As an aspiring entrepreneur scouting the industry for best practices and business models, you may have come across the concept of minimum viable product (MVP).
This is the core of The Lean Startup method, designed to speed up product development and business growth.
Launching a product and keeping it afloat involves plenty of risks and responsibilities. Before a major investment, you need to understand your future customers' needs and expectations.
In this article we’ll answer the question what is an MVP?, teaching you how to build it and navigate the market for optimum returns.
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
As the name suggests, a minimum viable product is a prototype which includes the core features of the product you intend to deliver to the market.
Always consider the results of your initial market research efforts. But remember, an MVP incorporates only the basic elements necessary for it to function as intended.
The mobile industry serves as an illustrative example in this regard. Think about a new app coming out with just enough functionalities for users to get a feel for it.
This gives you and your business a chance to get feedback from early adopters quickly, allowing you to make iterations and upgrades as you go along.
An MVP is key to the success of a venture. This is why its quality and the speed at which you respond to user feedback can make or break your business.
It’s important to make the right decisions early on to keep the company moving forward.
Why is the MVP development process important?
What the lean methodology teaches us is that flexibility in the design of the product is a stepping stone to success. It enables entrepreneurs to get practical insights from their target markets and adjust their offer.
A good MVP allows startups to leverage on market opportunities and innovative ideas. They can launch new projects in less time and with fewer budget barriers.
Further down the line, this leads to a primary product with great potential for development based on feedback from early adopters.
Value co-creation allows users to contribute to the development of the MVP’s features. This saves your team the time and assumptions that would otherwise go into figuring out your customer base.
By working together with the audience, you're striking a balance between your offer and their demands. You can focus your efforts on particular niches and integrate feedback into future iterations of your product.
The design and release of an MVP can validate or invalidate a startup's assumptions about users and product functionality and help you get closer to product-market fit.
With user intelligence to capitalize on, you are empowered to make informed decisions. Feedback and validation from the target market will eventually lead you to a fully functional product.
The Dropbox MVP
Many tech startups that rose to unicorn status in recent years started out with nothing more than a brilliant idea and an MVP to illustrate it.
One example is Drew Houston, the mastermind behind Dropbox. The company used the lean framework to pivot their product development, which ultimately lead to their success.
More than a decade’s worth of development and iteration went into the making of what is now a trademark of the technology giant.
It all started when Drew found a way to ease technology users’ lives by allowing them to synch their files across all their devices.
While on a long bus journey away from home, Houston forgot to bring along a USB which stored important files. Inspired by his personal experience, he suspected that other people may be experiencing a similar problem.
He seized the business opportunity and proceeded to build a prototype for the solution he envisioned.
The technical challenge was to integrate the software with various operating systems. Another issue was to convince potential users that they should address a problem which they may not have been aware they had.
The early version of Dropbox featured its basic functionalities and aimed to test if potential users would find it valuable. To verify the value proposition, Houston recorded a video demonstrating how the software worked.
He released it on the internet along with the possibility for prospects to subscribe for the product’s beta version. His MVP was essentially a video of him recording Dropbox’s core feature in action.
How to create your MVP
Knowing how to build a successful MVP comes from a deep understanding of:
- your target market’s pain points (the what)
- why it is important for your potential customers to use your product (the why), and
- how your solution is going to create value and cater to their needs (the how).
Here are a few aspects that guarantee your prototype is propelling your company to success instead of hampering its growth.
Define the problem you are trying to solve
It starts with an innovative idea to solve a problem or deficiency in the market. Make no mistake, setting your company up for success requires sustained efforts both before and after your MVP is out.
Many startups fail to invest in market research and miss out on valuable insights about their target customers, their wants and needs.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Some of the most brilliant business ideas come from entrepreneurs' personal struggles.
Many challenges are widely relatable and their solutions may appeal to at least certain segments of the market.
Once you've defined the problem and tested its relevance through market research and feedback from potential customers, it’s now time to answer why and how.
