How minimum viable product could save your New Year’s resolutions

By Julie Fredrickson , written on January 1, 2014

From The News Desk

The hallmark of a good entrepreneur is her dedication to constantly improving her product. But most great founders know that products are ever evolving and many of their original assumptions of what will work turn out to be false. So good entrepreneurs test what they “know.” They iterate. They base their decisions on good data. They constantly measure. Rinse. Repeat.

Loosely, this is the ethos of minimum viable products (MVP). MVPs are created and iterated upon in order to get traction. With limited resources at their disposals hackers and entrepreneurs know that it is in their best interests to test their assumptions early and as often as possible. If you don’t take this approach the risks are manifold; you make a product no one wants, you run out of resources, or someone beats you to market with something better.

One of the most cringe inducing moments when watching "Shark Tank" is when a shark (invariably Mr. Wonderful) asks the burgeoning entrepreneur how much of their own money they have sunk into the venture. When they tell us they have spent their entire live savings (sometimes upwards of a $100,000) and they still aren’t cash flow positive you know that they won’t be walking out with the deal they wanted.

And yet it is exactly this “all in” approach that most of us take when beginning our New Year’s resolutions. We tell ourselves this is the year we will get fit, eat better, sleep more, lose weight, stop smoking. And we throw ourselves into the pursuit! We quit our favorite foods cold turkey. We reduce the amount we eat dramatically. We schedule hour long gym sessions every day. We buy hundreds of dollars of supplements. And we fail. Why?

Ask yourself why would you take the all or nothing approach to setting new goals when you would never do this in your professional life? Why would you sink all of your time, energy and resources into achieving a goal you don’t even fully understand? You wouldn’t.

So why is it that a group of people so competent at assessing their progress when it comes to their business are so bad at figuring out what will generate progress in other ares? When you first started  your company did you really know your market? Were all of your assumptions about your customers true? Of course not!

So why should it surprise you that this is true of your health, fitness and nutrition or really any New Year’s resolutions. There are plenty of things you simply don’t know when it comes to achieving your goals. The reality is, most of what people think they know about the physiology and psychology about “getting healthy or fit” is probably wrong.

For example, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, announcing your fitness goals makes you less likely to succeed, people today don’t burn many fewer calories than they did in the past, salt isn’t bad for you, and saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease. I could go on.

And yet we don’t take the time to investigate our resolutions on New Years. We implement small changes, see if they stick, and improve upon them when it comes to our resolutions. But we should know better!

This year you should treat your own New Year’s resolutions like you would your company.

The only way to succeed at things like fitness, weight loss and healthy habits is to create the kind of positive feedback loop that comes from the MVP approach. It’s the same way that a business must eventually become profitable to exist. You must create this feedback loop to stick to a healthy lifestyle. There is no alternative. Don’t get suckered into believing truisms or health platitudes like “eat less, move more.”

Why not? Let’s take an example of unsustainable “growth” And if a little less eating and a little more loving are good why not a lot more? Crash dieting or binge exercising is a bit like like spending an unsustainable amount on marketing to generate leads at a cost greater than the client is ultimately worth to you. Or spending willy nilly before you have achieved product-market fit. If you had no idea what what your margins are on a sale you would you keep draining your resources to acquire them? Probably not. Sure the vanity metrics look good but will you be able to sustain your progress? Obsession with hockey stick growth can tank companies and resolutions and good entrepreneurs know it.

Engage in basic behaviors related to your resolution, see if you are getting results, research, track your progress, do your homework, seek out experts and don’t expect overnight success.

Approach it just like with starting a business,After some time has passed, you will have to determine (consciously or subconsciously) if the results are worth continuing. One week into a fitness regimen, you might ask yourself a few questions: Did I lose enough weight? Do I look better in the mirror? Do I feel healthier and more energized?

If the rewards outweigh the pain, then the feedback loop is renewed. Think of this as becoming profitable. So this New Year’s I urge you to test your assumptions about your own goals in the same way you test your assumptions about business. Maybe there are things you don’t know. But if you are a good entrepreneur and hacker we bet you can figure out how!