Ideas have to be tested and validated – that’s why companies build Minimum Viable Products (MVP) before releasing them on the market.
Remember the three little piggies? Imagine houses are the iterations of the MVP, you and your team are the piggies, and the wolf represents the users.
An MVP is not the final product but the product build stage where the company can still play around with it, gather feedback, improve flaws, test selling points and more. It’s a rinse-and-repeat process until the product has reached product-market fit.
Whether you want to call this article a handbook, manual, or even a 101 guide, we’ll guide you on how to turn your startup (even if you just have an idea) into a successful MVP!
What is an MVP?
An MVP is the very first product you can offer to your initial set of users to test if you can deliver any value to them.
Remember – your initial set of users are your superheroes, so hold onto them tight! To gain inspiration, let’s take a look at MVPs from well-known companies that were once in the same position you are in now.
Uber’s Founders at the beginning called car services and dispatched the taxis to the customers manually! It was an SMS based app.
Initially called AirBed&Breakfast, it solved an issue for a specific user base. Participants of a design conference in San Francisco couldn’t find hotels to stay in, so the idea where the locals took pictures of their apartments and created listings was born. No payments, only in-person transactions, no map view, simply where there’s a need, there’s a solution.
Initially called Justin TV, Twitch was just a 24/7 stream of one of the founders. The idea was to test if people like watching what others are doing, and it turned out that they do! The rest is history.
What do they all have in common and what can we learn:
- They launched quickly. It’s okay to launch something bad – just get it out there!
- They acquired initial set of customers. Get literally anyone to test your product.
- Feedback from initial customers. Hold them tightly, but go wild with solutions!
- Iterate, iterate, iterate. The product can always be improved. Therefore, it’s not worth getting a “perfect” huge-budget product in front of users just to find out that nobody cares about it.
Keys to MVP success
- Gain insight into the product’s worth and value, encourage customer payment early on
- Have a deep understanding of the industry and market which your project represents
- Have a passion towards the problem and solution (don’t do it just for the money)
- Figure out your riskiest assumption and the LEAST you can do to test it
- Don’t be ashamed of shipping something which looks bad
- Have a strong vision and mission to attract a great team
- Have strong selling skills and a relentless work ethic
- Uncover a gap with an addressable pain point
- Be comfortable with risk and able to adapt
- Have easy access to the target audience
- Have a co-founder (business, technical)
- Have an obsession with the problem
Creating your MVP
Define the problem
It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve before moving forward and creating an MVP. Write it down, as your understanding of the problem may change over time. Once you clearly understand the problem, develop a hypothesis.
Identify your target market
To effectively target your audience, it’s crucial to determine who your target users are and how to reach them. This involves understanding your users’ needs and pain points, and one of the best ways to do this is by talking to them directly. Literally, get out there and speak to them!
Conducting market research, such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups, can help you better understand your target audience. It’s important to track as much data as possible, focusing on relevant data and analyzing trends.
Developing user buyer personas can provide a detailed profile of your ideal customers, including demographics, behavior, needs, pain points and more (focus on what’s most relevant to you and your product).
Talk to your customers – gain feedback, it’s very crucial.
Don’t sell! Stop.
During a user interview, the objective is to gather as much relevant information as possible to improve your product or positioning strategy. The primary focus should not be selling your product but rather on understanding the customer’s life experiences. Avoid discussing hypotheticals or features you can deliver and if they’d be interested in paying for it.
Instead, concentrate on discussing specifics that the user has experienced and how they arrived at their current problem. By keeping the conversation focused and centered on the customer’s needs and experiences, you can gain valuable insights to help optimize your product for success.
5 great questions to ask:
- Describe the most challenging part about [insert the problem]?
- Can you describe the most recent time you faced [insert the problem]?
- Why was this particular [insert the problem] difficult for you to overcome?
- What steps have you taken so far to try to solve [insert the problem]?
- What do the currently available solutions lack?
Try the 5 “whys” technique
The concept is straightforward: when someone shares a problem with you, you begin by asking „why?” and continue to do so until you reach the underlying cause or core issue.
This involves persistent questioning that digs deeper into the problem at hand. By continually asking „why?”, you can uncover the root cause of the individual’s struggle or challenge, providing valuable insights that can inform problem-solving efforts.
Listen, listen and again – listen! Active listening is harder than speaking, practice and master it!
“Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”-Chriss Voss. Never split the difference
When to talk to customers
There are three key opportunities to engage with your customers.
- At the ideation stage, seeking feedback from individuals who can provide you with insights is essential. This may include yourself, your family, friends, co-workers etc.
- During the prototyping stage, it’s crucial to speak with the right customers, focusing on key questions such as the cost of the problem, its frequency, and its impact. These insights can inform product development and ensure you’re creating a solution that addresses your target market’s needs.
- As you move towards launch, the focus should be on iterating and refining your product to achieve product-market fit.
