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Michael Seibel - How to Plan an MVP
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About speaker

Michael Seibel
CEO at Y Combinator

Michael Seibel works at Y Combinator as a full-time partner and CEO of the YC accelerator program. Previously, Michael Seibel was the co-founder and CEO of Justin.tv and Socialcam. Socialcam sold to Autodesk in 2012 and under the leadership of Emmett Shear, Justin.tv became Twitch.tv and sold to Amazon in 2014. Before getting into startups, he spent a year as the finance director for a US Senate campaign and in 2005, Michael graduated from Yale University with a BA in political science.

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Topic: Business

YC CEO and Partner Michael Seibel shares his approach to building an MVP and getting your first users as a pre-launch startup.


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Michael Kerr y combinator i help run the accelerator before then. I did two YC startups once 2007 and 1012 and today, talk to you about minimum viable product to MVP. We always yell at Founders to not use jargon yet. We have this whole set of stupid startup. Jargon and MVP is one of them when you think about them if you still got 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. That's all it is. It's extremely simple. I know you guys had a talk last week about how to come up with ideas how to come up with problems. You want to solve when I will tell you is that it is helpful to talk to some users before we decide to build your MVP. It doesn't mean you have to go into a three-year kind of research situation or you have to work in industry for 10 years, but some conversations are helpful. It's even more helpful if you are your own user so you can tell whether your products working for you. I always get this strange question of how do I get

my first users which always kind of confuses me? Because theoretically you decide to solve a problem that you know, someone has so the way you get your first users you talk to that person that you know as problem and if it's you it's even easier. So I'm if you are building a product for a mysterious set of users that you have no idea who they are. Question. Slightly very slightly. Okay. So the goal of a pre-launch startup is extremely simple Step 1 lunch quickly. This is something that's been

part of the YC ethos from the very beginning and it's been great advice for 10 years and it continues to be great advice. If you can walk away from one thing from this presentation. It's launched something bad quickly. That's it. Like literally the rest of what I'm going to say is based going to be re summarize versions of that. Same thing. The second thing they do is get some initial customers get anyone using your product. You don't have to have a vision of how you get everyone using it. But just anyone interacting and seeing if they could value of the product you'd be surprised at how

many Founders Journeys And before a single user has actually interacted with a product of created. I'm it's very very common. So please get past the step. It's extremely important. The next one is talk to users any of them after you watch this MVP and get feedback on this is one that's also extremely common mistake because most Founders in their heads have any idea of what they want to built at so they kind of have this weird feeling that if I haven't built the full thing yet getting feedback on the shity initial thing is kind of useless.

Of course, it's not going to work. It's not the full thing that for things to take three years 10 million dollars a whole team. So feedback on the little thing is useless the reality is that In some ways the full thing is just really awesome idea in your head that you should keep in your head, but it should be very very flexible because it might turn out the full thing that you want to build is in what your customers want at all. So I have the same old the problem you're solving tightly hold the customer tightly hold the solution You're Building loosely. What's most important Gatorade

and I like to cut a distinguish between iterating and pivoting a lot of Founders. Once they figured out how to build something fall in love with it. And so if it doesn't work for a certain set of users, they start thinking I wonder what other problems this thing. You can solve. Well, you know, the screwdriver is not actually good at screwing in anything but I wonder what other problems that could solve and then maybe you can use it to cook. Maybe you can use it to clean and it's like no like the problem was I need to screw something in user was like I mechanic and if your screwdriver

doesn't help the mechanic solve the problem keep the mechanic keep the problem. I need to do something in fix the fucking screwdriver. I like that's the thing that's broken record. The pumpkin thing is out the mechanic and it's not the fact that they need to do something it so either 8 continue improving on your solution until it actually solve the problem. In most cases most people should be building a very lean MVP by that. We mean you should be able to build it fast in weeks not months on this can either involve software or honestly, we see

startups just start with a landing page and a spreadsheet but most startups can start very very fast II extremely limited functionality. You need to condense down what your user needs what your initial user needs to a very simple set of things a lot of times found was one of address all of their users problems and all of their potential users. When a reality they should just focus on a small set of initial users and their highest order problems and then ignore the rest until later. You should have a vision of everyone you should have an MVP very

