Are MVPs an illusion?

If you are a business person, chances are that you have read the Lean Startup. It is a famous book about startups that advocates building a so-called Minimum-Viable-Product. The idea is that instead of investing a lot of money in a new business, you just test it out first. You build a minimal product that is able to test how your product will resonate with the market. Only when you find so-called “product-market-fit”, you proceed with investing more. Well, sounds good, but don’t be mislead.

There are two points that I would like to mention with regards to this business-practice.

Was doing more than an MVP even a reasonable business practice in the first place?

When I first read the book over 10 years ago I thought: “Wow genius, that is so inspiring! Instead of investing loads of money you just start small?” But think about it. Isn’t that what any reasonable person would do anyway? I mean how is that even a thought-provoking idea. Any business decision I have experienced about new ideas and ventures from every manager I have ever encountered was always “start small and grow from there”. Most of them haven’t heard of the term MVP let alone have read the Lean Startup. It’s just what you would do. Not that it’s wrong. It’s self-evident.

How “Minimum” is an MVP actually?

The second point is that even if the term is “Minimum Viable Product”, building it will still require a really discomforting sum of money for everybody who isn’t a millionaire. I’m not an expert, but as far as I’m concerned, below 50.000 € will probably not get you far. And since you will most-likely fail with the idea (“fail fast” is also a term coined by the book), you end up with 50k in losses and no business. So onto the next MVP wich again costs about the same. With the average failure rate of new business ideas (it’s around 90%), you can easily dump about 500k before something works. Not exactly my definition of “Minimum”.

There are a few books that advocate 4-hour-workweeks and 100$-startups. If you go into more detail, this is usually nothing more than a catchphrase. If you count all the opportunity costs (which you’d better do as a real business man/woman), you will very unlikely end up with less than 50k in costs.


The Lean Startup is actually a good book. But as most leadership, business and self-help books, it creates unrealistic expectations. It is better to start small and it is better to test things out. But so would you proably do anyway. And if you can’t invest several mutiples of 50k, don’t think about founding a business. To get me right: You don’t have to have it in cash. But your time also has value and as a business person you should know what that value is. Having spent 500 hours on your MVP and only 5k in cash is still somewhere around 35k-105k in costs (hourly fees for about any service job are usually between 60 and 200 €).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s