The “Essential” Use Case

A couple of months ago, John Borthwick, founder of Betaworks, was featured in Inc. Magazine describing what he looks for in companies.  In the article Borthwick defines an “essential company”. (the entire article here)

When we use the term essential company, we mean products or companies that are essential to people’s habits and daily workflow.”

Borthwick’s term,  “essential”,  put a name to what me and my cofounders have been focused on as we prepare to launch our startup. Like many startups we see a big opportunity to solve a need in the market. Like many startups our solution has the opportunity to be a powerful suite of valuable features. Like all startups we had to pick where to start.

In order to define our MVP’s focus we used a simple 2 dimensions chart. This simple framework allowed us to have productive conversations and to make, what we hope are directionally correct choices.  One dimension was for our users.  Important for obvious reasons.  The second was for us.

  • User Value. We knew that unless our MVP had significant value to our target market we would struggle with adoption. The promise of a full feature set may test well in customer development interviews but if the first step isn’t compelling we will never get the chance to build it.
  • Learning Value Dimension. We are believers in the lean methodology and the power of learning as a differentiator and key to success. For this reason we looked at how much learning we would gain from the launch and use of the various features. Learning requires use and frequency of use accelerates the feedback cycle.  Essential companies by definition generate more learning cycles.

Our map of features led us to view the resulting matrix in this way.


Building an essential company also raises the bar on our understanding of our target user, their daily habits, and how we fit in to it (design thinking). So the importance of learning is even more pronounced.  Our vision is to become the essential tool for our target industry so we are launching our app with essential at the core. As a startup we know that learning is essential and we look forward to sharing our learnings .

What are your thoughts to our approach?  How do you pick your MVP features?


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