small all this isn't a base to enter a from that's it. It's just a starting point. It doesn't it's not special in any way you just have to start and so please make sure you don't feel like you're Mbps too special here is a classic example. This is one of airbnb's first landing pages in 2008. I believe one of the things that you might be interested in about in are babies first product is that there were no payments when you found a place to stay on Airbnb you have to exchange money with the host in person news

to say that was a pretty fucking big problem. But they started without aim has no map view. You know, how when you search Airbnb you can see where that house is in the city. You don't have that sorry and the person reading all the code Nate was working part-time. Okay, is everyone tells these kind of magical stories about how everything was perfect for the beginning Airbnb not perfect from the beginning next one switch. This was what which looks like day one not very familiar with maybe a little familiar. There's some video there and there's some chat there. Other than that,

nothing else switch launched as Justin TV, which was a online reality TV show there was only one channel Justin you to follow his life. If you didn't like his life, you have to leave the website. That's all there was the video was extremely low resolution. It was funny. I found her ask me back in the day like, oh like wasn't a weird you guys head video on your apartment with all these like secret documents and Things that like people be able to see and was like, you could barely recognize our faces let alone documents that we had and most

importantly there were no video games video games except if we decide to play video games in our apartment, like that's the only time video games ever appeared and so new say you can do that quickly when you think about to itch it's much more complex now last stripe which wasn't stripe it was called / - / payments cuz we're not like let's make a name that's really easy to remember. This was striped day one. No big deals, I won't tell you exactly how they process payments but it was in a very startup you weigh almost no features and

even cooler. If you wanted to use stripe the stripe Founders would come to your office and integrate it for you. How nice is that half because they were just desperate to get anyone to use it and 1/2 because his great way to find bugs before the users found bucks you cut yourself. So these are just three examples of extremely simple extremely fast to build MVPs. All of these are Blaine dollar companies and they all started with something that most people would say is pretty shity in very few cases. You have to build a heavy and BP I just invented

that term heavy MVP when I made this presentation 2 days ago. So maybe becomes a thing. If you were in an industry with significant regulation like insurance or banking sometimes Jones, although sometimes not it's hard to launch. It's harder to watch you have to pass through a bunch of regulatory bodies first. If you're doing hard tack if you are building Rockets is hard to build a rocket in a couple weeks biotech. It is hard to invent a cancer drug in a couple weeks moonshots will a filling all the other blanks. It's hard to bored tunnels in the

earth and have shroomy fast vehicles are Play Scars in a couple weeks. So if you're in that situation, please remember that your MVP can start with a simple simple website that explains what you do it's helpful. When you talk to people interact with people that they can refer back to something to that can be your start and you candle that simple website in days not weeks heavy MVPs are faster than your lean and beets and some weird strange way. A lot of Founders have this misconception about launching. They see big

companies launch definition. That's what startups to impact AC companies. They've kind of think about like startups. They are Facebook's not really start up anymore, but they see them getting a lot of press and getting a lot of fun. And yeah they have in their head that that's what a successful company looks like when they launched Let me ask you this question. I'm how many here remember the day that Google launched? Know, how about Facebook? Okay, how about Twitter? No great. So it turns out that

launches aren't that special at all? Okay. So if you have this magical idea of your magical launch when I do throw it away, it's not that special the number one thing that's really important to get some customers. So to make people feel better. Let's use different terms. How about launch is when you get any customers and how about like fresh launch a press launch really impressive is when like people right about things and it's all exciting and get all this Buzz. Let's push the Press launch off and let's push the get any customers launch really really soon. That's our goal here. It's

a lot harder to learn from your customers when they don't have a product they can play with you. You can talk to your customer all day, but you have no idea where the thing you want to build to solve their problem. If you put the thing in front of them, it doesn't solve your problem, you know right away. And so all the research in the world is good. But until you can put something in front of people, you have no freaking idea whether it's going to work to spending all that time on a pitch deck is not as valuable as spending your time building it anything that you can give to a customer.

