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Why Most MVPs Fail

MVP = Holy Grail?

In the busy world of startups, we glorify the idea of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It’s the holy grail of launching new ideas “the right way.”

And yet, it might be the most misunderstood and poorly executed idea in the history of product development.

No matter your role - be it product, marketing, strategy, or project management - if you're involved in creating ideas and making them a reality, you should consider MVPs (or MVVs, 'Minimum Viable Versions').

And way too few people outside traditional digital product development do.

But if you follow 90% of MVP advice out there, you’ll get fucked.

I’ll explain why.

MVP = Dual Purpose

The essence of an MVP lies in its dual purpose:

  1. Standing on its own and generating value right away.
  2. Generating information for the path ahead.

It’s a difficult balancing act many don’t see the nuances of.

MVPs should be strong enough to last without quick updates. The truth is, most MVPs stay in their first version longer than expected. They're not just early tests; they need to work—not perfectly, but well enough.

So far so good.

However, the prevalent advice on MVP development often suggests segmenting your overall vision into slices and shipping one slice first. A dedicated use case that makes a part of the whole.

And this is where things can turn to shit quickly.

How Peloton and Freeletics Could've F*cked It Up

Let’s look at Peloton. A mediocre spinning bike with a mediocre tablet mounted on top that delivers me… entertaining instructional content and gamification.

What would constitute the MVP here? A fragment of this vision? Just the bike? Or the bike paired with a screen displaying videos?

None of these choices would fully show the power of the whole idea: combining basic exercise equipment with digital technology and engaging content.

Each fragment, in isolation, would likely fail — possibly leading you to conclude the entire concept is flawed.

Or take Freeletics, where I serve as Managing Director. We offer workout routines and plans, enriched with a community-driven gamification system.

If, 12 years ago, we had shipped just a workout plan as our MVP, a slice of the overall vision, we would’ve failed. But, luckily, we knew that the first version we go to market with must contain all relevant components of our idea in the right mix — it must already deliver synergy.

So our first product was a heavily scaled-down version of what it is today: workout design meets coach meets social interaction meets performance gamification.

It wasn’t fancy. But it already represented our main convictions.

Don't Launch In Isolation

And that’s exactly what a good MVP needs: a representation of your ultimate vision. The interplay of all the factors that make you believe it could work.

Whether that's a product like Peloton or Freeletics, or a new cross-functional process you want to establish at work.

MVPs can afford to be basic in features and functionality. They may lack depth but should never miss the mark on synergistic breadth.

If your conviction is that features only shine when combined, then launching them in isolation isn't iterative or agile.

It’s dumb.