Lately, I've been doing meetings with young startups in recent accelerator batches and meeting them for the first time. It's been great to hear that they've bought into the iterative method of customer development and most of them have found their Minimum Viable Product or MVP, or they are well on their way to finding MVP.
This is awesome but in today's world, you can't raise money on achieving an MVP. Investors demand more than that.
As Steve Blank likes to say:
A Startup Is a Temporary Organization Designed to Search
for A Repeatable and Scalable Business Model
The unfortunate reality is - an MVP is not the above! Yet most of the newly minted entrepreneurs I've met think their job is nearly done when they've found MVP - they think they can go build a pitch off their early MVP and raise money!
A startup does require MVP but it is much more than just MVP. The problem is that MVP means early adoption of product and its features, maybe even some who will pay. But it doesn't tell you how many people will do it in the long term and whether this can support the company (the people and operations within) that is behind it.
So startups are much more than MVP and requires thinking beyond just the product. This is where I'd like to coin a new acronym, which is Minimum Viable Company or MVC.
What is a MVC?
First, I would say MVCs only apply to early stage startups - you can't really talk about achieving MVC status for a company that's been around for a longer period of time. To be minimally viable as a company, I would say:
1. It has achieved breakeven or profitability, or has a believable and achievable plan to get there.
2. It has achieved enough metrics to reach its next funding event. This includes the first funding event.
Or ideally both.
The Fundable MVC
An MVC must have achieved some sort of MVP, but having MVP doesn't mean you have achieved MVC automatically. Nor does it mean you've achieved the next level of MVC which is a FMVC or Fundable MVC.
Remember that many MVCs can generate cash, but how much exactly? If you reach small or medium business status, that is great; it takes no little effort to make $500K, $1M, or several tens of millions of dollars per year. It is a notable achievement to employ a building full of workers, insuring them pay and livelihood, and providing or shipping product and services to customers. This is a win by many measures.
However, many companies like these, while there is every reason in the world for them to exist, unfortunately are not attractive to investors. This is because while they are doing great work, the likelihood of investors getting their money back and then some is very low or zero. This is the difference between an MVC and a FMVC.
We have not, as an startup/investor community, figured out how to invest in those companies whose trajectory is heading towards small or medium business status. Right now, all startups are being funded as if they are going to exit like any high growth startup. Anybody on a lesser trajectory simply won't attract the funding it needs unless more effort is done with other funding sources or structures.
Therefore, it is the FMVC that every startup needs to achieve. What are the characteristics of a FMVC? Everything that a seasoned, high growth investor looks for: big market, big vision, lots of revenue potential, world domination plan, etc. This is what will increase the likelihood of funding, not presenting your MVP at a demo day, or even a plan for a MVC, but your plan for a FMVC.
How do you turn your MVP into a FMVC?
First, you must realize that not all MVPs yield a FMVC. MVPs could yield a MVC but not FMVC. Many MVPs have potential to attract some customers, but not enough to create a company and an opportunity large and tasty enough for investors to want to put money in. This is also dependent on the market in general, meaning that 5+ years ago when there weren't so many startups sprouting up all over the place, you could have achieved an FMVC with your project; however, in today's crowded startup world, you cannot.
While every project is different, I point you to some suggestions on examining what you are doing now in hopes of turning it into a FMVC:
1. Iterating on MVCs is a good thing to do; keep trying out business models and plans until a FMVC shows up. It may mean giving up on your current MVP and looking for another one. Do not be afraid of going back to the drawing board if you find your MVP does not yield a satisfactory FMVC!
However, your time limit is your bank account. Never forget that. So working rapidly and lean is key.
2. Do you have a World Domination Plan? Is it believable? If you can envision a world where your MVP dominates whatever market and customers it is pursuing, is that big enough?
3. Are you too focused on the solution and not on the problem? Becoming too myopic about their product and forgetting about how this turns into a big company is something that I find happens with many entrepreneurs. They get caught up in the success of finding a MVP, but don't realize that they not only need a MVP but need to achieve MVC and hopefully FMVC.
4. Following on 3., it would probably be a good idea to pick up some MBA skills and start running models and scenarios to see where a given MVP can become a MVC, or potentially a FMVC.
5. A good measuring stick I use with startups is to ask what the $100M/year revenue scenario looks like. Generating $100M in business per year is no small feat - you get there and you're well on your way to becoming a big business. So can we imagine a world where your startup is making that much and believe it?
6. The weird thing about some startups is, that some break into such new territory that it is very hard to model or you can't model anything. New industries, new markets, or products and services that customers cannot imagine having or using are like that. So the FMVC you could create is purely via pitch, arrogance, confidence, etc. - whatever it takes to woo an investor to write a big enough check on what you plan whether you have product or not. In order to accomplish this kind of FMVC, your credentials must be unique: you must be well-known to the investor, you must be trusted. Ideally, you would have had an exit or more for that investor. You must show "extreme" entrepreneurial traits: be able to employ persuasive language, compelling/grand planning, superb salesmanship skills and technical skills, among others. These are the people who can get funding on a powerpoint when others flounder even with revenue.
This can be enough to win you funding and survivability.
1. An MVP is great but not enough in today's market to win funding.
2. An MVC generally means you have MVP, but an MVP does not guarantee MVC.
3. An MVC can yield a small to medium business, or a big world dominating one. There is nothing wrong with building any of those types of businesses and the world is big enough for all kinds.
4. However, we do not know how to properly invest in small to medium businesses. Our money may not be returnable from such businesses using the current equity structure of our investing. Thus, we want to invest in FMVCs.
5. As someone who is trying to build a real high-growth startup, therefore, MVPs or MVCs are not enough. You must search for a FMVC.