Finally some hacks for building an MVP extremely quickly first time box your specs you respect as a list of stuff. You need to build before you launch time boxing say, okay what happens if I want to launch in three weeks? Okay. Well, the only things that could be on my Spectre things. I can build in three weeks that makes you like a lot simpler. It allows you to remove all the features you can't build in 3 weeks. Second-rate your spec this seems really straightforward. But most people fuck this one up. It's really easy to change what you're working on before you ever launched it because you

never write it down. You start working on something you talk to user they say, oh, I would never use that or God forbid you talk to an investor and they say all that can never be accompanied cuz investors know everything and so you decide to change what you're working on it because you never wrote it down. You don't even really realize you're changing it. And so your 3-week plan turns into a three-month plan. If you write shut down at least you can be honest with yourself that you're changing respect all the time. The next one is cut your spec a week into your kind of three weeks Prince. You

probably realize that you added too many things to respect and you are not going to make your deadline. That's okay just cut the stuff that clearly isn't important and if there's no not important things start cutting important things most of the goal here is just to get anything out in the world. Once you get anything out in the world the momentum to keep anything going is extremely strong. Once you have anything once you go if you don't have anything on the world, it's very easy to just delay delay delay delay, and then last don't fall in love with you and be happy so many people fall

in love with the vision in their head and none of the products. I showed you before was the initial Vision, but it ended up being So, please don't fall in love with your MVP. It's just step one in a journey. You wouldn't fall in love with a paper. You wrote in the first grade and like that's like the level of impact off in your MVP pass. That's the talk. I have a little bit of time for questions any questions. Perfect. No questions about guy and another

one wants it. So the numbers are so small that they kind of trick question. So you talk to users and they have all these things that you want to build and there isn't a lot of overlap between them. So I will give you kind of the meta answer never asked users for features. Never ask users to tell you what they want. It's not that users job to come up with features. That's your job. The user's job is to give you problems. And so I would assume that if you were talking to these users, there's some continuity in the

problems that they have. They probably have no idea how to solve the problem. And so they're probably giving you a long list of potential features. They think and solve the problem as opposed to spending a lot of time just talking about what their problem is. How often do they experience it how intense is it? Are they going to pay for a solution do they know other people have the problem? So like those are the questions I be trying to get out of someone and if you see someone sneaking into future Zone like oh, you know, I love Microsoft Word, but I wish that like someone could build

something that lets me do Bubba blah right that you got to scoot back down to I will why do you want to do but what problems you have? How often do you encounter that problem and like get it back to the problem? That's how you avoid future death. extremely common change it up because I'm finding one thing better. So I start off on my medication. Just keep going with what I started with. The question is I'm stuck in the cycle where I keep on changing my

VPN. I don't launch I'm stuck in that cycle and their lot of start-up problems where the answer is stop doing what you're doing. Stop it, but you don't have to keep on changing MVP. One of the reasons why more apps are changing every p is because you think it's special. He didn't think it was special. You would stop changing it. You stop attending it. If you think your MVP is special you think it has to be perfect. If you think it has to be perfect you spent a lot of time messing with it. If you

assume that it has to be really shity. Right like if you think like, okay, like I'm literally trying to find a shirt in my closet that I can paint with and then destroy you don't spend a lot of time tailoring that shirt right? So if you think your every piece lespecial you'll spend less time tinkering with it. What are the key features? This is a really simple question. What's the key thing? You want to learn when you want to give feedback on your repeat? Does it solve the problem? I

wanted you to see if you wanted to solve that's it. You can find a different ways of answering that question. But if you clearly understand the problem you're trying to solve and it's a pretty clear often times. You don't have to ask if it's in front of the user you can see whether they're like doing the thing you want them to do or whether they're like not I'm often times. You can see the numbers if it's a problem of every day and you introduced user to it that they come back the next day. I've never really seen a product that solves a problem people have every day that actually

solves the problem where user just stops using it cuz like Whatever. So I'm there. Lots of like weird nuances here that are completely irrelevant. Does that used to do the thing solved the problem that you wanted to solve other questions? How long should an MVP last I mean just started growing and then what the next steps I don't like thinking about timelines and I don't think leaking about roadmaps. Like for people who are in the free MVP stage like who knows something figured out you decided to do a startup and one of the characteristics of startups. Is that how

