This post was originally published on 5/5/2011.
Four months ago my two co-founders and I went to visit one of our investors for a quarterly check-in. Our investor runs an iOS development company from a renovated turn-of-the-century office atop a 28 story building. It would be an understatement to call his experience and surroundings impressive.
While sitting in front of a 9 foot window that looked out on most of downtown, we were discussing plans for our upcoming iOS app. Specifically, we were discussing how many features should be included in version 1. We had just started to translate our codebase to Objective C, and we were trying to define the scope of the project. Our development approach to date had been to build a quick and dirty v1 and use it to gauge user interest. The process had served us very well.
Like an all-knowing Buddha, our investor grabbed a nearby white board and drew a graph similar to the one at the top of this post.
"What does this graph tell you about the features you need in version 1?" he asked, pushing the graph towards us.
We all three thought for a moment. None of us liked the implications, but Nick eventually replied "I guess we can't build a minimum viable product then."
Our investor just nodded and gave us a smirk that seemed to say "sucks, doesn't it?"
What he knew was that the window of opportunity for a hot app on the App Store was measured in days, and especially for the kind of app we were building, a Hollywood Launch was the way to go.
When we actually starting building the app, we had our product scope waiting: it needed to be full-featured and polished. Prior to that meeting, we didn't know anything about the App Store as a platform. What our investor let us know was that building an MVP iPhone app would have been as stupid and useless for my co-founders and I as trying to iterate our way through FDA drug approvals for a new medicine.
Knowing your platform makes you a more effective entrepreneur. It means you have a better grasp of how your product will be shared and used. This means you can cut out unproductive iterations and get to pay dirt faster. Whether your entrepreneurial ambitions are to make enterprise software or fluffy mobile apps, qualified knowledge of your platform will significantly reduce the number of times you have to pivot strategies. And in some cases (like ours), platform knowledge can save the project completely. Had we made an iOS app that wasn't polished on day one, we would have thrown away our best chance to test the market and make money on our creation.
Even going between two similar platforms (web apps to mobile versions of web apps) requires entrepreneurs to have a firm grasp of the differences of the platforms. Most of the time you won't have a kindly investor at your shoulder to reiterate this point, which means you have to know thy platform without being told. Sucks, doesn't it?