There’s a big gotcha in how we think about MVPs, in that it’s easy to get confused about what the “M” stands for. “Minimum” does not mean “Minimal”.

The reason why MVPs got popular was because they solved the problem of building products without involving the customer. We get MVPs from a book-that-spawned-a-movement called The Lean Startup, and the idea of an MVP is that you build a bit, show it to the customer, take feedback and tweak your plan, build a bit more, show the customer, etc.

A key distortion that’s happened now is that the idea wasn’t that the total SPEND got less – it was that the whole project was broken up into smaller parts.

Using an MVP approach was supposed to have the same total spend as the older riskier approach of development away from the customer. But these days we’ve forgotten that and corrupted this idea of “minimum viable” into “minimal product” and get seduced into doing 10, 15, £20k of work when we should be doing £100k worth of work.

Practically for that lower investment all you get is a prototype – what we call in the software industry a “proof of concept”. It demonstrates the idea.

The danger in this is that non-technology founders can get seduced into trying to SELL this proof of concept as a pilot, which doesn’t work because it doesn’t align with what the customers want. They don’t understand what a prototype is, but they do understand what an actual “product that delivers value to my business is”. If a customer is making an investment in you – whether a free pilot or an actual sale – they need something real.

Don’t get sucked into this idea that you can sell something that isn’t a real piece of software that is an actual product you can build a business on. There are a lot of people out there selling that “minimal” approach.