From Minimally Viable To Maximally Buyable Product

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From Minimally Viable To Maximally Buyable Product


I’m a big fan of Eric Ries and the lean startup movement that he’s championing at Startup Lessons Learned.  I think many of the fundamentals behind the lean startup are things you likely have been practicing for a while.  But, seeing it articulated so well and establishing a common vocabularly for us to talk about it is immensely valuable.

One of the key parts of the lean startup is the concept of a “minimally viable product”.  The MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features needed to learn what the market wants.  The idea behind the MVP is to spend as little energy is possible figuring out whether what you’re building is something people want.

In this article, I’d like to look at what happens after you’ve built the minimally viable product for your market.  What’s next?  I’m going to suggest that once you know there’s a market, you should work towards the “Maximally Buyable Product” (MBP).  Yes, I know that’s not the perfect term, but I’m a sucker for literary symmetry and you have to admit, it’s got a nice ring to it.OnStartups Pot Of Gold

Given that this is the first time the term Maximally Buyable Product has been used (I made it up), I’ll take a shot as defining it:

Maximally Buyable Product:  The MBP has the set of features needed to capture the maximum potential opportunity in a market.  These are the features that make it easy for people to try, buy

Features Of A Maximally Buyable Product

1. Easy To Understand:  To be “maximally buyable”, the product should be simple to understand.  It’s hard to market and sell things that people don’t understand. 

2. Easy To Try:  You may think that your product is revolutionary and is creating it’s own category and that you have no direct competition.  But, as it turns out, your potential customers didn’t get that memo.  Doesn’t matter what market you’re in, people believe they live in an age of abundant choices.  Given this perception, to be “maximally buyable”, you need to ensure that the product is designed such that it is easy to try.  This takes investment. 

3. Easy To Buy:  This one’s going to sound obvious, but so many of us trip over this one (including me) that it bears mentioning:  To get the maximum amount of sales for your product, you need to have the minimum degree of pain in the buying process.  This includes having clear, simple pricing — on your website.  It includes a straightforward purchasing process (based on your market).  It includes payment mechanisms that map to customer expectations. 

4. Easy To Stay:  Chances are, your startup makes money from customers over a period of time.  This is either because you’re charging on some subscription basis (monthly, quarterly, annually) or because even if you have some large up-front fee, there’s some trailing revenue in terms of maintenance/support/upgrades/cross-sells etc.  Given that the revenue you see from a customer is spread out over time, the maximally buyable product ensures that customers are kept happy for as long as possible. If you design for customer longevity (not just customer acquisition), you'll find that often a different set of dynamics are at play.

5. Easy To Leave: Though you want customers to stay with you as long as possible, designing your product to  make it easy to leave is an important part of its "buyability".  A "feature" that supports this easy to leave notion is a robust "export" feature (to avoid data lock-in).  The easier you make it for customers to leave, the more likely that are to buy in the first place.

You may be thinking that each of the above aren’t really about product features, but about marketing (and sales).  I’d disagree.  I’d argue that even though these aspects of the product are not the features that customers are directly paying for (they’re not the ones that solve the customers immediate problem), they should still be thought of as “features”.  You should carefully select these “maximally buyable product” features just like you would select features for your MVP.  You should should design them like you would any other feature.  It’s a mistake to think of them as being part of finance/accounting/operations/sales/marketing/whatever.  They’re part of the product.

If it’s a part of your customer’s experience with you, it’s a feature of your product.

Some examples:  The “signup for a trial” process.  The “upgrade” process.  The “how do I get a receipt or change my billing info” process.  All of these are features of the product.  You can lose money just as easily by poorly selecting or designing these features as you can by the “core” features. 

What do you think?  Have you invested sufficient time in building a Maximally Buyable Product?  Would love to hear your ideas and experiences in the comments. 

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Jun 21, 2010


very good post. I agree 100%; but not sure that these are the only things for MBP. 

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 1:34 PM by Mihir

Interesting angle on the MBP as the next step after the MVP. I'm looking forward to seeing strategies with these constructs, and how to present them to potential investors.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 2:24 PM by WIKISPEED

Nice insights... I think you've got a very good point. But there is one other thing I'd add: the corollary to "easy to stay" which is "easy to leave." Yes, it should be "easy to leave" as counter-intuitive as it may seem. If you app captures or records data (and what kind of app doesn't), then there should be an obvious, easy to use, "export" function that exports data to a standard, easily parseable format.  
Otherwise, why would I risk trial'ing your software, when I risk losing access to all the data that builds up during the trial, if I eventually decide to leave (or if your company folds, etc.) 
Make it easy to leave, so people are more likely to enter in the first place. 

