How to Save a Failed Minimal Viable Product Test
A failed minimal viable product is like getting home and finding you got the wrong dinner order. You had great expectations and things didn’t work out the way you hoped.
Don’t you HATE IT when you pick out and order the perfect dinner, then go to pick it up, only to get home and realize it’s not what you ordered at all? Minimal viable product and prototype experiments sometimes go the same way.
This happened to me, only to discover the wrong part of my dinner was actually really good. I wanted to stay upset, but I really liked the Italian sausage on the pizza even though I had not ordered it that way. I thought to myself, “Wow, it’s actually really good! I’m glad I didn’t take it back this time ?????.”
A little success, hiding in a failed restaurant pickup.
Or there was that time I got really upset and took the food back. I was hungry and grumpy the whole way back to the restaurant. After explaining what happened, the restaurant owner apologized for the terrible mixup and asked me to please wait for the correct meal. She came back 15 minutes later with an extra box and she says, “Here’s a tasty dessert too, it’s our awesome tiramisu cake that we make here. I noticed you didn’t order a drink – what can I get you from our fridge?” How could I stay grumpy after that?
Such a memorable experience. Another little success, hiding in another failed restaurant pickup.
Sometimes, successes are hiding in our failed minimal viable product experiments.
Failed minimal viable product experiments are like getting the wrong dinner order. It’s not what you wanted but that may not be a bad thing.
Recently, one of my entrepreneurship students at University of Pennsylvania told me about how he that did not get what he “ordered” with his product experiment.
“I tested my new business idea and it didn’t go my way. I can’t believe I messed it up so badly. I’m really trying to be positive about this, but I’m really disappointed. I should have done better. My customers didn’t really respond the way I was expecting, they didn’t get into the parts of the experience I had spent a lot of time preparing…”
Failure happens. Life has taught me there’s usually some success hiding in it. And not just seeds of success; I mean, actual success that I can celebrate (or eat).
It was time to find the tasty Italian sausage on the pizza or maybe some free tiramisu cake and an amazing human. I asked my student, “so what DID happen?”
He walked me through the experience and he was right, it was not what he was expecting. I shared with him that what happened in this minimal viable product experiment was precisely the reason we run experiments and tests.
Why do we test our business ideas or minimal viable products?
We do it to learn, to see what and how our customers do things in the context of our solutions. We do it to observe their behaviors, reactions, questions, satisfaction, confusion, etc.
His business experiment went exactly as it should have. That is, the customer did what the customer wanted to do and that’s what mattered most. The surprisingly tasty Italian sausage here was that his customers clearly demonstrated how they would behave. They engaged in the parts of the experience in which they were most interested. They dismissed others. This is what the customer wanted.
The customer did my student a favor by giving him what he didn’t expect (or order). And because of that, he will find ways to adjust, tweak, and improve the next experiment. In fact, the customer gave him a taste of what the experience should have been like and now he can find ways to incorporate that into the next experiment. For the record, I’ll be ordering Italian sausage on my next pizza!
Lastly, when his minimal viable product experiment ended, his clients said they had a great time! They also offered to refer him to a few family friends they know would love this too.
Turns out, there was an awesome human and free tiramisu cake at the end of this story too.
When you think things have gone badly with your minimal viable product, step back and look at it again to make sure you do not send back the Italian sausage or decline the tiramisu cake. This is especially important in your first few tests.
Sometimes, we are so disappointed that we don’t even realize our clients had a great time and want to tell their friends! Customer referrals are the ultimate sign of customer satisfaction and product validation.
So what happens after a failed minimal viable product experiment? Do you stay or go?
You continue to make adjustments and run more experiments with other clients to discover how your business idea evolves. After more experiments, you can:
Decide to stay with your customer and evolve with them down a path you had not planned on taking. Continue learning about your customer and what they really want. Here are 30 questions to help you understand your customer. Pursue the evolved business solution and opportunity. In other words, you start ordering the pizza that comes with all sorts of spicy Italian sausages and see where that takes you.
You decide this is not what you wanted or intended to build (perhaps you just don’t enjoy this) and you stop developing this idea. Maybe it isn’t aligned with your interests or passion. Depending how far along you go, you can think about taking the idea to the point that you sell the solution, data, website, url, experiments, current clients, and related resources to another entrepreneur interested in pursuing it. Once you have wrapped things up, start looking for new problems to solve.
Either way, don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn a few things, possibly discover some delicious Italian sausage, meet some incredible people, and maybe even enjoy a tasty dessert.
If nothing else, it’s a memorable learning experience instead of a disappointing one.