Chris McCann's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Cal Poly

Mental Model for Minimal Viable Products

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Last week I gave a talk at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (my alma mater) about multidisciplinary learning and minimal viable products.

One of the mental models I came up with was a theoretical framework for a “Minimal Viable Product” or MVP for short. In the post I want to put my idea out there for further refinement and get some feedback on it (in MVP style :))

Lets start with some basic definitions.

I like to define a minimal viable product as the quickest and simplest way to test a product idea in the open market. The MVP can be as simple as a signup form, or first prototype, or screenshots. The most important thing about MVP’s is how quickly you can put it out there to start getting feedback from your potential customers or whom you think your customers might be.

The reason why MVP’s exist at all is because it is much easier to test your MVP to see if people want your product rather then to build a fully functional product and figure out no one really wants what you made. An MVP is a quick way to test your initial concept before starting the product process.

The mental model I came up with for a MVP is inside a “while loop” a concept from computer science. A simple definition of a while loop is a “statement of code that can repeat given a boolean statement (true or false). If this is your first time ever seeing this concept I’d also suggest checking out Khan Academy’s talk on while loops.

With the basic definitions out of the way here is my mental model for a MVP:

while Traction is not True:
    Idea = Hypothesis
    Experiment = Market
    Traction = True or False
    Idea + Experiment = Traction

    If Traction = True
        Return Idea, go Build_Product
        Traction = False 

Lets break this function down and then also explore some interesting observations that come from this function.

The main premise of a MVP is you are trying to test for “traction” which I will explain in a bit. Inside the while loop your business idea is the hypothesis you want to test and you want to test this against the market. Said another way you want to put your idea in front of who you think your customers for the idea would be.

Once you run this experiment against your idea you will see if your idea generations traction or not. The True or False inside the while loop is a Boolean statement, which means you are either going to get traction or not.

One of the most difficult parts of this function is defining what “traction” means. It’s hard because there is no exact answer, e.g. if 10 people sign up for the beta release of your product that isn’t necessarily traction. Traction is much more of a gut instinct you feel when there is genuine interest, demand, or buying intent for your idea. E.g. If you’re creating a enterprise application and a large corporation wants to sign an Letter of Intent (LOI) as soon as they see your MVP that might quality as traction.

The best definition of traction I could think of is: if the reaction from your potential is significant enough for you to be excited and motivated enough to take the next step of building the first version of the product itself. The answer will either be yes or no (True or False).

If your MVP delivers traction then you are done and you move onto the build product stage, but if your MVP does not deliver traction then you need to iterate (change) your idea and try the while loop until you find traction.

Now for 2 interesting aspects of the MVP function.

Idea vs. Market:

The reason why you need to iterate your idea and not the market is because it’s really hard to change the market conditions during a short time period. It’s much easier to change your idea and try the process again.

But if the market you’re in is rising rapidly in your favor, your idea doesn’t need to be that good and it can still pick up traction quickly. These conditions probably lead to the “Powder Keg” startups Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of DuckDuckGo, was referring to in his recent blog post. This is also probably why you see a lot of variation of startups around fast-growing markets all during a short time period e.g. all of the Groupon clones, social gaming startups, and startups in the social/local/mobile space.

All this variation, a concept from Biology, is probably a key factor in producing companies that survive in the long term (also related to survival of the fittest). This could be a whole post in itself, which I might come back to on a later day.

The Initial Idea:

I suspect the idea which gets traction and the entrepreneur decides to go forward with would follow the Physics principal of Chaos Theory. Chaos Theory is a theory in which the initial state of a system drastically affects the result in a chaotic system. You might have heard the phrase “A butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can cause hurricanes in Asia”, this is a hypothetical example from Chaos Theory.

Just like weather systems, the market is a chaotic system and your initial idea will matter a lot in determining the final outcome. This is why I believe an idea matters a lot but only in the initial state of your company. Right after the initial state other things like building product and execution matter much more than the idea itself.


Whenever I talk about MVP’s I always the same question asked repeatedly so I will answer it now rather than later.

An MVP is NOT a startup; it is Step 0 on your path to creating a startup. There are many more aspects to starting a company that I could not possibly cover in one post nor do I know them all myself. An MVP is only a tool to test the need in the marketplace before you do the hard work of building a product behind your idea.

*Also for any engineers reading this my while loop probably has some syntax errors in it. It’s not like you could ever run this function so I use the while loop mostly for conceptual purposes. 

Written by Chris McCann

October 3, 2011 at 4:41 am

Comparing Life Paths – The Corporate Life vs. The Entrepreneurial & Startup Life

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what path direction do I take? Corporation vs. startup enrepreneurship

Photo by HaMeD!caL

With June around the corner students around the globe will be graduating from college and making a major decision in their lives: Do I get a corporate job? Or do I choose the path of entrepreneurship and create my own career path?

