Startup School Reference Guide for Lecture #3 — How to Plan an MVP with Michael Seibel

The lecture in its entirety. Recommend watching and then referring back to this afterwards!

While working to create the Snapchat for voice — — and attending Startup School 2019, I was inspired to create these “Cliffs Notes” for all the valuable content that YC provides to their attendees.

When you think about an MVP, you just think about something ridiculously simple. This is the first thing you can give to the very first set of users you want to target, in order to see if you can deliver ANY value at all to them.

Table of Contents:

1. Strategies and tactics for building an MVP

2. Examples of real companies using these tactics and strategies for their MVP

3. Building a “heavy” MVP

4. Launching an MVP

5. Hacks for building an MVP extremely quickly

Strategies and tactics for building an MVP

1. It is helpful to talk to some users before you build your MVP

  • No need to do a very long research period, or work in the industry for a long time
  • Even more helpful if you are your own user, then you can tell if a solution is working for you!

2. You get your first users by…solving a problem for that user

  • You get your first user by talking to the person you know has the problem!
  • If it’s you, it’s even easier 😉
  • If you are solving a problem for “mystery users”…question that 🤔

Goals of a Pre-Launch startup

1. Launch quickly!

  • If you can walk away with one thing from this talk, it is Launch something bad, quickly.

2. Get initial customers

  • Lots of founders journeys end before a SINGLE customer interacts with the product! Don’t let that happen to your company!

3. Talk to users — and get feedback

  • Some founders think that since this MVP isn’t their “Full Vision”, it is pointless to get feedback on it.
  • The “Full Vision” is something that should be very, very flexible. It might turn out your “Full Vision” isn’t what customers want!
  • (For how to talk to users, check out this post.)

    Hold the problem you’re solving tightly, hold the customer tightly, hold the solution you’re building loosely.

4. Iterate

  • Iterating and pivoting are not the same thing!
  • Iterating is changing the solution to the problem. Pivoting is changing the problem you are solving.

    For example, if the problem was “I need to screw something in”, the user was a mechanic, and the solution is a screwdriver — if your screwdriver doesn’t help the mechanic solve their problem, keep the mechanic, keep the problem, fix the fucking screwdriver!

    The broken thing is not the mechanic, and it’s not the fact that they need to screw something in. So iterating is continuing to improve your solution until it actually solves the problem.

5. Build a very lean MVP

  • Build in weeks, not months
  • Could be software — could be just a landing page and a spreadsheet!
  • Very limited functionality — condense what your INITIAL user needs into a VERY small set of things
  • Founders often want to address all potential users, and all potential problems. Don’t do this — focus on a very small set of users, and their worst problems
  • All your MVP is, is a base to iterate from. Just a starting point!

Examples of real companies using these tactics and strategies for their MVP

1. Airbnb

  • No payments — you had to exchange money with the host in person!
  • No map view
  • Part time CTO

2. Twitch (aka

  • 1 channel — a livestream of a guy, Justin
  • Extremely low-res
  • No video games!

3. Stripe (aka /dev/payments)

  • No bank deals
  • Few features
  • If you want to use Stripe, founders would come to your office and do it for you (Do things that don’t scale)

All Billion dollar companies that started with something very shitty! 💩

Sometimes you need to build a “heavy” (non-lean) MVP

1. Significant regulations

  • Insurance, banking

2. Hardtech

  • Rockets etc — hard to build a rocket in a few weeks

3. Biotech

  • It’s hard to create a cancer drug in a few weeks

4. Moonshots

  • Anything else that takes more than a couple weeks

However — you can always start with a simple website. This gives potential customers/users something to refer back to!

Launching an MVP

1. Startups do not “launch” in the same way as big companies!

  • Launches aren’t special at all. Do you remember the day that Google launched? How about Facebook? How about Twitter?
  • “Press” launches (where you get a lot of buzz in the media) are down the line. “Getting customers” launches are for startups — right now.

2. The most important thing is to get some customers . That will let you know if your solution solves their problem!

  • It’s a lot harder to learn from your customers when they don’t have a product they can play with.
  • You can talk to your customer all day, but you have no idea whether the thing you want to build can solve their problem.
  • If you put the thing in front of them, and it doesn’t solve their problem, you know right away.
  • So spending all that time on a pitch deck is not as valuable as spending your time building anything that you can give to a customer.

Hacks for building an MVP extremely quickly

1. “Time-box” your spec

  • If you choose an arbitrary date to launch — say in 3 weeks — this is a forcing function to cut anything that isn’t essential.

2. Write down your spec

  • If your set of features for your MVP isn’t written down, its really easy to add features that aren’t essential. And you might not even realize you are doing it!

3. Cut down your spec

  • You time boxed your spec, and wrote down your spec. But you won’t be able to hit all the features in the time-box! That’s ok, cut some more stuff.
  • If there are no “non-important” things, start cutting important things 😂
  • The goal is to get something in to the world. Once something is out there, the momentum to keep going is extremely strong!

4. Don’t fall in love with your MVP

  • You wouldn’t fall in love with a paper you wrote in 1st grade. That’s the level of impact/stage of iteration your MVP is.

As always, lmk if you have any questions or feedback!


Dave Goldblatt
CEO @wavechatme | Fb 2007-2017 | Crypto is cool | I like AI too | Knicks, Jets, Napoli, Yankees |