Digital Marketing

MVP is Over. You Need to Think About MVE.

April 15, 2024
Pete Sena

Most startups start with a light-bulb moment.

The founder suddenly clearly sees a problem with no apparent solution. How can I solve that? they think.

Unfortunately, that’s not the correct question (at least not on its own). And that’s a big reason why a reported 10% of startups fail in the first year, and another 70% fail in years two through five. Ultimately, only one in ten survive.

I know this because, over the last 20 years of working with entrepreneurs, I’ve been on the ground floor of over 20 startups that went from idea to IPO — the rare companies that make it. What I find most useful isn’t what made them successful but what almost killed them.

90% of startups fail.
Source: Exploding Topics

Most first-time founders under-invest and just slap something untested together based on their gut. Others over-invest, don’t test, and launch something either too feature-light or feature-bloated.

When you read that, you might be thinking, “Ah, I get it! They’re missing a step where they launch and learn from an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).”

Nice try, but nope.

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not about what’s viable. It’s about what’s valuable.

In this article, I’ll share in a few minutes what took me over 20 years to learn. But first, a closer look at the ultimate light-bulb moment.

Lessons of the Light Bulb

You probably learned in grade school that Thomas Alva Edison invented the light bulb.

He did not.

Many other inventors, including Ebenezer Kinnersley, Humphry Davy, and Joseph Swan, developed various forms of wire incandescence before Edison. By the time Edison turned his attention to the problem of safe, sustainable, affordable, odor-free illumination in the 1870s, there were even a few patents on versions of incandescent bulbs. (The primary indoor lighting solution at the time was gas lamps.)

As an innovator and entrepreneur, Edison had already decided that the money wasn’t necessarily in the invention itself. He was more interested in what he called “perfecting,” which was making things better or cheaper. I like how the New Yorker put it:

“Edison did not look for problems in need of solutions; he looked for solutions in need of modification.”

The problem with the existing solutions was that they weren’t very practical, and the bulbs didn’t last very long.

In other words, they were viable but not particularly valuable.

This is the place where Edison shone (sorry, had to). From his headquarters in Menlo Park, Edison and his team tested somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 materials and filaments before they figured out that carbon was the answer in 1879. A year later, they found carbonized bamboo could burn for over 1,000 hours, and the incandescent bulb that we know today was born.

What Edison worked so hard to create was something I call an MVE — Minimum Valuable Experience.

How could he take something that people desperately needed and make it easily accessible, affordable, and durable? That’s the real light-bulb moment you want to have.

A.C.T. First

Before we get to how to create your MVE, here are two crucial points:

  • Your story is your strategy.
  • How you express it matters and makes the difference between “meh” and “MRR.”

Ultimately, it’s all about knowing your audience, what language and messages resonate with them, and the tactics, triggers, and touchpoints that move them to action.

To do this quickly and efficiently, I developed a framework called A.C.T., which can help you cut to the chase and save thousands on useless, wasted marketing exercises.

The A.C.T. framework boils down the three main components:

  • Audience
  • Communication
  • Touchpoints

A = Audience segment

Who are you speaking to?

The first part of figuring out what to say is knowing who you’re saying it to.

Who is your ideal customer? What do they want/need/use when seeking the transformation you can offer? What do they search for when looking for what you provide? What habits, behaviors, goals, or defining aspects draw them to your product?

C = Communication

What are you trying to say?

This is all about the what and how of speaking to your audience. You’ve got to use the language and format that will resonate with them.

Speak like they speak.

What aspirations or motivations can you communicate that connect with their tastebuds — and wallets?

T = Touchpoints

Where should you share your message?

This is all about the how. You know who you’re speaking to (A) and what you’re trying to say (C ). Now, it’s time to design the touchpoints and triggers that move them to action.

This includes things like your website, social media accounts, and email campaigns. The idea is to use this juice to identify the funnels and tactics that are most efficient and that deliver the best ROI.

People often get this wrong. Sometimes, all you need is a simple sign-up waiting list; other times, it’s more strategic, like access to a private WhatsApp group, or something more involved, like a detailed funnel and immersive story.


For example, let’s say you’re launching a new non-alcoholic beer. Here’s a quick look at how you’d put A.C.T. into action.

A: Using traditional demographics like age, gender, or geography doesn’t really tell you much, as NA beer transcends all of those basic markers. Instead, consider their behaviors: they love drinking beer, but they don’t love the impact of alcohol on their health and productivity. They also want to enjoy an adult-style beverage when kicking back or going out socially.

