No other term from the startup vocabulary has inspired as many metaphors as the minimum viable product (MVP). Some compare it to the Flintstone family car, others to the matryoshka doll. Its definition varies from one author to another, but Eric Ries’ explanation may be the best one.
According to Ries, a minimum viable product is “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”.
According to Wikipedia, it is “a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development”.
With “validated learning” being the only mutual denominator, we can only conclude that MPV’s purpose isn’t to drive your business further or get you a fortune in terms of ROI, at least not until the product itself has developed and grown into a finished one.
In fact, a minimum viable product doesn’t necessarily have to be a product at all – if it sparks customer interest and allows you to learn more about their needs, an MVP can be as much as an idea. It is the foundation, the core, or the skeleton of the future product, the most practical minimum needed for its eventual realization.
Finding the balance between “minimum” and “viable” is an intuitive skill. Today, we’ll see what goes into that balance, where to start, and how to achieve it.
Ensuring the “Viable”
So, you have a brilliant idea that might change the course of our history? That’s good news for both you and your prospective customers. The bad news, however, is that what seems like a ground-breaking concept to you may prove to be totally useless to others.
The “viable” part of an MVP stands for a product that’s both useful and likable. Such a product is a well-developed and optimized one, it looks professional, and provides all the necessary features for solving a problem. It’s something that customers would be interested in spending their money on.
Consult Someone Knowledgeable and Experienced
There’s always a chance that customers won’t like your idea and buy your product, which is why testing its viability is pretty smart. Share it with experienced and knowledgeable advisors to see what they have to say, and do this early on, while your MVP is still at the concept stage.
Include Prospective Customers and Initiate a Feedback Loop
If they confirm that you’re onto something big, include prospective customers and initiate a feedback loop. Target enthusiasts and early adopters, then start developing the idea. At this phase, an MVP can be a landing page or an explainer video for your soon-to be product, or an unfinished product itself.
Whatever you choose to pitch to the audience, make sure that their opinions can be measured. Add an enticing call to action, and invite them to subscribe for more information or even to buy the first prototype. Most importantly, ask them what they think about it.
Defining the “Minimum”
Without the “minimum” part, an MVP wouldn’t be an MVP at all. Such a product would completely miss the point of agile production and lean startup methodology, which means that you would spend a whole lot of money without getting to know your product’s viability and your target audience at all.
It also means that your billion dollar idea would probably tank.
In comparison to a finished product, an MVP is what a wooden rocker is to an electronic, ergonomic sports gaming armchair. Both present a solution to your prospective customers’ problem, if their problem is that they have nothing to sit on. The only difference is, an MVP is the most basic solution.
Define the Problem First, and Develop the Solution Second
That’s why the lean startup methodology implies a mindset in which product development doesn’t start with a solution, but with a problem. If the idea is already born, you need to think about whether or not people actually need it. Otherwise, it may happen that they already have a better way of solving their problem, and that they don’t care about your solution at all.
In order to test it for viability, your soon-to-be product has to be very lean, inexpensive, and fast. In a word, an MPV has to be simple. Say goodbye to fancy features and cool functionalities, since they’re not the main problem-solvers. If the problem is that your prospective customers have nothing to sit on, the simplest possible solution is a wooden chair.
Focus on Core Issues and Deliver the Core Solution: Prioritizing Features
Testing for viability is not the only reason for focusing on the core solution – the simplicity of your MVP ensures you the flexibility you need for further adjustments and improvements. But, how to determine the minimum? How to be positive that the idea you’ll pitch to the audience won’t be too small?
If the finished product already exists in your mind, start stripping it down until you reach the point where there’s nothing left to eliminate, but the product still presents a viable solution to the problem.
That’s your tiniest matryoshka doll, the realistic scope of your MPV.
Now, prioritize the product’s features. Desirable, but unnecessary ones will be left for later stages of development, unlike those that are essential for solving the problem. Keep your prospective customers’ needs in mind, but take the cost and time of releasing your MVP into account as well.
Neglect Your Inner Perfectionist
MVPs are frustrating. Seeing your brainchild being reduced to a basic solution that anyone could’ve thought of will trigger your ego and test your patience. But, more than anything else, it will agitate the hell out of your inner perfectionist. You’ll want to make it cooler, more elaborate, and less minimum.
Resist the temptation and keep your aspirations under control. The entire point of building an MVP is to focus on cost-effective functionalities that are crucial but not impossible to deliver. Leave your worries aside – if everything’s fine, you’ll have plenty of time to scale your idea later.
In fact, scalability is what minimum viable products are all about. The smaller you build it, the more room you’ll have for growing it afterwards. Think about it in terms of SMART goals, and make it simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive. The goals will scale with time, and so will the product of your dreams.