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 2:27 PM by Phillip Rhodes

Philip: I totally agree. I almost included "Easy to Leave" in the original set of features, but decided against it -- not because it's not important, but because there was a small overlap with the "Easy to Try". But, I should have included it.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 2:36 PM by Dharmesh Shah

Good info and well written! maybe there should be soemthing in there somewhere about asking the customer what they want - easy to comment?

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 2:48 PM by Vicky zillioux

Another great article, Dharmesh. 
You make a great point about treating the purchase elements in the product as importantly as the main features. We made the mistake of not thinking that part through thoroughly. We're also now going "back to the basics", or as Steve Blank would say, "pivoting" again trying to find the minimum viable product in our space. Startups should be proud that they have less features instead of more, and we learned that the hard way :) 
I invite your readers to sign up for our beta release of our re-enginnered free SEO analysis tool and look forward to any feedback.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 2:53 PM by RYAN KELLY

Great article. The other thing I would add to your list is "Purple Cow" differentiators. Every product needs something truly "remarkable" that highlights its U.S.P. and causes people to talk about it and spread the word. 
Otherwise, this is a fantastic way to simplify what's needed: 
M.V.P. + Purple Cow Features = Success

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 2:53 PM by Rick Braddy

I'll buy in to the MBP as the next step after MVP. 
And I would also like to point out specifically what you did not fold into the MBP: any concept of feature creep. Once you find an MVP, your marketing or sales lead is going to immediately want to start incrementing the feature set in order to (fingers-crossed) increment the serviceable available market. 
Beware! The MBP elements that Dharmesh enumerates have more to do with CRUSHING IT than they do with chasing the hockey stick at any cost.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM by D. Matthew Landry

The most important sentence in this excellent article is: "If it’s a part of your customer’s experience with you, it’s a feature of your product." 
The reason is that not all "products" are alike: Some are more complex than others, some are service based and when one reads the first 5 points/features the obvious question could be: How can one maximize a product that *by design* is intended to have a single, minimal, feature? 
Fortunately, by including "customer experience" in the product features, you have covered all bases. Thanks for another great blog post.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 3:18 PM by softwarecandy

Hi! Just joined today and read this post. Seemed like it was for me as I am working on a 'product' now. "How do I do this?" popped up in my mind as I read it. Finally recalled a book I had read sometime ago - Marketing as Strategy by Prof. Nirmalya Kumar, Penguin Portfolio. Looked it up. Chapter 2 & 3 are good starting points. 
The point is that while the design process may throw up these needs we don't necessarily build all of them into the product. 
Am ambivalent about "Easy to Leave" for an non-software product. I would build it in but use it only as a last resort to close the deal.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 3:22 PM by Javeed

Excellent !! I agree 100 % !

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 3:23 PM by BARGACH

Where does easy referrals fit in?

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 3:34 PM by Joel Gaslin

I suggest Maximum profitable Product.  
With the minimum viable product being a lessons learned vehicle the maximum proftiable produt is the vehicle to bring in the profits from the lessons from the MVP.  

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 4:42 PM by John Bogrand

This is a great article.. 
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A training board for all those younger brothers and sisters (and sons and daughters) of all of us boarders. It doesn't matter which board sport you are in to, this is where it all starts. 
Currently, Tony Finn (inventor of the wakeboard), Santiago Aguirre (inventor of the Reef sandal), Shawn White and Kelly Slater are all getting involved.  
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posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 4:45 PM by James pantera

I think the debate should be... shouldn't an MVP already be MBP!!! 
I back-linked you on my Blog were I start the debate, MBP or do another MVP:

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 4:53 PM by Harlan Beverly

Agree with all points - they are required for an MBP however, I'd argue, not sufficient. Let's assume an MVP is built but the team couldn't scale to MBP. I could think of at least a handful of reasons for such a scenario, that are not addressed by "easy to..." points: 
- continuous product/market fit is not maintained 
- overestimated adressable market size 
- underestimated acquisition costs 
- suboptimal choice of sales channels 
- etc., etc., etc. 
In other words it'd be possible to built an easy-to-try-buy-use-leave solution that is looking for a problem.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 5:11 PM by Misha Sobolev

Misha points out some real issues, but does the premise beg the question? Isn't the purpose of an MVP to learn as much as you can about the customer fit? That learning should yield answers to Misha's points -- if it doesn't, then you don't have an MVP. 
Or am I overestimating the amount and level of learning the MVP should bring prior to evolving it into an MBP?

