One of the projects that I work on that is most fulfilling is helping Startups bring their ideas to market in 90 days. Most startups I help already have some sort of a working prototype built even before they speak to me.
To them, my first advice is to stop everything they are doing and re-look at what their MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is.
In the past few years, MVP has gained a bad reputation and even thought of as over-rated. Today, I would like to clarify a few myths about MVP and how you can leverage the power of MVP when done correctly.
But first, let us take a look at what a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is and why it is important to a startup (as well as launching new products in an enterprise).
- What is a Minimal Viable Product?
One of the advantages of technology becoming cheaper is the fact that anyone with an idea can launch a product quickly.
Yet, most startups fail.
According to CBInsights, the rate of failure of startups is as high as 70%
Building products and launching them was considered an art until Steve Blank changed that.
He started teaching “Customer Development” methodology where he lays down the tools and processes required for launching a startup product quickly and how to minimize risks.
Out of his teachings, was born “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis, one of his students.
Lean Startup is not about launching a startup with less money or resources. It is the methodology of minimizing those risks by focusing on customers, incorporating feedback from them and iterating on it.
The Minimal Viable Product is the foundational step in Lean.
Eric Reis explains
“When one is choosing among the many assumptions in a business plan, it makes sense to test the riskiest assumptions first. If you can’t find a way to mitigate these risks toward the ideal that is required for a sustainable business, there is no point in testing the others.”
Let us take the look at a product we are all familiar with: Dropbox.
Dropbox famously released an MVP that is not a product at all. It did not have any features that we see today. They did not bother about what software to use, how to scale or what features the customers would use.
Instead, they released a video :
The product itself was not available for users to download or use. But, there was an overwhelming response to this video that proved to Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox, the huge demand for this product and that customers are willing to pay for it.
In short, an MVP allows you to test your assumption that there are people who actually want the product that you are building and they are willing to pay money for it. In the absence of this, you would be spending your time, money and energy on building something that no one wants.
- How to build an MVP
A common question most entrepreneurs have is “How do I know what the minimum viable product” is?
According to Eris Reis,
“A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
One of the key questions is “how minimal should your Minimum Viable Product be?”
His answer is:
“Probably much more minimum than you think”
Another good example is Buffer.
Buffer is a tool that helps you schedule in advance your social media marketing. For example, you can schedule tweets to go out five times a day automatically.
Joel Gascoigne, the founder of Buffer, explains how they went from idea to paying customers in 7 weeks. Here is the MVP that Buffer created:
This is a simple two-page website that was sent as a link to people to test what they think. People who were interested gave their emails and also feedback via social media.
This proves once again that you do not invest your resources in building something; it can be as simple as a landing page or mockups. The intent is to test and see if anyone is interested in your product.
Here are some other free resources that can help you with your MVP.
- Iterate based on feedback:
Iterating based on customers’ feedback or how the product performs in the marketplace is not just for startups. Even companies like Facebook use it regularly.
“Move fast and break things.” is plastered all over Facebook’s headquarters.
Its core belief is to release products early—when they can still embarrass you—and iterate upon them quickly in response to what you learn from your customers. Do users love it? Do they hate it? Worst of all: Do they ignore it?
Applying this to your MVP will save you heartburn later.
You can learn what customers are really thinking by noticing their behavioral patterns on your website or other user groups. You can also talk to customers to get specific feedback. You can conduct surveys using tools as well as Facebook.
The important aspect is to view this activity as serious as your software development.
- What to avoid while building an MVP:
Your goal of building an MVP is not to sell or acquire customers.
Your first and foremost goal is to test the market demand.
The biggest mistake most startups make is having a fully functional product as an MVP. Remember, even Tesla has a reservation page, where you would have deposited $1000 in 2015 to receive a vehicle in 2017.
Resist the urge to create a product until you really know that there is a market need for it.
You would fall into the trap that your hypothesis of what the market wants is correct without showing anything to the market.
It is better to create an unfinished MVP and get it in front of users that want the product instead of creating a fully functional product that no one wants.
It is also important to answer the following questions:
- What problems are you trying to solve?
- Whom are you trying to solve the problems for?
- Who is your target customer?
The Business Model Canvas is a strategic tool that can help you to quickly come up with the fundamentals blocks for your startups including the answers to the above questions. Below is the Business Model Canvas that you can easily fill in instead of writing a lengthy business plan.
5.What next after the MVP?
Assuming your MVP is a success and enough customers show interest, the next steps would be to launch an alpha and subsequently a beta version of your product.
An Alpha version has the core features of the product in a development environment and would be tested by people in your network or testers.
A Beta version is a working model of the core features of a small set of beta customers or users. Beta users are those who are willing to test and give you feedback.
An alpha or beta versions help you get feedback, learn quickly and iterate on the product to launch a final version.
Since startups don’t have the luxury of an existing customer base, the alpha and beta testers are valuable to gain insights from user community in order to drive your features. Startups also cannot afford a full QA or testing team, hence these users would be your early adopters willing to assist you in this journey.
You can typically start with a small set of friends, family and your network and expand to your ideal customer base through referrals.
Source: Lean MVP Deck
In summary, a Minimal Viable Product is an essential first step to test the market need for your product.
An MVP is typically not a software product.
It can be a video, a landing page or mockups to quickly showcase customers what value your product is offering and gauge their interest.
It is important to gather as much feedback as you can from customers and iterate on your features to build an alpha and subsequently a beta version of your product.
The goal of every startup is to prove that they have a business and their product is something that customers want and are willing to pay money for.
An MVP (Minimal Viable Product) is a crucial step that will take you closer to that goal.