Friday, January 30, 2015

How a Minimum Viable Product can hurt you

The idea of the Minimum Viable Product has become very popular recently mostly due the "Lean Startup" book. Obviously a great idea, but you have to tread very carefully.

I'd bought a Truly Ergonomic keyboard a while back. A "revolution in typing" is their claim. I wasn't really expecting a revolution. I like gadgets and keyboards in particular. I was prepared for the learning curve.

I connected the keyboard and started typing - the backspace key positioning was irksome, but quickly fixed with the remapper. I happily spent a little time remapping away.The remapper seems to be an MVP by itself considering how cumbersome it is, but more on that later.

When I started to really type, the "V" key wouldn't work - I thought that maybe there's a problem with the switch, I just tapped on it a few times and a little harder. It works sporadically. I then noticed a similar problem with the "F" key. Also, many times the keys would appear multiple times. Looks like a common debounce problem, which is tweakable by the remapper. I played around with various debounce values and none of them would make this keyboard usable. A little googling indicated that this problem is extremely common with this keyboard and the company support is virtually non-existent.

Obviously this is a small company with an idea to revolutionize keyboards (their words). They've invested time, money and effort in to designing and engineering. And following (incorrectly) the MVP approach they launched the keyboard despite very obvious flaws. The keyboard is downright unusable. If your product is unusable it is not a viable product, minimum or otherwise. Not only that, it ticks off your customers and users, who will bad mouth it and probably never come back. And when it comes to niche products like this, it's even scarier because there aren't that many customers to begin with and the community is well connected.

The remapper tool involves going to their website to do the actual remapping, then downloading a file and installing it using the firmware upgrade tool. This tool fails 2 out of 3 times, but shows a failure message on the 3rd time even if it succeeded. The remapper tool might qualify as an MVP as it serves it's purpose, though it's ugly and crude. What's funny is, that Truly hasn't updated this tool in a long time. There's no native tool which works seamlessly. They have not gone beyond an MVP for the remapper utility.

They've released an updated keyboard, but I'm not going to try it. I've lost faith in the company. They could have mitigated the problem with outstanding customer service, but they chose not to.

A Minimum Viable Product needs to work - it can have some bugs as long as it serves it's primary purpose and is usable. It can lack features, which can be added later based on user demand and feedback. But, if it does not serve it's main purpose, it's doomed to fail.

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