By engaging with your customers at each stage, you can create a solution that meets their needs and is optimized for success.
Validating your MVP
Define clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will help you track your success, including what works and keeps improving and what doesn’t and should be neglected. Choose only a few KPIs at a time, focusing on only one till three.
Track KPIs across:
- Interviews with customers
- Landing pages and prototypes
- A/B testing
- Insights from social media surveys
- Pre-selling (i.e. Kickstarter)
- Analyze competitor products
- Promotions – run advertising campaigns
- Promotions – email campaigns
- Promotions – explainer videos
- Promotions – blogs
- The number of sign-ups.
- The number of pre-orders.
- The average revenue per user.
- The number of blog users.
- Positive feedback from consumer interviews.
- The amount generated in crowdfunding.
- The cost to acquire a customer.
- Market share.
Types of MVPs
Imagine a spectrum where on one end, you have MVPs that have no product and are only selling the idea, and on the other side of the spectrum, there are MVPs that are huge projects, typically for enterprises.
There are certain industries where a „heavy MVP” approach may be necessary. However, if yours isn’t the case, several options are available.
- Smoke tests: Google AdWord campaigns with a simple landing page to see if there’s traffic.
- Crowdfunding campaigns: build on the funds raised
- Manual service delivery: get in the trenches and carry out the service manually
- The Wizard of Oz: fake automatic features to test a product hypothesis
- Single-feature product
Prioritizing MVP Features
When prioritizing MVP features, there are several methods you can use. One of the most popular ones is the RICE method, which prioritizes features based on their reach, impact, confidence, and ease of implementation.
Other methods include the Lean Canvas, the MoSCoW, the Kano, the Eisenhower methods, and the Proto principle – check them out online.
However, as a founder, prioritizing MVP features based on what your users are willing to pay for immediately should be the ultimate focus. Set all other features aside for the roadmap, for future development.
Building your MVP
Outline how you will create your product: the required features, technologies, and resources. There are four primary approaches to building an MVP.
- Use a ready-made solution that is pre-built and low-cost but not flexible.
- Use open-source solutions, which are cost-effective but require development resources (for example, hiring us).
- Custom development – this is expensive and time-consuming, making it less suitable for an MVP (for example, hiring us).
- A hybrid approach combining custom and off-the-shelf solutions.
When working with a development partner, transparency and frequent status meetings are crucial, as is matching your budget for building the MVP for its maintenance and marketing.
Don’t spend too much time on the MVP, as it’s likely to change, and make sure you plan your budget carefully to include both building and marketing expenses. Remember, your hay or wooden creation can always be blown away by the wolf!
What to test when building an MVP
The main goal is to gather feedback and measure interest in your product before investing more. As mentioned, this is a rinse-and-repeat process, and there are several things that you should validate, such as:
- The problem and value proposition. How does your solution solve the problem?
- Monetization. How well does your product address the pain points of your target audience and its monetization potential? Is it enough for users to pay?
- Functionality and performance.
- User interface and experience (UI/UX). Get users to perform specific tasks and identify any issues.
- User behavior analytics software to track user activities and determine areas for improvement, such as Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Amplitude.
- Security, data protection, and scalability might also be essential factors to consider, depending on your industry.
Launch; get users; talk with them; iterate, iterate, iterate
To launch and iterate on your MVP, preparing by testing and creating a launch plan with the necessary analytics and feedback tools is vital. When launching, it’s always recommended to release to a small group of users (your superheroes) and gather feedback through surveys, user behavior tracking etc. (more in previous paragraph).
Analyze and categorize the feedback to identify common themes and set priorities on what to focus on next using methods mentioned before, like RICE.
Iterate on the value proposition and user flow, and test new versions of the MVP through A/B testing to see which changes have the most significant impact on success.
Rinse & repeat the process of gathering feedback and fixing issues until you create enough value for your desired product-market fit.
When have you reached product-market fit?
Quite simply, the easiest way to know if you’ve reached product-market fit is:
when the product is effortlessly being pulled out of you, and you no longer need to do any more of the pushing.
Why? Because it’s marketing, pushing, and promoting itself.
Frequently ask your initial users how they would feel if they could no longer use your product. If more than 40% reply that they would be very disappointed, then you’ve reached product-market fit!
When creating your MVP, it’s essential to keep it lean and build it quickly. After all, the purpose of an MVP is to simplify the product development process, not complicate it. Remember, you only need enough features to gather sufficient learnings about the product, allowing you to build upon them further.
Depending on your goals, whether securing funding or testing fundamentals in the real world, your MVP should help you analyze the problem, quickly test potential solutions, and serve as a testing tool that requires iteration.
Don’t hesitate to pivot if necessary. As you begin working on your MVP, you may realize that you need to cut out non-essential elements. Additionally, time framing the development and setting success and validation criteria will help you stay focused.
Remember, don’t become overly attached to your MVP, as it will most likely change. What really matters is solving the problem and addressing your customers’ needs.