The Minimum Viable Startup

The Swig! Logo
I am the founder of a beer & booze delivery service called Swig! We partner with licensed brick & mortar retailers to sell their booze online in the Swig! marketplace. It’s my first attempt at running a truly “lean” startup.

When we built Humanoid in 2011, we burned through ~$400,000+ just to get the product shipped. We were building technology, damnit! And technology––real, serious technology––does not come cheap.

Unfortunately, while Humanoid’s technology worked according to spec, our customers were not so cooperative. In fact, the customers we wanted to go after found the product both unusable and inapplicable to their needs. Our assumptions around the market were, well, dead wrong. That stung.

(We ended up selling SpeakerText/Humanoid to a competitor over the summer.)

Shortly thereafter, I became a disciple of the lean startup movement. The idea, oft misunderstood, is that entrepreneurship is best thought of as a branch of experimental economics. Products are experiments that test the creator’s hypothesis about the market. The goal of any new product is to prove or disprove some underlying hypothesis about market behavior under conditions where the new product exists––and to do so as cheaply as possible using a “minimum viable product.”

At first, my idea was to build a full-blown Swig! iOS app, but that was going to take months for me to code (I’m a crappy coder and would need to learn a whole new language). Frustrated, I called my friend Andrew Cove to see if he’d be interested in building Swig! with me. Already immersed in his own startup, but he had some canny advice: Do less. Build the minimum, no more.

And so instead of a beautifully polished iPhone app, Swig! became a quick hack. Call it “The Minimum Viable Startup” using:

  • Bootstrap (Free) to build a good looking, mobile-friendly landing page.
  • Wufoo ($15/mo) for ordering & order notifications.
  • Stripe for payments (already integrated w/ Wufoo).
  • Google Apps (Free) for email.
  • My own car and this $200 viking suit for delivery.
  • Facebook (Free) & Instagram (Free) for distribution.
  • Twitter (Free) for customer support.
  • Voxer (Free) for delivery coordination.

The one thing I didn’t want to hack was the regulatory system (penalty for unlicensed alcohol sales: jail), so we ended up dropping a few thousand bucks on a top-tier alcohol licensing attorney––an expense well worth it.

I launched Swig! three weeks ago to my friends on Facebook. We got just a handful of orders (delivered them all myself) at first, but I quickly saw flaws in the system design re: retailer handoff and payment processing (we switched from Square to Stripe). We’ve already altered the pricing model several times and expanded the menu of beers.

Thing is, we’re still tiny, we’re not of TechCrunch, but I’m closer to our customers and the product than I’ve ever been. I’m learning from the market and tuning the product at light speed, sans distraction.

It feels awesome.

Need a drink? Swig! delivers beer & booze in San Francisco until 2am.

4 Replies to “The Minimum Viable Startup”

  1. Great post!  It’s hard to do something like this when you’re so caught up with the “technology.”  Keep it up!

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