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 5:24 PM by D. Matthew Landry

My sales copy is not converting and I think I am making something about the product too complicated.  
For example, I regret that I only have paypal to offer as a payment option and go to great lengths to assure how great it is. It is like I say: buy now but sorry it is only paypal but these are the benefits (e.g. easy for them even if they do not have an account; even easier to refund, bank account not shared with me, private etc) and other things I may be doing.  
It is really great to coin phrases, I think this one will stick.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 5:42 PM by Nancy E Biddle

Good point, Matthew. 
As you know, MVP is deployed to early adopters - and the problems of converting from early adopters to mainstream have been extensively covered (Geoffrey Moore). Further just as Dharmesh, I am a big fan of Eric Ries and Steve Blank who highlighted the broken startup model and the benefits of customer development, learning, pivoting, bootstraping, etc. all of which helps you to get over the first threshold. It is getting from the point to Phase 3 "profits" that is less clear, an "Underpants Gnomes" syndrome of sorts.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 5:54 PM by Misha Sobolev

I think it's a great idea to explore concepts like this. 
Well done. 
With the oversupply and over-availability of products (many of which are junk) I think it's a good idea to consider another dimension. 
Instead of "is there a market" it's "how do I find the market" for my product. That shift makes a big difference in your thinking. 
With low visibility it's gotta be visible to enough people in enough likely markets. In other words you can give up on a product that would be a raging success if you had attracted the attention of the right people. 
High visibility has it's own dangers too. If your product is trumpeted on TV, newspapers etc. that will doom it to some audiences. You might not care, depends on circumstances. (I sense a backlash against the inanities, and plain wrongness, of the conventional media...)

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 6:33 PM by Mike Gale

Bingo -- all of this rests on identifying the customers and connecting their motivations with the product's. 
And therein lies another way for a startup to differentiate itself, even if competing in a seemingly crowded space. 
Just as some engineering teams will build better tech, some customer development teams will build better relationships. Note that I use "relationship" as a generic term to capture all that goes in to identifying-, conversing with-, delivering to-, and supporting a customer or potential customer. 
Thanks for the great conversation, everyone!

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 6:38 PM by D. Matthew Landry

I really like the article, and would love to see it converted to a science similar to what Eric Ries has done with the whole Lean Startup movement. 
From deciding how to prioritize such features to tactics that help in building them all - articles on such topics can be really helpful. 
Perhaps IMVU's talk at SLLConf was another that needs to be added to the list of resources on this topic.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 8:16 PM by Vineet Sinha

@Alexa, is not "easy to find" part of "easy to buy" I agree with your points; I just presumed that those would be included in the plan for "easy to buy." I see so many entrepreneurs who do not think enough about distribution. Unless one is selling a cure for a major disease, then you need to think about how you're going to sell this puppy.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 8:47 PM by Desmond Pieri

@Desmond, you're right, it can be included in the "easy to buy" category. After all, if your clients can find your product in a convenient location, it's not easy to buy. 

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 9:02 PM by Alexa Ronngren

Read again.

posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 11:14 PM by Greg Fry

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posted on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 11:56 PM by Pam Eaker

very insightful article

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 12:04 AM by india Association

Totally in synch. Must say explained in a very thoughtful way. Speaking about win-win situation for the product and customers in terms of money/value would have added lot more flavor.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 12:28 AM by Parag Arora

I enjoyed this article a lot, Dharmesh. Thanks for the tips.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 1:36 AM by Paul Herwarth von Bittenfeld

insightful article

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 2:35 AM by umesh

My line of thoughts:  
When will be MVP achieved, when first sales happens, this means we can be sure in terms of effort measurement how much will be needed.  
When will MBP achieved, don't know because we can keep on adding features and functionality to product but we will always remain unsatisfied saying MBP is not yet achieved, time and effort will be sucked in like black hole. 
Whats the way out where to stop?

