The Min. Viable Product

NYU Shanghai, Interactive Media Arts, Fall 2017


Professor Christian Grewell

Course Title: The Minimum Viable Product

Fall 2017

9/4 – 10/27

T/R 4:45 – 6:00

Room 933

Instructors: Christian Grewell Office Hours:

(by appointment)


T/Th 12:00 – 15:00

Course Discussion (Slack) Site:

Slack Join Link:

Trello Team Link:

Course Introduction

Increasing possibilities brought about by emerging forms of technology and decreasing costs of connecting people to things have not only enabled technological innovations, but have also opened the door to new applications, business models, products and services. Experimentation and calculated risk taking are keys to successfully harnessing the possibilities of today’s most cutting-edge technologies and innovative methods to first build, understand and then redefine how humans and products interact. In this 7 week course, student ‘co-founders’ will conceive of and market a new media, physical or technology product designed to fit a market while also allowing them to accelerate and validate a sustainable business model. Students will ‘get out of the classroom’ and put these products into potential customers’ minds. The course will touch upon topics such as how to design a minimum viable product, design a business model, talk and work with customers, and develop a product community.


Why a minimum product?

We typically decide to create a product or service because we see an opportunity and have a desire to solve a specific problem, and, whether we realize it or not, a number of hypotheses about the best approach to doing so. In the prehistoric times of your product, you should be refining your hypothesis through extensive testing, with the goal of producing something that is the first minimally viable product for consumption by your first customers (MVP). The MVP is a product that has the minimum feature set necessary to begin addressing the problem or seize an opportunity. Over time, further features can be added. This initial product is normally tested on a supportive, carefully selected group of influencers, who are willing to give feedback and see the bigger vision in the products early stages.


Course Structure

This 7-week course is split into 4 discussion areas, designed to give students both an overview of interactive media business concepts as well as hands on experience conceiving and marketing a novel product or service. Additionally, interested students will also be given an opportunity to research and write a mini-case study* focused on an aspect of emerging media business and China with me supported by the Program on Creativity and Innovation at NYU Shanghai.

The first unit will introduce and focus on activities and components of ideation and creativity, prototyping, testing and refinement while critically examining multiple forms of innovation within current and historical contexts. The second unit will examine the present-day worldwide ‘startup’ ecosystem, with particular attention paid to separating fact from fad from fiction. A large portion of this unit will focus on opportunities and challenges facing early-stage products and services in the emerging media technologies space, including a number of case-based discussions on successful and failed products and services. The final unit will examine the concept of a business model, how to value products, services and ideas and how to leverage interactive media tools to acquire customers.


Class Participation

Class participation is essential. Students will be required to demonstrate knowledge of the readings and be able to offer a critical assessment of the contents.

At times, Students will be asked to lead class discussions and others will be expected to contribute to discussion based on the topic, readings and other relevant sources of information.


Academic Integrity

It is a condition of passing this course that students read and adhere to the NYU Shanghai policy on academic integrity as described in the current NYU Shanghai Academic Bulletin.



Class participation (25%): evaluated on the basis of: (a) familiarity with the readings; (b) quality of contributions in class and online; (c) critical and creative approaches to the issue; and (d) contribution to the class Idea Board

Journal (15%): evaluated on the completeness of your product journal, with special emphasis on the quality of your updates over the quantity

Assignments (30%): completion of various assignments over the course of the class

Final Project (30%): evaluated on the quality and completeness of your product’s journey though the MVP process and pitch presentation.




Course Website:

Course Slack Team:

We will be using a tool called Slack extensively during the course. Slack is a messaging application and makes communication and sharing extremely easy. All lecture notes, resources and other information will be posted to the the site. This is your primary means of online communication with your team and the instructor. Be sure and download the mobile application and use the address above to join the team.



Two books have been assigned as reading for the course. While it is not necessary to read each cover-to-cover, I highly recommend them, if not on the basis of your interest in the topic, then certainly on the account of their tremendous popularity and impact upon the current startup ethos and culture – they are considered ‘must read’ works.

The Lean Startup, Eric Reis, 2008

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel, Blake Masters, 2014



A number of salient articles will be assigned as readings for each course session. These are generally short-form and should not take more than a few minutes to read. Articles in both Chinese and English will be assigned (I will provide English translations of Chinese articles). These are each listed in the readings section of their corresponding class session.