This will help you come up with a strong value proposition and gain a distinctive advantage when it comes to marketing efforts.
Outline your user flow
An essential stage in MVP development is the creation of a user flow. This is a diagram which shows how you expect your customers to navigate your product to complete a particular task.
The user flow design starts with the definition of a main goal for you product. The goal can be the completion of a reservation on a booking app, a purchase made on an e-commerce platform, etc.
With this in mind, the product team can proceed to identifying the features they need to implement to achieve the desired result.
Having a clear goal in mind helps startups decide which features are core to the product and which can be implemented further down the line.
The user flow diagram is meant to provide an overview of the user experience, defining:
- the process stages leading to the primary goal, and
- how the users interact with the product at each stage (specific actions they are expected to complete at each stage of the journey).
Mapping the user flow is essential for startups to build an MVP. This process enables product teams to stay focussed on the primary goal and develop features that support the objectives at each stage.
Identify the core features of your product
By this stage, each step in the user journey should be defined and accounted for in the user flow diagram. From hereon the challenge lies in identifying appropriate features that support each desired task.
When designing your MVP, you’ll need to prioritize ruthlessly.
Try to single out one main functionality which relates to the action you want your users to complete. Evaluate each of the remaining features, deciding if they are necessary, desirable, or unimportant.
Think about what feature is likely to create that A-HA! moment for your user, the moment where they realise they need your product.
Taking Dropbox as the earlier example, the A-HA! moment is when the user first shares a file using dropbox and experiences how seamless and easy the process is.
In the user flow diagram, assign each feature to a certain stage in the user journey and its corresponding task. Decide on their respective priority level. The result will serve as the skeleton for the next stage, where you start building your MVP.
Build your MVP
Once you have a functional prototype which is easy to use and responsive to your users’ needs, the testing and pivoting process may begin.
Developing your MVP is a cycle which consists of three stages:
After the prototype has been developed, it enters a testing phase where its quality is assessed. An internal quality control team makes the final adjustments before the product is launched onto the market.
Then follows a stage where the team collects and analyzes users’ feedback. The insights help to determine how the product was received by the market and how it ranks compared to competitors.
Once you’ve measured users’ response to the MVP, you can re-evaluate which features are redundant, which are lacking, how to improve the product, and iterate the entire cycle.
How to Get Users to Test Your MVP
It's essential to find an appropriate audience to test your hypotheses and get accurate feedback for developing your MVP. It helps to (in)validate your assumptions and tells you whether you’re on the right path or if you need to re-think your product idea.
Talk to your users. I can’t stress how important this step is. Get on the phone with them, speak to them in a live chat, find out what they think.
You can explore their experience with the prototype or the challenges they have faced with regard to the problem you’re setting out to solve. The information you can extract is extremely valuable for your product iterations and your marketing messaging.
Another effective way to get insights about users if you are a data-driven team is by running ad campaigns. Both Google and Facebook allow you to target your ads to specific demographic groups, as well as analyze reports based on market segments.
Some startups resort to crowdfunding platforms to validate their hypotheses. Besides the prospect of raising funds to propel the product forward, listing on websites such as Kickstarter can test your MVP through the market response. You can also use this method to attract early adopters.
Ready For Liftoff
MVP development is an essential step in the process of launching a new product. With minimal upfront investment, you can maximize your chances for success.
What’s even better is that your product-market fit grows exponentially with every iteration of the prototype.
To reap the full benefits of a minimum viable product, make sure that everyone involved understands what an MVP is. This includes your team members, the developers and, in some cases, your clients.
From drafting out the concept, to getting to know your prospects, to passing on the information among your team members, and finally collecting your customers’ feedback, communication is key to building a successful MVP.
Now that you’re equipped with the things you need to build your MVP, it’s time to launch it and be mindful of the market’s reaction.
Remember that the process doesn’t stop here. It’s a steady cycle of building a solution/functionality, measuring its echo on the market, learning from your prospects and then starting over.