One of the catchphrases in startup circles is to “define your MVP”—your minimum viable product. It’s a useful means of learning more about a new tech venture, but to me, it seems to get way too much attention (at least in the minds of entrepreneurs).
My experience has shown that what is far more important to the long-term success of your venture is your WVP—your winning value proposition. Many startups seem to neglect this aspect of their initiative even though it is so crucial to their medium- and long-term survival.
First step to a WVP
The first step on the path to having a winning value proposition is to start with a viable value proposition. This means having a product offering that is exciting to both the target user(s) and the person who is willing to pay money for it. Sometimes, such as in the consumer world, these are the same person, but in the business world, they are often different people.
Second step to a WVP
The second step is to take a viable value proposition and articulate how it will become a winning value proposition. Winning means beating the competition on a regular basis and for an extended period of time.
CoreFour has created a social learning platform called Edsby. Our value proposition is to enable our customers (school districts and private schools) to transform how their key stakeholders (teachers, students and parents) securely and effectively communicate and collaborate within their education community.
We know the opportunity is very real—most school districts today operate the same way they have for decades: a child’s backpack is often the primary communication channel between the school and the home and, as any parent can attest, it can be a very slow and unreliable mechanism. Teachers often track student progress on paper; in fact, they are the one sector keeping three-ring binder companies in business.
In this highly connected world of instant communications, parents find that a couple of interim report cards and a 15-minute parent-teacher interview once a year do not provide them the kind of insights they want into what is the most important thing in their life: their child.
However, just building cool teacher tools doesn’t automatically translate into a winning value proposition. First of all, teachers don’t really want to spend their own money on tools for their job (who does?). If you give your product away for free, you then have no revenue and that likely means a relatively short life span for your startup, unless you have extremely deep-pocketed backers who don’t care if you ever make money, which is highly unlikely!
With Edsby, we’ve taken on a very challenging hurdle in order to create a sustainable difference that can give us a winning strategy.
We’ve built the integrations required to enable Edsby to tie in seamlessly with the existing systems that our customers have in place, such as their student information systems and their authentication and account management systems.
These integrations mean that our customers can roll out Edsby to tens or hundreds of thousands of users with very little incremental work, which significantly increases the value of Edsby to them. At the same time, the complexity of the work we have done to support all these integrations is a pretty daunting barrier for anyone else attempting to do the same thing as Edsby.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that we didn’t just dream up our WVP concept on a napkin one day. We’re not that brilliant. Our previous startup created a product called FirstClass that we sold to thousands of education customers around the world. That provided us with some pretty deep insights into the needs of Edsby’s target market and the core ideas for our WVP.
Time will ultimately tell whether our WVP truly is a winner. We are certainly heartened by the fact that last month we signed a multi-year contract to provide Edsby to over 200,000 (paying!) users at Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida (the eighth largest district in the United States).
I think that your MVP is a minor step in your journey—it’s the game plan to getting to the edge of the nest and taking your first flight. Your winning value proposition is your flight plan for conquering the world!
For help in Crafting Your Value Proposition, check out these workbooks from the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit by MaRS.