Other Resources

We will be occasionally watching clips from an American comedy television series created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky called Silicon Valley. The series focuses on six young men who found a startup company in Silicon Valley. I highly recommend watching this.

Thanks to Tencent, you can watch this series online here:



Information on career and networking opportunities will be provided as needed. NYU Shanghai’s Career Services Center maintains links with numerous startups, large firms, international organizations and alumni around the world. Additional contacts are provided through the NYU Shanghai Program on Creativity + Innovation and its partners throughout the NYU Global Network and beyond.

In addition, the course offers opportunities for establishing contacts with a wide range of entrepreneurs, professionals and institutions working on product innovation and development across a diverse set of industries in China and abroad. The focus of the network is to enable course participants to explore opportunities for future professional and academic engagement. Course participants will also have the opportunity to recommend guest speakers or professional contacts of relevance to the syllabus. Additional networking will be provided through IMA and the NYU Shanghai Program on Creativity + Innovation.


Course Overview

Unit 1: Ideation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Week 1: Introduction, Creativity Concepts and Ideation Techniques

Week 2: Innovative Entrepreneurship

Unit 2: Worldwide Startup Ecosystem

Week 3: What is a startup? Where are the opportunities and challenges for new products?

Unit 3: Product Prototyping

Week 4: Prototyping Techniques and Tools

Week 5: Customer Discovery Methodologies

Unit 4: Validation, Business Models and Marketing

Week 6: Business Models and Marketing: Methods and Pitfalls

Final Projects

Week 7: Final Product Pitches


Session Details

Session 1 (Tuesday, September 4): Course Introduction and the Lean Startup

The aim of this session is to introduce the course, provide an opportunity for students to learn about each other’s interests and identify opportunities for adjustment in the syllabus as well as have a critical, intellectual discussion about the current innovation and new product landscape in China and the world.

Discussion Topics:

  • What are some of the more exciting, risky, controversial technologies or ideas on your mind today?
  • What comes to mind when someone talks about a ‘minimum viable product’?
  • Are there topics we would like to cover that are not listed or cover in more detail?


  • IMA Journal: what comes to mind when someone says minimum viable product?
  • Memo of Introduction (due Thursday, September 6th before class) on Slack

Session 2 (Thursday, September 6): Where Do Ideas Come From?

In this session, we will examine creativity in traditional formats (art, music) as well as look at how and whether and how we might foster creative ideas.



  • What attributes does Asimov postulate are needed for the production of new ideas? Of these, what is most important attribute that one should possess in order to be most likely to produce new ideas?
  • What do you think Asimov’s ideal meeting would be?
  • What is the difference between a ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindset and do you think basic qualities can be cultivated through effort, or are they largely engineered by your environment?


  • Ideate and develop a terrible idea, one bound to fail. Come prepared to session 3 with a 5 minute presentation designed to convince all of us that this idea is actually worth pursuing and has value in the world.



Session 3 (Tuesday, September 12): Bad Ideas

In this class session, we begin by having each team give a short, 3 minute presentation on their product ideation and prototyping phase from the last session, followed by individual bad idea presentations. We will then examine a number of ideation methods, and break off into small groups to actualize one or two.

Read + Watch:

Assignments (due this session):

  • Contribute 5 ideas to the class IdeaLog
  • Post your Bad Idea presentation to the IMA Blog


Session 4 (Thursday, September 14): Business Innovation in Current and Historical Contexts

According to the Peter Drucker, successful innovations result from a conscious, purposeful search for innovation opportunities, which are found only in a few situations. We will examine 4 such areas: unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs, and industry and market changes. Additionally, we will look at a common framework for product design and innovations in modern organizations.

Read + Watch:


Please come prepared to discuss, critique and engage:

  • Where are great demographic changes taking place in the world? What might be areas of opportunity brought about by these changes?
  • How do entrepreneurs discover new ways to use technology?
  • How can entrepreneurs discover new opportunities without searching for them?
  • If Drucker were alive today, how might he explain the rise of ‘disruptive’ firms such as Uber?


