In a way considered the “Most Valuable Player,” a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is the core of any startup or business. Popularized by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, the term essentially means:
“the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value.”
An MVP is a minimum set of features that are enough to deploy the product and learn from the response that clients have towards it. Tread carefully though, as Guy Kawasaki explains in the Art of the Start 2.0, “this is not permission to ship a piece of crap.”
Having an MVP is a strategy to avoid developing a product that nobody wants, and this comes especially in handy in the startup world – unlike with traditional products -- you are working in a situation where the problem and solution have not yet been validated, so learning from it through testing proves essential.
Too many startups begin with an idea for a product they think people want. They spend months investing time and money into it only to discover that there isn’t really a market for their final product, and fail.
A startup beginning their venture with an MVP must be prepared to accept the fact that their MVP will perhaps not be the most embellished product out there.
Why an MVP?
Admittedly, it sounds counterintuitive that a team setting out to awe the world with their product would want to settle for a “plainer” version of it, but they must if they are to leave space for validated learning.
Starting off with an MVP is just the first part of the loop. Building the ideal product/service is a continuous process.
There is no escaping the fact that your MVP will not be validated unless you get feedback from your clients and market. This does not mean that you shouldn’t have a vision or plan for your product.
Talk to your customers
“But customers don’t know what they want, right?” Is the excuse so often used by those who do not want to undertake the effort of experimenting with making their customers an offer.
As an entrepreneur pitching an idea to the world, you cannot be afraid of the false negative – that is, getting discouraged when finding out that nobody wants your first prototype. The false negative stage is where many get discouraged.
In reality, the false negative is when the team must continue experimenting. Worst case scenario is that after about a dozen iterations and much lethargic or negative feedback, you will find out your idea is not worth pursuing at all. Not a bad thing, if this testing saved you from investing courage and stamina in a very bad idea.
Remember that experimentation is learning and that developing knowledge and good instincts for your domain and market won’t happen overnight.
Tips for Testing an MVP
Once you actually get the idea for your product down, implement the following:
1. Focus on Core Functions
Only add necessary features to your product. You don’t want to give users a product that does many things but ends up offering a poor user experience. When making the site for your product, don’t forget a clear and impactful landing page.
2. Google Analytics, KISSmetrics, and CrazyEgg
Once you have your core site and landing page up and running, collect visitor analytics. Make sure your main landing page provides the right information and that you have effective calls to action.
3. Use bootstrap.js
Chances are that you will not have a mobile app for your product from the start. A good way to show some stream on mobile without really investing in it is by using bootstrap.js to let users experience both mobile and desktop. Save a lot of CSS work with the pattern templates.
3. More Saas
Don’t invest in maintenance when you could be using the following products when testing for your MVP:
- Google Apps, Wufoo: A good way to collect information from users. Wufoo has a great user experience interface for form related work.
- Chargify, CheddarGetter, Recurly, Spreedly: Use these for billing. When developing an MVP you don’t want to spend your time figuring out billing. Avoid creating payment pages and save weeks of development. When it is time to solidify your billing, migrate to Stripe.
4. Cloud Platforms
Using Facebook Connect, Google Forms, WordPress, and Google Cloud Tools for Developers are a must to save time through the initial stages.
5. Ad Campaigns
It is very important to remember running expensive AdWord campaigns for your MVP is not going to get you much exposure. But if you don’t have an idea of what your demographics and market may look like, it is invaluable to run a campaign through services offered by Google and Facebook for testing and hypothesis.
6. Introductory Videos
A picture is worth a thousand words especially if your product is a novelty. A video can motivate a confused investor to believe in your product. Dropbox is the most famous example of a startup that used an explainer video to validate the market and sell their MVP.
Dropbox showed the world in a three minute video its intended functionality and signups increased from 5,000 to 75,000 overnight – in the absence of a real product.
7. Pre-order pages
Present your product or service to potential customers to entice them to pay for it before it is even offered. This action will show you how much demand exists for your potential product before you actually invest in it. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are rising platforms for testing pre-orders without having to build your own website.
Learning from MVPs
Testing for your MVP may seem like additional work because the process of iteration and validated learning requires significant investments of time and energy, but this is why your MVP should be comprised of only essentials.
The objective is to figure out if the effort required is worth it, as you do not want to build something that nobody will buy.
Your MVP testing strategy will vary according to business models. Think about the assumption your product makes and build an MVP that tests that hypothesis.
If you need consulting, or once you have already decided on your MVP, make sure you have a brilliant development group by your side to ensure quality through every step of the development process.