Optimize for Impact: Why Your Organization Should Build Minimum Lovable Products

We’re excited to launch the U+ Innovation Strategies series, featuring key business insights from across our leadership team. In a recent webcast hosted by The Conference Board, U+ Managing Partner Sean Sheppard explained why minimum lovable products should be the gold standard for bringing your initial product offering to market.

Ever since it was coined by Eric Ries in 2008, the term “minimum viable product” (MVP) has become a mainstay of startup culture. As the concept has evolved to meet a changing innovation environment, it has spawned several offshoots of varying quality, including the minimum marketable product, minimum usable product, and minimum desirable product.

U+ Managing Partner Sean Sheppard’s favorite take on Ries’ original formula is the minimum lovable product (MLP), not only because love is all-too-often underrated in an innovation context, but because the idea presents a genuinely robust model for delivering real value to customers.

According to Sheppard, founders should ask themselves the following question: “Can you create a happy cohort, a statistically significant cohort, of early customers that will tell the world they're better off with you than without you?” If the answer is “yes”, then the likelihood of achieving product-market fit will tilt massively in your favor.

Before we elaborate, let’s remind ourselves what Ries originally meant when he introduced the world to the MVP concept in his book, The Lean Startup. You can think of an MVP as the first and scrappiest version of your product. It has just enough features to bring in early adopters, gain insight into customer behavior, and validate the underlying idea. It doesn't have to be perfect or beautiful, but it does have to provide sufficient data to support further iterations.

In this framework, good product development rests on a feedback loop that Ries summarizes as “build, measure, learn.”1 Many iconic companies, including tech giants like Amazon, Twitter, and Spotify, started life as pared-down MVPs, before iterating their way to mass adoption and multibillion-dollar valuations.2

Bringing love into the equation

Now we know the basics of minimum viable products. But what about minimum lovable products?

The MLP framework borrows many principles from its better-known precursor; we might even call it the next step in the concept’s evolution. While MVPs traditionally focus solely on solving a user’s problems, MLPs do more than that: they solve a user’s problem while also inspiring, delighting, and wowing them. In this sense, MLPs aim to bring a broader range of emotions into play, maximizing customer satisfaction and turning users into loyal brand advocates. This may involve appealing to human experiences that don’t typically show up in cost-benefit analyses.

Airbnb offers a useful case in point here. Leveraging its vast treasury of customer data, the rental platform is constantly updating its offering based on how its users think and behave. For instance, former product lead Jiaona Zhang discovered that a significant portion of Airbnb users were shopping for authentic life-enriching experiences as well as basic amenities. To meet this desire, the company launched AirbnbPlus along with a revamped search page that made the experience more akin to finding a home on a property site than booking a hotel.

Zhang, a big proponent of MLPs, said in a recent interview: “We created a Home Tour feature that allows people to photographically ‘move’ through each room. The flow feels like a digital open house—like users are walking in through the door and being welcomed into someone’s home. That’s a lovable, distinctively Airbnb experience.”3

In short, a minimum viable product optimizes for functionality. A minimum lovable product optimizes for impact.

Once more with feeling

Ultimately, the two ideas are more alike than you might think. Both MVPs and MLPs stress the importance of customer wants and needs through every phase of a product’s lifecycle. Similarly, they each share an attitude of scientific inquiry towards the marketplace, testing hypotheses drawn from contact with meaningful user cohorts. Sean Sheppard touched on this point during his recent Conference Board webcast:

“We don't like to write a single line of hard code for a product we’re helping a corporation launch until we know what the business model is, who the initial customer profile is, what the use case is, and what the value proposition hypothesis is,” he said.

This method, he added, “enables you to get where you want to go faster and de-risk your idea before making huge investments.”

At the same time, a truly lovable product is one that gets extremely specific about customer needs, rather than wallowing in high-level abstractions. Sheppard says the solution here is to “stop focusing on the politics of Rome and focus on the pebble in the customer’s shoe.”

Love, as they say, is in the details.

U+ can help you turn your ideas into lovable products

The U+ Method can efficiently and effectively lead the development, implementation, and improvement of innovations in any sector, helping you turn MLPs into fully-fledged products. To date, we have used this method to bring 100+ products to market, creating over $1 billion in value for Fortune 1000 companies. Read our success stories.

Get 20 minutes with Sean, the Managing Partner of U+ Americas, to learn more about how U+ can help your company innovate successfully.

Footnotes

  1. MindTools, The Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop

  2. University Lab Partners, 7 Successful Minimum Viable Products that Became Billion Dollar Companies

  3. First Round Review, Don’t Serve Burnt Pizza (And Other Lessons in Building Minimum Lovable Products)

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