Minimum Sellable Features

time to read 3 min | 590 words

Originally posted at 12/3/2010

I also heard this term as “Minimum Viable Product”.

I use this term to describe what is the minimum set of features that we need before we can sell the product. This is something that is very important when you are talking about product development. Defining what is the point when I can sell the product defines a lot of other aspects of the product.

It defines the release schedule, it defines the architecture and the process we use for building, it define what is going to be in the Beta and in the 1.0 versions, and what is going to be deferred for vNext.

Note that Minimum Sellable Features is not the product roadmap. It is simply the point when you decide that charging money for the product is not going to be ripping off your product.  My personal preference is that the moment that you reach this point, you start selling the product.

It is also very important to understand that Minimum Sellable Features has a minimum in the name. That is intentional, and descriptive. You want to make the list of required features to be as small as possible. The worst case is that your Minimum Sellable Features is also your Complete Features List. My rule of thumb is that Minimum Sellable Features should be about 5% of the Complete Features List.

Why is that?

Because that means that you only need enough money to get to the Minimum Sellable Feature point. Afterward, you should be able to generate cash flow and use that to continue development.

Why is this important?

It is all about feedback, it is much cheaper to get to Minimum Sellable Features and give customers the chance to tell us if they like it (by buying it) or why they don’t like it (via feedback).

What if no one buys this?

Great! That means that you didn’t have to burn as much money as you would have to discover that you are building something that no one would buy.

This is important, because you have to be very clear about your goals. My goals, when building a product, are:

  • Have fun
  • Make money

If I can’t make it do both, then there are other rules that apply:

  • Fun but no money - becomes an OSS project. At which point I can skip doing all the unpleasant things like documentation.
  • Money but not fun – outsourced the project.
  • Not fun, no money – bye bye.

But the most important issue here is that your product is getting in the hands of the users very early. There are many strategies for reducing the number of features that has to be in Minimum Sellable Features list. For example, using a disabled UI button to show that this is an upcoming feature.

With Minimum Sellable Features, you usually sell the product at some discount, because it isn’t complete yet. You might be familiar with the idea as beta discount.

Defining your Minimum Sellable Features is a good way to know how to get (and fast) to a state where you can actually get money from the users. It is important to be careful here and not provide something that is not functional, but assuming that you have something that is functional, the users’ feedback (and money) are invaluable.