If you’ve had a taste of the startup world, you’ve heard the term Minimal Viable Product (MVP). You may not even be anywhere around the startup life and still have heard the term. That’s how often it is used. It is used by almost all tech/software companies but it seems like many have a different view and definition of the term. Through my experience, a MVP could end up being a simple consumer insight survey, an informative landing page, a basic prototype or even a pretty build out software solution. Let’s get this straight, if you need to spend a nice chunk of change on it…it’s not a MVP.
I’ve worked at companies that also had no concept of a MVP. They would have an idea, put resources on it to have it developed and start selling before it was even complete. We had no idea what the market needed and I was a poor, young soul that somehow ended up in Product Management without any idea of what I was doing. As my career progressed, I found myself in situations where we also built out basic prototypes and I even walked into a situation where an existing MVP had quite a lot of money and sweat put into it.
Through my experience, I have decided that it makes more sense to break this process out into 2 groups: the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and the Minimal Sellable Product (MSP).
MVP vs MSP
The MVP, in these terms, still has much of the same characteristics as previously but I am hoping it will now have the same universal definition for all. The middle word of this buzz phrase is ‘viable’ and so that is exactly what we should be testing when we are in this stage. Viability to me comes in two different forms: 1) the viability of the idea and 2) the viability of the technology.
The viability of the idea is all about the potential customer, the end-user and the market. You may never know for sure, but there are many ways to test your idea without putting any real development time into it. This is where the concepts of surveys and landing pages play a role. It is not too difficult to put together a quick survey using Google Forms and get it out to 10-100 people that you think may have a need for your product idea. The key here is to make sure that you are not asking leading questions, so if you are building a milk delivery app, do not ask whether they would use a mobile app to purchase milk. You may get tons of people saying yes but that’s only because of the way you served up the question…who would really say no to that question? And if you really want to get some great insights, actually go out and talk to potential users of your idea. Once again, without using leading questions, find out what their issues are and where the chink in their process may be.
If you have somebody with any design skills at all, which luckily I do have, it is much easier to create mockups of how you think your product could look rather than building the whole thing out. Throw these onto a quick landing page with some value proposition copy (why will this product change the user’s world) and maybe even add some ‘sign up’ or ‘buy now’ actions. The sign up option is good because you can start collecting emails, which are like little pieces of gold in the software world, while an option for the visitor to see pricing or subscribe at $X.XX/month shows that people may be willing to actually pay for the product. You obviously cannot start collecting money when you have no product but you can always let these visitors know that the development is in progress so please leave their email address. A great example of this is Buffer, which started as a 2-page MVP in order to get validation.
You know what else you can do with these collected emails? Actually contact these people and get some insights…how about that!
The other important thing is to test the viability of the technology. What this essentially means is, can you actually create this idea? Technology is amazing but there are still many things that are not achievable in this day and age. Maybe your milk app idea plans to get the milk to the buyer’s doorstep within 5 minutes. Well, unless you have fulfillment centers on every corner or a teleportation device, this is probably not a viable concept. So my advice is to start running some quick tests to see whether what you want to achieve is actually achievable.
You have now created your first feedback loop and tested the viability of not only your idea, but also the technology needed to create it.
This concept was introduced to me by my current supervisor at Total-Apps. She wanted the team to stop overthinking things and come up with only what is needed to initially sell the product. The concept of a Minimum Loveable Product (MLP) has been thrown around and this is somewhat similar. The goal of the MSP is to develop the least amount that you can in order for potential users to actually start buying your product. This relates to the MLP because a potential user will only purchase your product if they see something that they like or love. If it is something that they think they can actually get value out of, then they will be willing to put money towards it. Since I have been throwing out all of these MxP terms…here is another one that came to my mind while writing this post: Minimal Valueable Product. Although it may sound like you are trying to provide the least amount of value as you can, it is actually supposed to represent the minimal work that needs to go in to create value for your user.
Anyway, I am getting off track with all these buzz-like words. The point is that the MSP should be a developed product that has the core features needed to actually sell. Hopefully the steps you take during the MVP phase allow you to pinpoint what the core features would be for success.
You now have a product that you can start selling. This is not a prototype that could potentially break after you onboard 5 users, but an actual product that people would invest money in on a continual basis.
The concept of the MVP is one that has changed the way that startups function but it has started to become more of a buzz phrase as of late. People have different ideas of what the MVP is and should be, so you end up having people that are investing too much or too little. Although I am not really asking for the death of the MVP, breaking out this concept into a MVP stage and a MSP stage allows you to first test the viability of the idea and technology, and then create a great product that you can start selling…testing and experimenting along the way.
Your turn: In your experience, what have you seen companies and people do for their MVP?