enterprise readiness.
Given the complexities of enterprise software sales cycles, startups need to be very careful when/how to position an MVP product to customers. If not explained correctly, the MVP might cause enterprise to be disappointed and not consider adopting your software just because they misjudged the purpose of the product at that stage.
In my opinion, there are some fundamental differences between the viability of the MVP approach in the enterprise and consumer markets. Despite the validity of the approach, I think enterprise MVPs can’t be too minimum and must be very viable ;)