  • As a group, identify two potential sources of innovation and prepare a short presentation pitching these sources as potential areas of need.
  • As an individual, find an advertisement for a product that appears extremely expensive but useful. Take this product and imagine it providing the same benefit at 1/100th the cost. Post the result of this to the IMA blog.



Session 5 (Tuesday, September 19): Startups

This session will focus on providing a short historical account of the first entrepreneurial human endeavors and the importance of trade and technology. We will finish with a discussion on the relationship between future products and services and entrepreneurship in order to strengthen the distinction between products and their markets.



  • Eric Reis mentions that there is a mythmaking industry ‘hard at work’ trying to sell us the idea that ‘through determination, brilliance, great timing, and— above all— a great product, you too can achieve fame and fortune.’ Why?
  • What is meant by the phrase ‘Entrepreneurship is a kind of Management?’
  • According to Eric Reis, What is the goal of a startup? (page 19)
  • What were some of the reasons that Take Eat Easy failed?


  • [Group] Work with your co-founder to produce 5 product ideas, outline how you would plan on building your MVP. Post this to the IMA blog.


Session 6 (Thursday, September 21): Communicating

The aim of this session is to introduce students to the wonders of wireframing and digital prototyping to assist with communicating ideas and ensuring the value of ideas are effectively communicated to multiple stakeholders. This is a hands-on workshop introducing students to state-of-the-art prototyping for effective communication.



  • Produce a list of your major assumptions implicit in the success of your product
  • Produce one low-rez prototype designed to test one of these assumptions



Session 7 (Tuesday, September 26): Discovery and Validation

This course will focus on the value of customer problem and opportunity discovery as both a means towards ideation, learning about and validating your target market and brand-building.



  • Why is it important to talk to people as soon as possible?
  • What are the differences between idea-focus and customer-focus? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each?


  • Customer problem presentation – handout
  • Hypothesis statement & user stories – handout
  • Conduct customer Interviews – use template


Session 8 (Tuesday, October 10): Measuring

This course session will focus heavily on basic strategies and techniques for measuring the effectiveness of your product and customer engagement. The course will end with each team presenting the first version of their idea > prototype > test cycle.


Discussion Topics:

  • What does it mean to ‘treat data as a first-class citizen’
  • How does netflix measure the success of their product features? What is the most surprising aspect of their process?


  • Product Narrative



Session 9 (Thursday, October 12):

Set aside for special a course topic or guest speaker as chosen by class. This could include valuation, operations, public speaking, data analysis, programming hacks, etc… (note: prior semester we covered valuation methodologies in depth).


Session 10 (Tuesday, October 17):

This course session is an introduction to the design and function of a business model within the context of an individual product or service (as opposed to a traditional business as defined by governance, financial or regulatory attributes).


Discussion Topics:

  • What is the difference between displacement and disruption?
  • Why has there been so little attention paid to the concept of the business model in academic literature?


  • As a group, complete your business model canvas



Session 11 (Tuesday, October 19):

Most failing businesses have two misconceptions about how marketing works: 1) they try to reach as many people as they can for as cheaply as they can, and 2) they think that if they can just find that one really effective acquisition tactic, they’ll be set. The aim of this session is to introduce core product marketing concepts and techniques, including an overview of salient marketing methods.


Discussion Topics:

  • Was the trouble that movie industry faced marketing its products mainly a reflection of the new technology, the economic conditions of the time, or something entirely different?
  • Are there any similarities we can draw between the marketing approaches of the movie industry and the tobacco industry?
  • What, in your opinion, makes the Apple and Volkswagen advertising campaigns so effective?


  • Landing Page Template
  • Profiling Customer Zero


Session 12 (Tuesday, October 24):

The aim of the first half of this session is to examine fast-growing marketing channels with special attention paid to popular crowdfunding platforms in the US and China. The second half of this session will be devoted to assisting teams with designing their marketing strategy and landing page with the goal of identifying and impacting their target customer as efficiently and effectively as possible.


Discussion Topics:

  • On crowdfunding platforms, what drives the “crowd” to take projects to their funding goals?
  • What are some of the salient differences between Chinese crowdfunding platforms and others (both from the perspective of the producers and consumers)?\



Session 13 (Tuesday, October 26): Final Presentations

The final session of the course is set aside for each group’s final product demonstration and pitch.