How to do minimum viable product research

7 min read
Leighton Burley

Have you ever had a business idea that you would love to take to market, but you weren’t sure if it would succeed? Maybe you had a great idea for an app or software? A boutique eCommerce store? Regardless, one of the best ways to test your idea before diving in is to create a minimum viable product — otherwise known as an MVP.

The concept behind MVP research is to learn about a market with minimal investment in order to refine the product or service to meet market demands.

Proving your concept with minimum viable product research

An MVP is a skeletal version of the final product, with only the essential features required to provide value for the user. It’s important to strike a balance between “minimum” and “viable.”

You must offer enough value that your users will make the change from their current alternative, even if they’re not willing to pay you for it yet.

Minimum Viable Product Industrial Parts
Industrial parts are prime candidates for MVP trials.

At the same time, your product or service must be minimal enough to save resources in the beginning stages of the endeavor.

For example, Groupon was started by two guys who didn’t expect to make any money off their idea. So instead of building a content management system from scratch, they used WordPress to promote their service. “All we did was we took a WordPress Blog and we skimmed it to say Groupon and then every day we would do a new post with the points embedded. It was totally ghetto,” says co-founder Andrew Mason. By using existing resources, they were able to bootstrap their startup until they started making money.

Creating MVPs is so effective because they allow you to test the market and get invaluable user feedback without incurring the full cost of the final project. You can’t create a product and force the market to be receptive. You must match the product you’re offering to the needs and demands of the market.

You might think that you understand your product niche, but only market research can say for sure. After all, the market ultimately decides whether your product is worthwhile.

In the end, you may find out — for some reason you hadn’t thought about before — that the market isn’t receptive to your product. Wouldn’t you rather know this at the beginning, when you’ve invested very little? This is the ultimate purpose of conducting minimum viable product research.

Do MVP research in 4 steps

Now that we know why MVPs are so important to the success of your startup, let’s talk about the four steps involved in minimum viable product research.

  1. Discover the need.
  2. Create and pick user personas.
  3. Differentiate between needs and wants.
  4. Release and reiterate.

Ready to start learning more about MVP research? Let’s look at the four steps.

1. Discover the need

Obviously, before you can begin doing market research for your product, you’ll need to discover your product. If you’re one of the people I alluded to in the intro who already has an idea, that’s perfect!

Minimum Viable Product Recipe Ingredients
Boxed meals solve the problem of never having all you need to make dinner.

Otherwise, one of the easiest ways to find opportunities is to look around and try to find out what people are struggling with. Is there some aspect of their lives that they find difficult? Is it a task? A process? Maybe an interaction?

The easiest way to ensure success is by identifying and solving a particular problem.

Once you’ve created a viable solution to some “pain point,” you can move on to the user research stage.

2. Create and pick user personas

The next step in launching your MVP is to create user personas.

User personas allow you to create a hypothetical picture of your user and specify their defining characteristics.

However, because you’re creating an MVP, you’ll only be able to select one or two personas to focus on. Even then, you’ll focus on solving only several of the most important needs. You can’t solve everything at this stage. The key is not to get caught up trying to create solutions for all your personas. That would be far too expansive to qualify as an MVP.

Take a page out of Uber’s book

Uber is a great example of this. They originally launched their platform as a solution for one user segment: the city commuter. Upon seeing the success of the app within their chosen user segment, they began expanding their target user segments.

They started targeting large groups (Uber XL), ridesharing (the fare-splitting feature) and frugal users (Uber Pool). Uber’s initial app launch was very simple and focused on providing value to one user segment.

After they had captured that particular market, they used the feedback they’d received to expand the platform’s features and functionality to create the successful later additions.

3. Differentiate between needs and wants

As we’ve already discussed, your MVP should focus on only a couple of user segments and seek to provide only enough features for the product to be valuable.

But that raises an important question: How do you decide which features are important enough to focus on?

This is where it’s helpful to differentiate between needs and wants. Needs are those critical features that your MVP cannot function without. In our Uber example, there are features that are necessary for the app to work, such as setting a pick-up location and providing payment details. Without these features, the app could not function.

On the other hand, while it would be nice to be able to change the pick-up location or see what your driver will look like, these features are not critical to the app’s functionality, and so are considered wants.

If you’re questioning how much a particular feature will actually be used, it’s probably a want rather than a need.

Good MVPs provide the necessary functionality and just enough extra features to entice your target users to switch from their existing solution to your product.

4. Release and reiterate

Minimum Viable Product Camera Drone
An MVP can be enhanced later, once you’ve proven there’s a demand.

Once you’ve decided on your target user segments and which features to offer to align with their needs, you’re ready to ideate and launch your MVP.

As your product gains traction with your target user segments, you’ll begin receiving user feedback about how the product performs.

User feedback should help you figure out if there are improvements or features you can integrate to make your product more useful.

At that point, you can begin increasing the number of user segments you’re targeting and adding features relevant to these users.

In short, your MVP research does not end after you’ve decided on your product offering. It’s a continuous process that is ongoing throughout all stages of the product’s existence and seeks to discover new ways of engaging your target user segments and even expanding to new audiences.

Ensuring success with minimum viable products

In this article, we’ve looked at how you can perform minimum viable product research for your product. MVPs are critical to ensuring the success of your product since they allow you to validate the product, assess market demands, and use feedback to continuously tweak product designs and features. MVPs act as an insurance policy, helping you conduct relevant market research before diving headlong into your product launch, protecting you against costly product failures.

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