On Failure and Minimum Addictive Product

In the startup world, it’s easy to read the success stories.  I’ve been eager to learn more about the many failures.  And maybe there’s something in the air, because this week I have read three honest accounts of failures.

On Monday, XMarks announced they were shutting down.  On Wednesday, Alyssa Royse wrote about making the decision to pull the plug on JUST CAUSE.  And this morning, Marc Hedlund documented Why Wesabe Lost to Mint.

First of all, kudos to these entrepreneurs.  Their honesty shows real courage, and their openness will prove valuable to many others.  It’s not enough to only study the success stories – looking at those who don’t succeed broadens thinking and gives a more complete view from which to make decisions.

For example, I’ve been thinking a lot about the common advice to quickly release the minimum viable product and then quickly iterate.  Over the past few months, we have been pressured to release our product more quickly.  We have pushed back because our minimum viable product is not our minimum addictive product.  We won’t release a product that we won’t use ourselves, and we won’t release a product that’s like others already in existence.  We understand the feedback loop, but can get this from followers without releasing broadly.  Marc Hedlund provided the first evidence I’ve seen against the minimum viable product and being the first to market.

Wesabe launched about 10 months before Mint… There’s a lot to be said for not rushing to market, and learning from the mistakes the first entrants make. Shipping a “minimum viable product” immediately and learning from the market directly makes good sense to me, but engaging with and supporting users is anything but free. Observation can be cheaper. Mint (and some others) did well by seeing where we screwed up, and waiting to launch until they had a better approach.

The moral of the story: consider all advice, get the whole story, question everything, and follow your gut.  There’s a lot of advice in the startup world, but there isn’t a recipe for success.  I keep randomly returning to these lyrics from Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann:

Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Update: See this great list of the 25 Best Startup Failure Post-Mortems of All Time.

Update: Andrew Chen talks about the Minimum Desirable Product.  A much more in-depth explanation of concerns with minimum viable product, and a need for what I called the minimum addictive product.

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