If you’re into sports, you might think you know what an MVP is — but in business and technology that acronym lives in a whole different world. In the startup realm, there is an entire language and methodology devoted to the development and launch of products. One of the buzzwords is minimum viable product (MVP). This article will take you through the MVP planning process: What MVP factors can make or break your startup? What will you need to know before launching your very own MVP?
In this post we’ll focus on digital products, where the MVP concept has its roots — but you can develop a minimum viable product for physical goods, as well.
Creating value for consumers
“Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of starting with the Grand Problem. They then deliver an MVP, but the market doesn’t respond because they haven’t taken us on the required journey.” ~ Ravi Vadrevu, freeCodeCamp
Startup tech entrepreneurs are focused on product development. They’re obsessed with being the next Uber or Apple by making some kind of digital product that everyone wants or needs.
Keep in mind that Apple did not launch with the iPhone or the Apple Watch. They hit the market after looking closely at MVP factors and snaring the attention of consumers — and then they continued, iteration-by-iteration, to take over the world.
As I write this, there are hundreds of digital technology entrepreneurs in a race to create a minimum viable product that delivers customer value. While the concept of a product launch is concrete, grounded in deadlines and deliverables, the launch must first start with Eric Ries’ original concept of MVP in The Lean Startup: “A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product, which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
Launching a new digital product requires the founding team to make critical assumptions about what their customers want.
The goal is to go through a testing process to determine if your product will really sell. To do that, you create an MVP for early adopters, gather feedback, and tweak the heck out of your product.
Then wash, rinse, and repeat.
But the initial goal is to create a first iteration or MVP of a product that is actually valuable to customers. As Rahul Varshneya said in Entrepreneur, “... an MVP is not a landing page, a mock-up or a prototype. A minimum viable product is a product.”
3 core MVP factors
Techopedia defines the MVP as “the most pared down version of a product that can still be released,” and lists three crucial attributes of any minimum viable product:
- Monetary value where people will consider buying it.
- Enough benefit before even being launched so that early adopters will show interest.
- A feedback loop to guide future development.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for coming up with your business’s minimum viable product — but by keeping these three factors in mind, you’ll be off to a strong start.
Nice-to-have vs. must have
When considering MVP factors, how do you distinguish between “must-have” and “nice-to-have" features?
The answer, in my mind, came from Business 101 in grad school. It stems from these questions:
- What do consumers want?
- What market niche will my product fulfill?
- How will my product add value?
The key to figuring out what features your minimum viable product should include is listening to your target audience.
“When you are confused about which features to release initially, focus on the biggest problems of your audience.”~ Hackernoon
Separating bells and whistles from the core value proposition is a lean-driven exercise that will save you money in the long run. Pare your product down to a handful of vital features that solve the customer’s pain points.
For example, Groupon was a WordPress site that started by offering Chicago-based coupon discounts. Zappos tested their idea with a landing page featuring pictures of shoes. When an order was placed, the founder would run out, buy the shoes from somewhere else, and ship them off.
It’s about the customer.
MVP tests your assumptions that what you’re building is something that the market will support and customers will buy.
The must-have features you define should target the core constituency of your product by addressing their primary wants, needs, and/or priorities. Keep in mind that your product might be something totally new, solving an unmet need, or it might take an established service or process, improve upon it, and capitalize on a need that no one even knew they had. Uber did this. Maybe you can, too.
The consequences of getting it wrong
CB Insights compiled a top-20 list of the reasons startups fail. Top of the list was “no market need,” followed by “ran out of cash.” In fact, I believe most of the remaining 18 reasons on their list are actually tied most closely to simply getting the concept wrong at the start of their adventure.
The secret entrepreneurs aren’t sharing is that the “M” in minimum viable product really stands for “money.” That’s because an MVP must have a money-making proposition attached to it or run the risk of failing before launch ever occurs.
The consequences of failing to launch successfully are dollars wasted, embarrassment, dissolution, sapped resources, and generally bad things happening to good people.
The frustration of a failed MVP can cause burnout and ultimately the loss of a dream. Or, it could cause the entrepreneur to make a crucial pivot into a venture that succeeds.