Anastasia Kryzhanovska

How to Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

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The Minimal Viable Product(MVP) explained

Creating a totally new product and getting it to the market is always a gamble. One of the best ways to lower the risk is by building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) The creation of MVPs has saved many founders from investing tons of money and energy into ineffectual products and features.

Leverage this article, which serves as an insightful guideline, to help new startups successfully build an MVP and avoid common mistakes.

What is an MVP and What is not?

The term MVP was coined back in 1987 by Frank Robinson, CEO of Santa Barbara-based SyncDev. According to Frank himself,

An MVP is product with the highest return on investment versus risk

In other words, a minimum viable product is the smallest possible thing you can put on the market that will still give you useful data once released.

MVP existed in many different forms over the years but its popularity exploded when Eric Ries explained the term in his book, the Lean Startup.

One of the crucial and distinctive features of an MVP is that it should be able to potentially satisfy the customers of a startup at every single stage of release, starting from the very first one. So, when creating an MVP, you aren’t just building and releasing separate pieces of your future all-inclusive product. What you are doing is creating the simplest working form of the product to keep your customers captivated.

The best way to explain this is the viral image constructed by Henrik Kniberg.

What is not a Minimal Viable Product(MVP)

The 5 common pitfalls to avoid when developing an MVP

Not every shortened product is actually an MVP. Below are seven common mistakes you should dodge when building an MVP for startup.

  • Skipping market and competitor research. These two are very crucial and skipping them will mostly result in frustration as you discover that there are already a lot of other similar products and you don’t have any competitive advantage to help you survive the competition.
  • Wanting a complete product. One of the biggest mistakes is the conviction that an MVP has to be totally bug-free and complete. In fact, this is actually opposite to what an MVP really is. You should carefully choose what features to include at the MVP stage and what to exclude, and should not expect it to be a flawless jam.
  • Over-focusing on minimization and ignoring viability. Another common mistake is to concentrate too much on minimalism and end up releasing an MVP with extremely basic and useless features for potential customers. So, the balance matters
  • Dodging the prototype phase. A prototype basically brings your ideas to life. Without a prototype, it becomes difficult to demonstrate the feasibility of your ideas to investors and also your fellow team members working with you.
  • Employing an inexperienced team for the minimum viable product development. In order to succeed, you need a good team experienced in building MVP products. This will help you to jump the common pitfalls like overestimation, over budgeting, or just creation of a low-quality product.
  • Ignoring user feedback. Whatever the case you should not ignore your customer’s needs, keep in mind that you should constantly gather their opinions on your MVP and draw proven conclusions.

If doing any of the above mistakes you risk getting something different from an MVP. It may be not minimal, not viable or even not a product.

Why is an MVP Critical for the Success of Your Startup?

It's obvious that any new product business should start from the development of the product itself. But why MVP? Why is this particular approach so popular?

Substantially, it gives a new company a possibility to:

  • Practically validate a new idea in the field. No matter how much you invest in research, you can never accurately predict today’s market. MVP testing allows you to practically test the efficiency and relevancy of your idea in the real world and get quality feedback.
  • Experiment at low risk. A business that starts with an MVP requires minimal investment in terms of both time and money. Since it’s more or less of a mock-up, in the case that an MVP fails, you can always use the remaining funds to change the MVP in order to get better chances of success than the previous version.
  • Save the money. As mentioned earlier, you just need the core functional features to create an MVP. The less the features the less the money required for development compared with the development of a big product.
  • Do quick and insightful development. Building an MVP is much quicker than building the whole product at once. And changing an MVP after testing is also quicker (and less painful) than with a big product.
  • Prove to investors. You might have a hard time to convince an investor if you don’t have something touchable and promising like an MVP. The more successful your MVP is, the better your chances of being noticed by investors.

All these benefits made the MVP approach extremely popular. And yes, it has proven its rationality over years.

3 Billion Dollar worth Companies who Started as MVPs

MVP is something small and simple to start from, but a successful experiment can turn into a giddy growth. Moreover, a project has much more chance to rocket when starting with a proper MVP than when trying to build a whole product from scratch. And there are some noticeable proofs.

  • Facebook
Facebook in its early days as a Minimum Viable Product(MVP)

Yes, that's how the famous social network looked like at the very beginning. Before Facebook became a $138 billion universal giant, Mark used the least resources he had to build MVP app which connected just his university mates. Eventually, the application became popular and currently Facebook has over 1.7 billion active users.

  • Airbnb

MVP application of Airbnb was quite a simple website

Today Airbnb is a multi-billion company with thousands of employees. But in 2007 it was only a bold idea of two friends, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, trying to find some money to pay their rent. Their MVP was just a simple website targeted on the attendees of the Design Society of America Conference. The website offered a single thing, air mattresses in the founders' living room for the weekend.

  • Dropbox
DropBox Minimum Viable Product(MVP) video

Instead of investing in MVP software development and a functioning DropBox prototype, Drew Houston (DropBox founder) decided to test the concept using a simple 3-minute video packed with nerdy in-jokes and amateur narration. The video was rather successful, a lot of people responded positively, proving to him that his product was bound for success.

4 Common Types of MVPs

Okay, MVP is good. But what should it look like? The examples above are so different.

We'll tell you that there might be as many types of MVPs, as many products may be developed. But of course, we can somehow categorize them to bring some order into chaos.

So, there are the main types every MVP creator should consider.

Concierge MVP

When you make an MVP of this type, you don’t even necessarily have to build a product. All you need to do here is to mimic the product by offering your customers a totally manual, hands-on service.

