Eric Ries defines a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as
“…a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
An MVP usually targets early adopters and includes only the minimum amount of features to validate your value proposition hypotheses.
The practice of starting with an MVP is a lean startup tactic. To execute an MVP well, I suggest you study the principles behind it and the Lean Startup Methodology as a whole. Understanding Lean Startup principles will also be a great help as you build your company.
When Less Is More
Through years of experience helping clients build products with Atomic Object, I’ve found most product managers and entrepreneurs tend to overbuild their first product release. This often comes from a fear of underbuilding – they want to know that their product is compelling enough for their users, and they don’t want to give competitors a chance to leap-frog them. I also believe overbuilding can be partially motived from another fear — a subconscious desire to put off the release and the prospect that your idea might fail.
But overbuilding doesn’t guarantee we’ll have a great product that customers want, and it only delays potential failure rather than assessing and combatting it. Starting with an MVP, even when it goes against our instincts, will actually improve a product’s chance of success. Creating an MVP will:
- Bring focus to the product’s core value proposition and efficiency to the process.
- Reduce rework.
- Create relationships with your customers as soon as possible.
- Bring focus to the most critical business functions.
1. An MVP Brings Focus to the Core Value Proposition
Defining an MVP is a continuous process of constantly asking, “Will the work we’re about to do inform the viability of our value proposition?”
Starting with an MVP forces you to define your value proposition clearly, concretely, and (somewhat) narrowly. It forces you to examine the breadth and depth of your vision and define exactly what value you want to provide to your ideal customer. You can then set clear targets, decide what really needs to be developed to test your value proposition and spend your time and money efficiently.
2. An MVP Reduces Rework
Building extra features on top of your core product may cloud the value proposition and complicate the initial user experience for early adopters. (Remember, early adopters don’t buy because of extensive, fringe features. They buy because your product helps them solve a specific problem).
Good research and design reduce the risk of building unwanted features, but there’s no substitute for testing your product in the market. Doing extended development of an unreleased software product is building a tower of hope on a foundation of assumptions. Customers may or may not want your core product.
Building just enough to validate your hypotheses means that if rework is necessary, your amount of rework is minimal. When you keep your initial product release minimal, and your subsequent releases incremental, you’ll be more nimble and responsive to the market.
3. An MVP Creates Relationships with Customers Sooner
If you think in terms of the technology adoption lifecycle, you should target your MVP at early adopters. Instead of building all the features that the early majority or late majority might expect, create an MVP for early adopters and start building customer relationships sooner.
Early adopters are more likely to provide feedback on desired changes or additions, helping you validate your value proposition sooner. This feedback can also help you create a smarter, market-informed product roadmap.
Early adopters also love to talk about great things they find, so targeting them can help you market and create a community around your product.
4. An MVP Brings Focus to Critical Business Functions
Bringing your product to market sooner means that your marketing approach and sales channels get tested earlier too. It’s important to remember that an amazing product may not get traction in the market if your marketing and sales are poor.
Testing all business functions end-to-end means that you can also begin to test your business model assumptions on customer acquisition cost and customer lifetime value.
By testing all business functions as a whole, your product team can shift focus to improve the weakest function. You can ensure that all aspects of the business are performing well before scaling. After building an MVP, I think it’s better to scale marketing and sales until you see your conversions drop, and then return focus to the product.