Building an MVP (minimum viable product) before a full-throated product launch is a smart decision.
Some of the most successful companies that are a part of our life started off as MVPs. Think Dropbox, Google or Zappos.
When you build an MVP you find out if people are invested in your idea enough to pay for it.
You will learn how the market behaves, validate your assumptions, and understand which features resonate the most with potential customers.
Building an MVP can be the surest way to insulate your product against catastrophic failure.
MVPs come in all shapes and sizes depending on the market and the problem.
Types of MVPs
Some MVPs are simply landing pages, launched with a targeted campaign to attract traffic, get people to sign up with their email or pay an early adopter rate to get access to the product. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are an example of this in action.
Other MVPs can begin life as an explainer video (a prime example is Dropbox whose explainer video blew up on Hacker News, gaining 70000 emails on their waiting list in a single day).
Yet another type of MVP is the Wizard of Oz model where the frontend is polished to look like the real thing while the backend is all manual. Zappos started off in this fashion as the founding team validated their assumptions by taking orders for shoes from the website but doing everything else manually.
As a product creator you have a number of choices to go with as you launch your MVP. But there are some fundamental questions you need to answer so that you can optimize your learning and ensure that your time and energy is not wasted.
Pre MVP questions
These questions are not exhaustive, and neither do they have correct or wrong answers. What’s more, as you increasingly interact with your potential users the answers will keep on changing.
Which is okay- the MVP process is not designed to be static, and the final product might turn out to be completely different from what you set out to build.
- What is the hypothesis that you are testing?
Before starting to build the MVP you need to have clarity on the end goal that you want to achieve. Can your core hypothesis fit into a question? Does it have a simple yes/no answer? At this point simplicity is the key, so focus on One Big Thing instead of diffusing your energy by chasing multiple hypotheses and overloading the product with way too many features.
- What constitutes success?
Again, the benchmark for a successful MVP will differ from company to company, and from sector to sector. But one crucial benchmark that remains consistent is speed. When you are building an MVP you cannot afford to dawdle or bloat up.
Move fast, and even if you fail you have succeeded.
- What is a failure?
Again, depending on your product or your niche failure would come in different hues. Maybe your landing page has a high bounce rate? Maybe you have too few pre-orders to start building a prototype. Maybe you don’t have a big enough sample size.
Look at the benchmarks from your successful peers, and decide if you have failed. And then, imbibe the learnings and move on.
- Can you deliver a one sentence user story?
This is basically your version of an elevator speech. Imagine your ideal user, and structure your user story so that user types, actions and desired results can be easily articulated.
Write this: <User type> will perform <specific action> to gain <desired results>.
Unless you can do this on paper don’t even start coding.
- Will this make money?
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. And a viable product means money. You may be a tiny startup right now but your end goal is to scale and have repeatable income. Even if you are offering everything for free now thinking about your business model in terms of revenue can save you from several wild goose chases.
Building an MVP with a revenue model in mind will force you to think about customer segments, offers and pricing, revenue streams, upsells and cross sells, distribution channels and myriad other factors that a mature business deals with. You will certainly not implement all of this in your MVP but if you plunge in without due deliberation you might find it near impossible to pivot midstream.
An MVP is one of the building blocks of lean startup philosophy and one of the quotes from Eric Ries’ bestselling book on lean startups puts it best.
“As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.”
Ultimately building an MVP is knowing what your goals are and working backwards from there to build the product.
Go forth and conquer.