Written by Gavin Morrice on Jul 5th, 2013
When Henry Ford first released his Model T car, it was a basic chassis with four wheels, a seat, and a steering wheel. It had all of the basic features required to make it appealing to a mass market, but almost none of the features we now take for granted in modern cars. No air-con. No roof. No seat-belts. No speedometer. No odometer. No doors. No accelerator pedal. No electric ignition. No stereo. Those were added later.
The first version of Facebook only offered user accounts (and only to @harvard email addresses), basic search, basic privacy settings, pokes and friend invitations. No messages. No wall/timeline. No groups. No status updates. No more than one photo per user. Those were added later.
Ford had a goal in mind. He knew the problem he was looking to solve and, although he experimented with previous prototypes (Models A - S), the Model T was the first one that he felt comfortably met his objective:
“I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
- Henry Ford
Ford did offer seat-belts, electric ignitions, doors, roofs, different colour options, but all of these additional features were developed once the Ford Motor Company was already established and bringing in money.
Facebook now offers check-ins, messages, filters on their photos etc., but again, all of these additional features were developed once the product was gaining traction and investor interest.
Being a web and mobile app developer, working mostly with new startups, I get to observe the lifespan and success of various projects. Almost invariably, the projects that I’ve watched grow and become successful are the ones who concentrate on getting a simple, working version of their product out to market as soon, and as cheaply as possible. This gives them a chance to test the product in the field, with real customers, which provides real data on which features work well, which should be abandoned, and which should be improved or added.
Conversely, the ones I’ve seen fail, usually don’t fail because the idea is a bad one. They fail because they spend too much time and effort refining their product that they either run out of money and fail to launch comlpetely, or they spend so much time and money on superfluous features that they don’t have enough left to market their product.
A product that nobody knows about, no-matter how great, is a failing product. Ford and Facebook both started by offering the minimum they could, that would still meet their customer’s needs and expectations. They didn’t waste time on extra, secondary features that they guessed might work, or that they thought would be nice to have.
Successful projects are those who start from a minimum viable product (MVP), and let customer feedback guide them as to how they should develop to the next iteration.