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:02 AM by Arun Kumar

Really a nice post and a nice niche to write a post.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:07 AM by Kishore Mylavarapu

MBP, very interesting twist. Focuses more on getting accepted by the end-user to make it sell-able. One of the biggest challenge is in marrying UCD (user centered design) process into a Lean development process (MVP). There are couple of blogs which share success, we (at SpadeWorx) have learnt through our experiences and carved out best practices. Happy to share if anyone is keen on discussing it.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 7:04 AM by Shailesh Gogate

@Shailesh, I am definitely interested in hearing of successes and more details.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 8:14 AM by Vineet Sinha

great post, very educational, thanks

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 9:54 AM by Tarek el Fakharany

Interesting post. Love the MBP term. With respect to Hubspot (Im a user), I don't think Point #5 is part of the product. Once a small company signs up, it is forced to migrate its hosting completely over to Hubspot and if it wants to leave there is no easy way to capture all the changes made to the website - a big barrier.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM by Rahul

@Rahul - I don't know if I agree (re: Hubspot). Yes, #5 is *the* reason that we haven't moved to using it, but I have a feeling that they have a good reason to have not yet implemented it - the effort for them to provide the capability might be just too much. I would be surprised if the feature is not on their todo list.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 1:02 PM by Vineet Sinha

Great post, I wonder as I read the points over and over how much of them are completely reliant on technology. As I work to provide tech advice to entrepreneurs these things ring clear in your maximum buyable frame of reference, especially making products easy to buy and how easy it is to leave, or try. I've used so many products that don't explain how to try out a service or application, or what comes're points are right on, and call entrepreneurs to have a good tech guy (like me) or know what their doing. Hmm, what do you think?

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:47 PM by Rob

@Vinnet exactly my point - it is a barrier. I used to think it was a strategic decision but after reading Dharmesh's post they are probably working on it like you say.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:10 PM by Rahul

@rahul -- You are right. We have lots of work to do on several of these points (including #5). We have not yet achieved the "Maximally Buyable Product" yet at HubSpot. But, we aspire to it.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:23 PM by Dharmesh Shah

On "Easy to Leave" 
1. Depends on a business you are in: 
eBay - no such problem 
FogBugz, BackPack - problem exist 
2. It is easy to leave if: 
a) you can purchase an own copy of software by fixed price or get it for free after X many years of being a customer (vendor should build it too but I did not see such offering from anybody yet). 
b) if place you are leaving to offers import from system you are leaving via API. Example, GMail offers almost easy mail transfer from YMail. It means YahooMail is intentionally or not make it easy to leave them. 
This also means you (as business) do not need to allow data export in XML as suggested above BUT create API allowing your competitors to still your customers technically but still give no chance to them by providing an excellent service. 
You can write in big letters - we allow moving from our platform. Our competitors do NOT.

posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 10:23 PM by Igor Kryltsov

Another great post, but I found myself struggling to fit the following into any of the 5 "Easy to..." points. It is that the Pricing needs to have two characteristics - it needs to be in my comfort zone for the type of service that is being offered, and it needs to be that any premium price gives me features I actually would pay extra for. A lot of freemium SaaS products do what you advise now, but (a) the monthly price per user does not motivate me to try; and (b) the extra cost often gives just more storage space when I am not using my free quota in the first place.

posted on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 1:14 PM by Paul Walsh

I think this is a great list of concepts to bear in mind when building an online service based product. I'm not sure it holds true 100% of the time and naturally there will be instances - as some have commented - where more is reuqired. I would think specifically that there must be a "clear value" offered. What will I gain? Save time, save money, make money? This must be explained upfront. 
Keep up the great work.

posted on Friday, July 02, 2010 at 7:26 AM by Inbound Marketing Melbourne - Alex Avery

Point 5. Easy To Leave is a real powerful insight. If I need to trap my customers to stay in a relationship with onerous, annoying, and difficult ways to cancel, what is the cost of their ongoing revenue (gym memberships) versus their cost of customer referrals for a great service. 
I can imagine passionate conversations in many company marketing/sales calls on developing cancellation policy. 
Like any bad relationship, trapping someone to stay in is a pretty dicey way to stay involved.  
Great point. 
Thanks Mike, 

posted on Friday, July 02, 2010 at 9:16 AM by Toby Elwin

Fresh example of non locking. 
You decided to pay for this portal and use it as tech support tool for your product. You have 500 questions answered and now what? Well, you will have CSV file with all these data because somebody decided to make a dent in Universe because they already have been built "a nice Italian restaurant" on the web and they want to "dent". Non locking means leaving your existing customers with the product they once trusted and do not provide a CSV file 

posted on Monday, July 05, 2010 at 8:29 AM by Igor Kryltsov

Minimally viable advice, to capture maximum potential opportunity: 
"Make it easy for people to try, buy."

posted on Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 7:54 AM by William Brah

easy to say, great post.

posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 9:05 AM by Cjay

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