A classical example is Food on the Table. Manuel Rosso, the owner of the company, looked for a few people who were interested in his experiment and offered them a VIP service where he interviewed them, manually looked for their desired recipes, identified their favorite ingredients, and helped them find discounts and coupons from their local stores. For all this, Paul got a $10 check after every week. What was very important for him in implementing this type of MVP wasn’t the money but to gain more insights into what his customers really wanted.

Wizard of Oz MVP

The Wizard of Oz is quite similar to the Concierge MVP type, except that in this case, you don’t let the customers know that your product isn’t complete yet. You find a way to give an impression that your product is already finished and evaluate their reaction – are they eager to get it right away or they simply don’t care about the existence of your product?

Nick Swinmurn, the brains behind the billion dollar company, Zappos, implemented the Wizard of Oz MVP very well. Nick wanted to know if people are interested in buying shoes online without putting them on first. Instead of ordering dozens of shoes to try out the idea, Swinmurn simply went to other stores, took pictures and posted them online to see people’s reactions. In Nick’s case, people actually liked the idea – and they still do, Zappos is currently worth 1.3 billion dollars.

Content MVP

The Purpose of a Content MVP is to build awareness about your product in such a way that you can get real feedback from your potential customers. This can be a landing page, a questionnaire or even a demo video.

One of the most successful companies which implemented the Content MVP was DropBox mentioned above. Drew Houston, the founder of DropBox, simply created a 3-minute video explaining his idea. This alone was enough to create an explosion of interest and allow him to validate his concept from his customers’ perspective.

Software Prototype

When it comes to tech-savvy products such as Saas or Android and iOS apps, the best MVP application type is a software prototype. The basic requirements are that it should contain the core features and essential components needed to make it appealing to early adopters. In this case, it is also very essential to implement Agile project management. Most tech companies, especially smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung implement this type of MVP.

These are not the only MVP types that exist. There may be various other types of MVPs you can implement (or combinate) as long they do not deviate from the core principles of a Minimum Viable Product.

Steps to build a successful MVP

  1. Ask yourself the following questions
    1. Which problem am I solving and what is the magnitude of the problem?
    2. How many people will benefit from my solution and where are they located?
    Before committing to real serious development of your MVP, you need to be sure that it solves a problem that people care about. After identifying the problem that your product is going to solve, you also need to know the people interested in your solution. Defining your target audience will help you to make informed decisions about where to release your product and when. Furthermore, it’s possible to spend tons of time and money developing a product that already exists. Market research helps to prevent such surprises.
  2. Carefully scrutinize your competitors
    In the case that your MVP already exists as a complete product on the market, you have to evaluate whether you have a chance to outperform your competitors or not. Usually, the only way you will be able to outdo your competitors is by adding extra or unique features to your product.
  3. Get acquainted with your user flow
    Successful inventors are those who get out of their geeky shoes and look at their product from their customer’s perspective. That way, you will be able to properly experience the stages that your customers have to go through before they can achieve the main goal. As a result, you will be able to pinpoint the inconveniences your customers come across during the process so that you can introduce relevant solutions. The main goal is not to only add value but also to simplify the whole process.
  4. Success criteria definition
    Now that you know the user flow, it's time to go ahead and create a roadmap. A simple roadmap can be just a simple list of all the basic and crucial features that you will want to include into your MVP. A better way to do, it is to list in terms of main features and then adding sub-features under each. At this stage, you don’t yet have to limit your ideas, just list all the possible ways your creativity offers you. While doing this, mind your customers. They may actually like those features that you think are unnecessary, and vice versa.
    After listing all the features, the next step is arranging them in order of priority, starting with the highest to the lowest. Last but not least, you should allocate a timeline as to when you will implement each of the features into your product. This template, or a principle, will help you define the essential features to include into the first version, and strike out others which should wait till the next versions of the product.
  5. Define the minimum viable product
    This is probably the most interesting stage. A minimal viable product is built from the high priority and basic features on your list. These features are the definers of your MVP and are key in your project management plan. When building your MVP plan, yes you should put minimal features but the product should be viable i.e. it should not be a substandard product. A good minimal viable product should be engaging and useful for its users.
  6. Choose an experienced technical partner
    The next step is the creation of an MVP itself. You should choose a reliable technical partner who can insightfully draft a product development plan and implement it for the first release. Prices also matter, so here you can read more about how much does it cost to create an MVP.

Building an MVP with Gearheart

Here in Gearheart, we have a vast experience in building MVPs for different companies which then gained multi-million investments. It's something we actually specialize in — planning and creation of minimum viable products before launching to the market.

Over the years we have mastered the MVP development process so that:

  • the client could stay on top of the process knowing each and every task status;
  • the first version of an MVP could be ready as soon as in 2 weeks from the first code line written;
  • each next one-week sprint released a working product, according to the MVP principle.

One of our clients was able to successfully present his product on the Demo Day event in the Y Combinator seed accelerator less than in 1 month after we started working on. Yes, it was a challenge, and yes we completed it.

All this is possible thanks to hiring professional and experienced developers and managers who really know what to do, and also to our years of experience precisely in the creation of MVP products.

Wrap up

Building an MVP is a very crucial step in the development of a new product. If built right, it raises your chance for success significantly. To do so, all the participants of the process should clearly understand what an MVP is, both on the client's and developers' side. And of course, all of them need to deeply understand the idea of a new product.

The first thing we do before we start working on minimum viable product development is asking questions about a project, its goals, and details, and also give our professional advice on how to make the process less costly but at the same time more effective and goal-oriented. This stage helps clarify the vision and sometimes find new unexpected tactics that then give the best results.

If you have any questions about MVP solutions, or you need to develop your own new product, please feel free to contact our team, and you'll get a skilled and high-quality consultation from our experts.

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