Yesterday, Siva and I had coffee with Bradford Cross, the co-founder of Prismatic. We caught up on all the things we’re up to recently, mainly about the startups we’re involved with. As you’re probably aware, he’s doing amazing work at Prismatic, and they’re totally blowing up. He had a ton of great advice for folks getting started on new stuff, but here’s one thing that really stood out.
For some context, distribution is the answer to the question of “what is the plan to acquire users?” The typical Lean Startup process focuses first on product/market fit, and you don’t worry about scaling distribution until you actually have something that users get value from. Which makes sense; if you don’t have a product that delivers value to at least some people, you can’t have a viable business.
However, Brad’s point was that that is rather late in the process to start thinking about distribution. Folks should be paying attention to distribution right from the beginning, even during MVP development. One part of that is thinking about your voice and your conversation with your potential audience, your outbound marketing, campaign-based user-acquisition, and so on. But it also means planning (and maybe even implementing) features for your product that can organically increase sign ups.
The common feature people add to address this (and in fact, hope to become “viral” from it), is social publishing and sharing. The problem with this is that there is too much of it – most applications let you share/invite others, and the question becomes why anyone would want to do this with your product. And why would the person on the receiving end even care.
The answer is obvious – in order for there to be a successful outcome, there needs to be explicit value to both sides. It is your job to figure out what these features are for your product.
Minimal Viable Business = MVP + Distribution
So here’s the bottom line: it’s as important to figure out your product/market fit as it is to figure out that you have a viable (scalable) business. After all, you may have a lifestyle business, and just not know it. By thinking about this as early in the game as possible, you’ll be better positioned to plan a blow up.