The horror of the MVP for a perfectionist

15 November 2012

I remember when services like Bandcamp first came out. It was simple and elegant, unlike the brilliantly comprehensive but poorly executed Topspin - perhaps their chief competitor besides Soundcloud. By the time Topspin got canny to the mistake in their business plan (that if you’re working in music and need to scale, you can’t erect barriers to entry for small and unsigned bands) Bandcamp had already captured the market, and, perhaps as importantly, the trust and imagination of the bands they needed to become a viable service.

The lesson’s a little bit more subtle than all that though, for it’s not about a product beating another to the punch and gaining critical mass; it’s about an overengineered product that ends up not having a clear function being beaten by more focussed product that knows its purpose. If nothing pointless can be truly beautiful (to paraphrase a line from 24 Hour Party People) then nothing completely pointless can survive in the music market. There’s simply not enough money around that artists or labels will throw cash at something that doesn’t work, and you’d better believe investment will dry up pretty fast. Luckily for Topspin, they rallied and now do a good trade in larger indie and DIY bands up to big marketing suites for major label bands, but there’s so much to learn here.

What I take from this all, and how it relates to the title of this post is the following: looking at an MVP and going “what about x functionality?” misses another fundamentally useful by-product of the process. That’s the fact that if you focus on the core idea and purpose at the heart of your idea, you’ll probably build a more focussed and immediately useful service. People are canny - early adopters will see the value in a service that’s 90%, as Bandcamp was. Sure, it served one main purpose: getting music online and putting in a payment gateway. Its second most important point was pay-what-you-like pricing. These two things were implemented slickly enough that frankly I’d forgotten my gripe about (for instance) there being no bio until they implemented it a couple of years later.

So that’s it. Focus your pedantic energies on your core offering and you’ll find that you’re automatically building an MVP… then it’s just a case of knowing when to draw the line.

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