C: From a messaging standpoint, you’ll want to let the audience know that your beverage delivers the closest thing to beer there is: it’s artisanally crafted with high-quality ingredients, and its cool packaging rivals even the hippest IPAs. Best of all, it’s low-calorie and no hangover.

T: Not drinking alcohol but still having fun is a lifestyle thing, so Instagram and TikTok are perfect channels.

If you’d like help visualizing this, you can download a free A.C.T. Map or give my A.C.T. AI tool a spin.

As you can see, A.C.T. helps you figure this out:

What are the experiences or touchpoints that can drive traction?

ACT Canvas Filled out with Coinbase Example

For some, it’s the perfect sign-up form with a well-thought-out Tweet thread that goes viral. For others, it’s a polished story of how your product creates a shift and transforms someone’s life. Or it might be about hosting the perfect event that clearly demonstrates how your product helps people reach a better version of themselves.

Let’s turn to a contemporary company that should give you a light-bulb moment in understanding how this formula works magic.

Case Study: Webflow

The MVE for Webflow, the no-code platform for web designers, was a Hacker News post in 2013 that went viral and generated 20,000 sign-ups in one day.

Post from CEO and Co-Founder at Webflow

Today, Webflow’s story is iconic. But let’s first take a step back in time.

Watch how their messaging has evolved.

History of Webflow's Site and Messaging

They’ve come a long way from their first sign-up page, haven’t they?

This gets to my point about MVE.

Sometimes, something as simple as a sign-up form can work; other times, it takes a bunch more to test, learn, and iterate forward. That’s Webflow’s story.

Webflow’s a Class A.C.T.

Nowadays, everyone talks about the multi-billion dollar valuations. (Fun fact: According to one estimate at the time of Edison’s death, about $15B of the US economy derived from his inventions alone. So, you could say he was the OG billionaire.)

But what most don’t talk about is how their startups almost died many times to get there. (Seriously, read Webflow founder Vlad Magdalin’s post recapping Webflow’s true story in Hacker News.)

The journey begins with Vlad’s realization in 2004. As a college intern at a web design agency hustling to pay back his student loans, Vlad saw a glaring inefficiency: designers dream, coders build.

But what if designers could directly bring their visions to life?

Fast forward to 2013. A pivotal lunch around his younger brother Sergie’s laptop becomes the birthplace of the Webflow revolution we know today.

A drag, a drop, and a publish — the co-founders witnessed the first website born from Webflow. The vision was no longer just a dream; it was reality.

From Vlad’s initial vision, Bryant Chou’s tech expertise, and Sergie’s design chops, Webflow wasn’t just a product. It was a mission to democratize web design, making it accessible and empowering creators worldwide.

This was their Value Prop and unique positioning, and how they foresaw a much better world for so many.

This isn’t to say they had it easy. As they created MVEs, they faced rejection, financial hurdles, and skepticism. Yet, their pivot from agency to product, combined with a never-give-up vision, paved the way for what we now know as the no-code web design platform for designers.

Along the way, they mastered the art of community building, using early feedback to refine their product, even when traction seemed impossible.

Viral moments on platforms like Hacker News weren’t just luck; they were orchestrated by placing Webflow at the right place, at the right time for the right audience.

The result?

Webflow didn’t just join the no-code movement; they dominated it.

They transformed web design from a technical PITA into a creative playground, empowering designers to own their full creative process without code.

Fast forward to 2019, Webflow secures a $72 million Series A raise, a testament to their impact and the growing no-code space.

In the world of startups, it’s about more than just having a good product. It’s about vision, adaptability, and never giving up. It’s also about meeting your audience where they are and continuously surprising and delighting them.

Today, after their priced $120M series C funding round, Webflow is valued at a post-money valuation of $4 billion.

Don’t let those big numbers make you forget where Vlad and Sergie came from. That payout came from pure and simple beginnings: they focused on knowing their audience of web designers, inside and out. And they kept pursuing their people, repeatedly delivering experiences that made a meaningful difference in their lives.

What the ACT + MVE approach lets you do is quickly iterate to get to the minimum valuable experience. And when you focus on what’s truly important to your prospects and customers, you light up their lives.

To me, that’s the only viable path to business success.

Thanks for reading.
Pete Sena
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