With my graduation date set for June 14th I have been contemplating the same questions over and over again, and I’ve heard a ton of advice from a ton of different people. I wanted to share some of the best I’ve heard and share the story of what I am planning on doing.

Perspective #1

Ben Casnocha who I’ve written about previously paints the two major life philosophies in a very to understand concept. There are 2 life paths one can take:

  1. The textbook path to life
  2. The throw out and write your own textbook path to life

Path #1 - The textbook path to life is a very familiar path, this is the path where you go to college, strive to get good grades, work a few internships, interview with a lot of companies, pick a good stable corporation, continue working the corporate ladder, have a successful life, and be happy.

This is definitely the path of least resistance. The positives are you can work your 9-5 and then after work completely forget about everything related to work and peruse your own interests whether they are partying with friends, traveling to cool places, a hobby, keeping up to date with sports, etc. You work hard during “work time” but your work and life outside of work are kept separate. Life is somewhat predictable, your emotions are easily controllable, and your mind is clear and free of all the worries of work and its much easier to enjoy.

Path #2 - The throw out and write your own textbook path to life is the scary path to life. This is the path where your family and close friends ask what are you doing with your life?! This is the path that has no set rules, no set boundaries, and it is very unique to each person.

This is definitely the path of most resistance. The positives are you can do what you love and express your values & beliefs through the career path you choose. You have the opportunity to make a huge difference and impact to the world but this potential comes at a cost. In this path life unpredictable, your emotions become much harder to control and much more volatile, and the line between work and life can easily become blurry if not cross over completely.


Perspective #2

Jun Loayza, a new friend of mine, who I met at UCLA wrote this very intriguing post on the subject:

In it he shares his personal experience of corporate life and his transition to the entrepreneurial life. Here are a few things I took away from his post:

  • The corporate life has lower responsibility (there whole team of people who can pick up the slack)
  • The corporate life was comfortable and relaxing
  • The corporate life did not use his talents to the maximum capacity
  • The startup life is a much more riskier proposition
  • The startup life is much more time intensive (Jun works 100+ hours a week)
  • The startup life forces you to push yourself to your limit and take on much more personal responsibility (there is no safety net)
  • The startup life is not better than the corporate life and vice versa, it all depends on what type of person you are and the situation you are in.


Perspective #3

The last perspective I want to share comes from Sramana Mitra, who I was recently introduced to through one of my professors Mitch Wolf.

She wrote an interesting post touching on the corporate life vs. entrepreneurial life with the focus group of the top engineering students from one of the worlds top Universities, Stanford.

Here are some interesting points I got from the article:

  • Working for a big corporation leads to a narrow skill-set
  • The skills required for entrepreneurship are “frighteningly” wide
  • Working for a startup might be a better preparatory step to working in a corporation
  • Consulting and corporate experience is valuable for a short period of time            


My Story

I definitely subscribe the lifestyle of entrepreneurship (hence the name of my blog) much of which has been installed in me though my experiences growing up and especially during college at Cal Poly, check out my About Page for more about these experiences. With graduation coming up in June though I am now finally starting to realize the huge risk I am taking and the amount of work I am going to need to do.

However I think I have finally decided what I want to do (at least after I graduate!) but I can’t release all the info about it now. More details to come soon…


What path did you take? How did you make your decision? Share your story in the comment section! 

San Luis Obispo Entrepreneurial Resources

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There are a multitude of organizations you can go to if you are an entrepreneur in San Luis Obispo County. Here are a few that I have dealt with in the past:

Cal Poly
Innovation Quest - A non-profit organization started by very sucessful Cal Poly Alumni that gives away $30,000 in prizes yearly to any student, faculty, or staff member at Cal Poly with an innovative commercializable idea. Deadline to apply is March 27th 2009.
Cal Poly Business Plan Competition – A non-profit organization that gives away $10,000 in prizes yearly to the winner of a final pitch session. In addition 1 team each year moves on to the DFJ $250,000 competition in Palo Alto.
C3RP – The intellectual property office at Cal Poly that can help students and faculty to patent and protect their intellectual property

San Luis Obispo Community
Slo EVC - Provider of economic development services in San Luis Obispo and runs an annual Venture Capital/Angel Network event.
SCORE – Non-profit organization made up of retired executives who provide counseling to small business entrepreneurs
MCSC – Puts on the annual Vision to Venture education program on starting your own business
Collaboration LLC - A for profit organization which puts on the annual NewVenture education program for new and established businesses

If anyone else has any other organizations or programs for entrepreneurs in San Luis Obispo write up the info in a comment


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