Startup general interest

Romantic quality – from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By April 7, 2015 One Comment

I remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was in my year out between school and university. It’s amazing, yet also amazingly dense. I remember the philosophy as inspiring, but tough.

It’s in my mind now because I just read a great post about the tyranny of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) which echoes a lot of thinking we have done at Forward Partners. In our experience entrepreneurs often have an idea that is sound but build an MVP which isn’t a strong enough base from which to iterate to success.

In the post Jon Pittman argues that the mistake founders make is to focus too much on the minimum side of the equation and not enough on the viable side of the equation. Minimum is to do with features – what is the minimum feature set that I need to ship for customers to benefit from my core use case? Whilst viability is to do with experience – is the overall experience good enough that customers will repeatedly use the product. Too many MVPs have a feature set that’s interesting enough to attract early adopters but an experience that isn’t good enough to bring people back or get them to tell their friends.

Pittman gives two examples to illustrate his point:

  • A connected thermometer that monitors temperature in his garage – great product, except he has to change the batteries every week. The feature is good, but the product isn’t viable.
  • A video doorbell that connects to his smartphone – simple but great product and it’s easy to use, with simple setup etc. The feature is good and the product is viable.

To help people avoid being the thermometer entrepreneur and be more like the doorbell entrepreneur Pittman turned to definitions of quality from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

  1. Classic quality — based on rational analysis, decomposition into parts and their relationships, concerned with details, inner workings, and mechanics.
  2. Romantic quality — understanding the overall gestalt or feel, looking at the whole rather than the parts, relating to context, emotion, and being in the moment.

‘Classic Quality’ is the realm of features and the minimum part of an MVP and ‘Romantic Quality’ is the realm of experience and the viable part of an MVP. I love this, and not just because it’s from a great book 🙂

Helping entrepreneurs to build the right MVP is a big part of what we do at Forward Partners and a large part of the work is dedicated to understanding context and emotion. It’s essential to understand how a product will fit into people’s lives and stir enough passion to drive adoption. We will be talking and writing about how to do this over the coming months.