How Lovable Is Your Product: MVP or MLP?

Laughing on patio
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Much has been said, written, tweeted, and blogged about the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Even though Eric Ries, a fellow at IDEO and the author of The Lean Startup, is usually credited with coining the popular acronym … it was actually coined by California-based SyncDev CEO Frank Robinson (no, not the Frank Robinson who hit 38 home runs in his rookie year with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, we’re talking about the other Frank Robinson). No one else could put “Coined the term Minimum Viable Product” in their LinkedIn description, but Frank Robinson can!

MVP Defined

Airbnb, Instagram, Dropbox, and Uber all started with MVP’s. Uber initially worked via SMS message long before their sophisticated UI appeared down the road.

The way Robinson broke it down in 2001 was by saying a product was an MVP when it was right-sized, enough to cause adoption (i.e., ROI), not overly bloated with features, and low risk. He also clarified that an MVP is driven by your most relevant customers, not your entire customer base. An MVP is a great way to get to market fast, and pivot as you learn. It’s also great for delivering a base set of useful features, testing your assumptions about your product, and exploring largely untapped markets. But it’s still analogous to a movie trailer, not a full-length feature film. It’s not enough to stop at MVP, a product should also delight.

MLP Defined

In 2013, Aha! CEO Brian de Haaff took things a step further. He argued that there is a Most Lovable Product (MLP). In his 2016 book, Lovability: How to Build a Business That People Love and Be Happy Doing It, he talks about how Aha!’s customers started sending the company “love notes” in 2013 describing how much they loved using the company’s cloud platform (they’ve received over 2,500 notes since). To quote from his book, he writes that the software market feedback at the time usually echoed this sentiment:

Nobody loves business software or the companies that build it. They tolerate it. People love consumer goods and services, but not software. Software is a necessary evil.

In the book, Brian reverse engineers thousands of these notes from customers to find out what his company had done to inspire such devoted feelings amid so much software-using angst. He also argues that companies and customers are not buildings or tech stacks, they are people. Empathizing with customers really does matter. Brian creates a pathway for a lovability metric in his book that companies can measure themselves against to see how attractive they are to their customers.

An MLP is emotional. It’s disruptive and its features shine. It creates customer stickiness, goes deep into UX research, and differentiates itself from the competition: An MLP’s customer base will send you new customers themselves. Empathy in product design really can drive better product adoption. Palo Alto based business planning resource, Bplans, sums the discussion up like this:

Both MVP and MLP are essential for developing a valuable product. An MVP assures the smooth performance of essential functionality, whereas MLP makes sure the solution stands out for customers.

Customer Happiness and Delighters

On their blog titled Measuring Customer Happiness, Zendesk (the award-winning customer service platform), found that three-quarters of consumers are willing to spend more with businesses that deliver solid experiences. They also describe how customer happiness is tethered to an emotional tie to your brand. People feel connected to products and product companies when they love to interface with them.

Zendesk adds that customer satisfaction scores (otherwise known as CSAT), can tell you if you are meeting customer expectations. However, your NPS (Net Promoter Score) will get you closer to measuring customer happiness.

I love delighters, and am always looking for ways to make users feel supported and inspired. Whether it’s a playful animated GIF, a helpful notification, or adding a feature that will make their everyday life easier, I aim to connect to the customer through our product design. I also like to create a vibrant feedback loop from customer communities, surveys, and feature-request monitoring. I want to hear from these people!

Do your customers feel heard? How are you making them smile this week? Moving from your MVP to MLP could potentially have them sending you love notes!