The Lean Startup Technique That Will Help Finish Your Website

You’ve worked on your website for weeks, but the thought of showing it to real people makes you cringe. What if they don’t like your idea? What if your colors aren’t quite right? What if your photos aren’t as nice as someone else’s? So you tweak, and redo, and change again….it’s just never…quite…done…..

Meanwhile, “finish my website” sits there on your to-do list, week after week, and you can never cross it off.

Does this describe you? If so, you’re not alone. A lot of us suffer from a sense of perfectionism that keeps us from putting our ideas out there. Sending your website out in the world suddenly makes your idea “real”, which comes with expectations, opinions, disappointments and…oh gosh, the list goes on.

There’s a way around this problem, and it involves a simple trick. Take a page from the software development playbook and try to think of your website in terms of an “MVP”—a minimum viable product.


What’s a minimum viable product (MVP)?

The concept of a minimum viable product was popularized in Eric Ries’s book “The Lean Startup.” The idea is simple: it’s the version of a new product that allows you to learn the most with the least amount of effort.

In other words, you don’t release something when it’s perfect. You release it when it has just enough to work (i.e. is “minimally viable). That way you can test it, get feedback, and improve from there.

Most startups, Ries writes, spend months “perfecting” a product before it ever sees the light of day. Then they’re in for a rude awakening when they release their shiny new thing and no one is interested. Their approach is slow, resource-intensive, and doesn’t even lead to very good results.

How does an MVP help finish your website?

Developers typically use the MVP approach for releasing new products and software, but Ries’s “build-measure-learn” feedback loop can help you attack any large project, especially your website.

Think of what your website needs to be minimally viable.

Chances are it’s a pretty short list—maybe it’s just a landing page. Your MVP website might need a custom domain, a title, a few paragraphs of text, your contact information, and links to your social media profiles. Other pieces, like a logo, might go in the “nice to have” or “one day” categories. But they don’t keep the website from functioning, so they don’t need to be part of your MVP.

Publish your website.

Don’t worry, you aren’t going to get thousands of visitors right away. Maybe your mom will visit it, and she’ll love it. Share it with some friends and colleagues. The idea is just to get it out there. If you start to get nervous, remind yourself that this isn’t “Your Website”, the beautiful, perfect, fully-optimized online property you’ve pictured in your mind. This is a prototype that you’re learning from because you’re a super-efficient, smart, lean, mean startup machine.

See what happens.

Pretty quickly you’ll start to notice what’s missing. Maybe it would be really nice to be able to book appointments. Great, you can add that. Or maybe you’d like to add some customer testimonials or more text. Done and done. All of those things can be added over time, but they don’t get to hold up your entire website.

Get feedback.

The most important part of the MVP is the learning part. This means you use your MVP website to get feedback from your target audience—the kinds of people who would actually use your website. Can they do the basic things you need them to do? Do they understand what your business is, and does it sound useful to them? Try some basic user testing on your own and discover parts of your website that might be unclear, confusing, unnecessary, but most likely very fixable.

For example, you might discover that the decorative font you really really love is actually illegible to most people. Or that most people couldn’t find the button to sign up for your newsletter. All of these user experience problems are great to know now, rather than months down the road, so that you can fix them quickly.

Repeat.

Take what you’ve learned from your MVP, and start to make improvements. Some will be quick, others might take more time. But at least you’re moving forward, and you’ve broken up the large task “finish website” into much more manageable pieces.

Finally finish your website—and keep learning

An MVP helps you test assumptions and learn as quickly as possible, without investing a lot of time and energy going down paths (or choosing colors) that don’t really work.

If you internalize the MVP mindset when you work on your website, it can help take a lot of the pressure off. After all, a DIY website from Jimdo is easy to change at any time, for any reason. Hopefully, you’ll start to think of your website as something that evolves over time, rather than something that’s supposed to be perfect, “finished,” and never touched again.

If an MVP appeals to you, you can apply it to other aspects of your business too—or even personal projects. For more information, check out Eric Ries’s website.