A minimum viable product (MVP) is something that has just about enough features that satisfy your early customers and prove that there’s a demand for your product, giving you confirmation it’s actually worth building.
The clue is in the name. If you just build the minimum nobody wants to use it and it doesn’t solve the problem.
If you build the minimum and the viable it’s good enough to attract the first batch of early adopters.
Your goal is to get to the viable and build your full product.
It’s a lot cheaper to get feedback from an MVP opposed to building the full-blown product.
Building your full product with all the features from the start increase your risk and your costs.
According to CB Insights, the number one reason startups fail is that they build a product which has no market need.
If you end up being married to a bad idea you’re going to end up draining all your cash.
The benefits of a minimum viable product
You need to get your MVP in the hands of the early adopters, they will be more forgiving and more likely to give you the feedback that you need.
- You can test a hypothesis quickly and cheaply
- You can gather and implement feedback quicker
- You can save a ton of development time
The whole point is to find out if the product should be built in the first place.
The last thing you want to do is spend your time building something nobody wants.
The Lean Startup methodology
The beauty of the Lean Startup methodology is that it provides a scientific approach to building and managing a startup, the whole goal is to get your product into the customers’ hands faster.
It teaches you how to drive your startup, how to steer it, when you should turn, when you should persevere and keep going and when you should pivot if things aren’t working out.
The Lean Startup methodology addresses a key problem.
Way too many startups have ideas they assume people want. Some of them spend months maybe even years building their product without showing a single potential customer.
When they do finally launch, and nobody cares, ironically they think, the price is too high or it doesn’t have enough features.
Your idea is an experiment
You have to think of your minimum viable product as an experiment that attempts to answer a question.
The question isn’t, “can this product be built”, because in most cases it can, the real question is, “should this product be built in the first place”.
The biggest fundamental of the Lean Startup methodology is the whole build, measure, learn feedback loop.
The first thing you’re going to have to do is figure out the problem that needs to be solved.
Once you figured out the problem you then need to build a minimum viable product to start learning as quickly as possible, you’re trying to figure out if this is the best way of going about solving your problem.
Once you accept that validation is the very first step, you’re going to save a ton of time during the development process.
When you figure out the right thing to build, the thing customers want and the thing customers are happy to pay for, you don’t need to waste months for a product beta launch, you’re already there.
Examples of successful minimum viable products
We’ve all heard of Buffer, the social media management platform. Believe it or not, their MVP was limited to a couple of landing pages.
The early version of Buffer only allowed you to schedule tweets but the feedback they got from people indicated they would use such an app and they would also be willing to pay for such an app.
Another epic example is Dropbox. All it took was a simple video that demonstrated how file synchronisation would work.
It sounds pretty straightforward but it drove thousands of people to their website and their beta waiting list went from 5000 people over 75000 people overnight.
The MVP is one of the most referenced concepts but its the least understood in modern product development.
Most startups build their MVP the wrong way so they’re setting themselves up for failure.
Approach your MVP strategically
There are two different strategies when it comes to building your minimum viable product, the dry cake model and the cupcake model.
In the dry cake model, you start off with a basic product – like a plain dry cake. As your resources grow you add new features such as filling and icing.
This might make sense on paper but it doesn’t really make sense from the customer’s perspective because a cake with no filling or icing isn’t that appealing.
In the cupcake model, you begin with a smaller but complete product that’s desirable from the start.
It has all the appeal of a bigger complete cake with filling and icing but the production costs are much lower.
Groupon is a perfect example of this. They started off as a WordPress blog and emailed out hundreds of PDFs manually.
When enough people signed up for a deal they would manually send out the coupons via email, it wasn’t the best looking but it was a complete product that delivered the same value as it does today.
Your MVP isn’t a product it’s a process
Most startups don’t understand the point of an MVP.
An MVP is not a product with a bunch of features left out or a way to launch your product faster.
An MVP is a process that you can repeat over and over again, you have to identify the riskiest element and then find the smallest way to test that assumption, use the results to either pivot or persevere.
When you’re building your product you’re basically making a bunch of assumptions. You’re assuming you already know what users are looking for, how the design should look and what the marketing strategy should be.
In most cases, a lot of your assumptions will be wrong, but the problem is you don’t know which ones.
A lot of startups fail because they are wrong with a major assumption, people were interested in their product in the first place.
The only way to answer an assumption like that is to test it. You need to put your product in the hands of real users as quickly as possible, once you do that nine times out of ten you will have to go back to the drawing board.
A lot of startups make the mistake of believing their product will be valuable to anyone and everyone.
Although it may be true in the future, when starting off your product should try to solve a very particular need for a subset audience.
As you’re building your product you’ll often come up with new ideas and get tempted to merge these ideas into your current product, thinking it will make it more popular.
Don’t. Adding too many features will just confuse your target audience and dilute your value proposition.
Moving too slowly
The key to a successful MVP is speed to market. The whole point is that you get to test as many ideas as possible while larger competitors are moving way too slow.
You need to build your MVP fast enough so you can constantly test assumptions and get feedback.
Figure out what problem you’re solving and who you’re solving it for.
Make sure you analyse your competition to see if there are already similar products on the market, don’t be sucked into thinking your product is one in a million and unique, chances are it’s not.
List all of the necessary features and then prioritise them.
Build your minimum viable product, get it out there and start learning.