Minimally Viable Products and Markets

September 30, 2016

The problem with many minimal viable products is their developers start with the wrong mentality and mindset.

A new startup, CleanScrubs Inc., has seen a trend in the marketplace. Scrubs, the sterile clothes worn in operating rooms and other clinical environments, are commonly seen in subways, cafes, and grocery stores. CleanScrubs ponders that clinicians have come to think of scrubs more as a uniform than a sterile article of clothing that should be donned within a clinical environment. Meanwhile, hospital-based infectious disease runs rampant, drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise, and billions of dollars are being invested to control this problem. Moreover, hospitals have large staff and, consequently, large costs associated with cleaning these scrubs (when clinicians actually leave them at the hospital).

The founders of CleanScrubs, two bright young engineers freshly minted from top-tier universities, believe they have a compelling solution to this problem. They envision a system that receives dirty scrubs and then washes, sterilizes, presses, and packages them for bulk storage within the hospital. The process is fully automated, requiring only one person to toss the scrubs on the conveyor, reducing labor costs of the in-house medical laundry staff. The engineers dub their invention “ScrubBot.” They figure ScrubBot should be able to offset hospital costs and reduce hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).

The monetary benefits of ScrubBot are limitless. The engineers sketch out various embodiments of their system and file a provisional patent. Even though the provisional has been filed, first-to-market offers a big advantage, and secrecy will be maintained throughout development — CleanScrubs will operate under “stealth mode” for the foreseeable future.

Having heard about the Lean Startup movement and “MVP” (minimally viable product) strategy, the engineers aim to build a prototype, fast and cheap. Putting their skills to the test, they connect tubes, hoses, motors, and other hardware purchased primarily at Home Depot. After six months of hard work and ramen noodles, they finally have achieved their MVP. It isn’t pretty, but it works (occasionally); it’s about the size of a Honda Odyssey and it’s as loud as a jackhammer on concrete. Also, there is an odd burning odor after the system runs for a few minutes, but hey, this is MVP.

What’s up next is that it’s time to share ScrubBot with hospital administrators and venture capitalists (under a non-disclosure agreement, of course). Landing pre-orders and investment should be relatively straightforward now that their MVP is running, right?

The problem with many minimal viable products is their developers start with the wrong mentality and mindset.

Before you create any product, you should understand the industry and other competitors and the markets and market segments you intend to dominate. In the beginning, you need to be a problem seeker, not a problem solver. It is part of the entrepreneurial mindset.

Businesses most commonly fail for two basic reasons. First, they fail to understand their customer's problem or job that needs to be done and deliver an irrelevant or unappealing solution or, second, they have a non-viable business model. You can avoid both by doing your homework before you go to the prototyping lab.