to get from A to Z is not going to be clear. And so if you're too focused on like, oh, well, I understand getting Mbps that beat but I'm really focused on step C D and E. I would tell you like hey, how about some proper in front of you first? So how do you balance for example improving the mdp to grow the receipt is the retention of customers vs. Wedding on efforts to grow position and lead generation in terms of browser. Should you work on gross or should you roast and retention? I love this question. It's the funniest question the world

his last me to give like a ridiculously can't answer both. Yeah. I'm here's what happened. A lot of stop startup Founders kind of fundamentally understand this start up is a multivariable problem, but multivariable problems are hard so they try to reduce it to a single variable. So they asked the like secret advisor like, oh what's more important growth retention? It's like what's more important like taking a shower or going to the bathroom and my doing number 2? I'd like you to do both. Sorry for what's important as a Founder. You're going to

have to juggle multiple things would like a setup that couldn't talk to the animals is given to Stephen want to talk to me about the problem and how did he ever come back? Let's secure the question is how do you talk to your users? If they have a problem? They don't want to talk about why don't you tell me is what that is. What's the problem calculator? Type 2 diabetes. I am perfectly confident that you can find 10 people who want to talk about their type 2 diabetes and I question you starting a start-up to help type

2 diabetes people. If you don't know anyone who's got type 2 diabetes who's going to talk to you? So I think that's like one of those false setups. Like I reject the premise of the question. Alright next question. How many default would be enough to sign up for how many active users will be good to have in the in between? Before Priyanka Chopra dancing to Michael Kors Apple based on the beach. That's a great question. If I were to summarize Jose, how far along are you

before you talk to investors? I'm also going to DuPont on that answer. I think there's going to be a whole lecture on when you should talk to investors. And so I will say wait for that lecture and whoever gives it will do a great job answering that question. My question is what type of numbers are are tracking to do look for before your product is validated. I'll rephrase that question. How do you know when you have product-market fit? Okay, the classic answer which is actually correct in Founders really hate is that if

you're asking you don't have product-market fit what tends to happen when you have product-market fit is that people start using your product so much you transition from doing anything other than just keeping it online. That's our product Market fit tends to look like so you stop thinking about new Futures you stop thinking about improving your leg conversion through funnels. You stop thinking about how to get better distribution and you are literally just like holy shit. I don't know how I'm going to serve the people who are coming to my

product tomorrow. I'm I'm at a loss and next week. I'm at a loss and I'm pretty sure that we're going to die because we have too many users. And what's funny is when I put it that way. It's not hard to know whether you're there or not. And this such a horrible reality. Is that almost? No one gets product-market fit. Almost no one. Almost no one. So like a lot of people like to throw around the term and a lot of people like to redefine it as like someone's using my product.

That's that's that's not the term the term for someone's using your product as you have a user. The definition of the problem keeps on getting bigger bigger bigger. Why you figure out an MVP? Where do they close I'll be working with just one user and we try to act like a small experiment with him. So what happens if you learn more about the problem in the problem expands as you start interact with users, that's totally fine. That's expected. In fact, what I would say though is that we're Founders usually makes a mistake is they think they have to solve the problem for all

users. And so most importantly if you have one user with a set of problems a nice thing to do would be to try to figure out his or anyone else like them. And like one fun thing you could do is just ask them hate. Do you know anyone else who's got the exact same problem any problem when you kind of stood back and you think about the vision of any founder in action compasses like a whole subset of problems and I think the thing that gets people really screwed up with her MVP is a have a vision that's big and they're not willing to have an MVP that's small they feel as though if they're

not addressing all of potential users upfront then there's somehow failing and like there a lot of things that a startup has told you I found rest of you were there keeping two things in mind at same time, right Vision big MVP small right grow and retain one through time I y c a lot your investor pitch and your customer pitch. Very different and Founders always want to smash these things together or kill one cuz it's so much easier to think of it as a single problem like single thing in your head versus two opposing things in your head. How could it be

true that we want to do payments for everyone and have a little API that's so hard to use that. We have some salts for people. Right and it's like both things are true. You have to be comfortable with that one more. In the pharmaceutical space who are your users? I think that that's a question for you. You were starting the company, you know, what your building, you know, problem-solving, you know, who has the problem. I don't know any of us. That's all right talking to all of you. Thank you very much.

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