Category Archives: Startups

Minimum Viable Product On A Horse Carriage

Dyson, the leader in high-end vacuum cleaners, recently announced their new robotic vacuum cleaner, the 360 eye. It has every bell and whistle you can imagine in a vacuum cleaner – it has more cleaning power than any of its competitors. It can visualize the entire house via a 360 degree camera and collection of infra-red sensors and plan the most efficient cleaning route. It has army tank style treads, so it can simply step over uneven surfaces like carpets and rugs. If all that’s not enough, it comes with a smart phone app, so you can schedule a cleaning session remotely thirty minutes before you arrive in your house with an unexpected guest.

This impressive set of features took sixteen years, and $47 million for Sir James Dyson to improve a product that was already the best in the market. It got me wondering about the first guy who thought of making a vacuum cleaner. There were products as early as 1860. This is an era well before electricity was available as a public utility, and well before plastics arrived, but hey – the carpets and the house are not going to clean themselves. Let’s say - you live in the nineteenth century, and you are crazy enough to dream about a motorized product to clean the house – what would the first version of your product look like, and how would you convince everyone that they can’t live without it?

I love what Hubert Cecil Booth did in 1901. He created a vacuum pump powered by a gasoline engine. The engine was heavy, so he used a horse carriage to carry the engine from one neighborhood to another. All cleaning was done by suction through long tubes with nozzles on the ends.

He used transparent hoses so customers could watch the dirt leaving their house. His staff was dressed in clean professional uniforms. The entire cleaning service was offered as an enjoyable lavish experience while making his customers as the envy of their neighborhood. Booth encouraged his customers to host vacuum tea parties, great for enhancing the whole experience, and perfect for him to attract new customers.

Booth’s vacuum service is an excellent example of a minimum viable product. He didn’t lock himself in a cave to make the most sleek, elegant looking product. He modified existing technologies to test the product hypothesis with minimal resources. He got his product to early customers as soon as possible. His first customer was a local restaurant owner. Booth agreed to clean the dining room for free, but the immense publicity from that event made sure he never looked back.

Surfing & Entrepreneurship

My concept of having a good time on the beach is to find a good spot, lie around all day reading a book, and soak in the nice ocean view. I might even take an occasional dip in the water or at least get my feet wet, but I can't be in the water for long. I found it too boring, that is till our recent trip to Santa Catalina. I got myself a six-foot surfing board, and didn't know that would make such a difference. I found surfing to be fun and addictive. My wife had to literally drag me out of the water every day. For a beginner like me - the learning curve was huge, but the joy of standing up on the waves, even if it was for fraction of a second, kept me going. Another interesting aspect about this experience was the number of parallels I found myself drawing between surfing and entrepreneurship. Here are a few:

Inspiration is better served up close and personal
Its a thing of beauty to watch a crafty surfer dance on the waves. While you can certainly watch youtube videos and get inspired, there's something different about watching a master practice in person. Perhaps it has to do with getting a full experience and not just the highlights. You get to see their imperfect attempts and the efforts they continue to put. Its the same reason I find myself more inspired by the entrepreneurial ventures of my friends. I see them fighting their battles every day, and can relate.

You will fall down
It is a sure thing in surfing. Falling down is an integral part of the surfing experience. It is not looked down upon as a failure. What matters is you get up and go back for another wave. You try again, fail again, and try to fail better the next time till you succeed.
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