Think of your favorite app or software product. How many versions of that product have been presented to the public throughout its development? Each started as something much simpler and it took the work of multiple people, over multiple years to turn it into the product you now love. What if you could present a version of your product to the public that was guaranteed to give you important feedback and save you time and money?
One thing major successful products have in common is the development of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is a full-scale test of a product, at its most basic form, in a real market situation. To break it down, an MVP is a product that functions, but without all the bells and whistles.
Many people think that failure is not an option when it comes to developing a product or idea. With an MVP, you can have an experimental mindset that allows you to fail cheaply and early on. Failing early can often lead to later success.
The main part of MVP development is making sure the product is viable. Viability is all about delivering enough value to the consumer while also ensuring you can learn from it.
A product doesn’t need to have every desirable feature in order to be viable. What a product does is much more important than how it does it. The challenge is scaling back a product to minimum viability when the tendency is to over-engineer. Ask yourself, “Is there a market for this product without X feature?” If there is, then developing an MVP is a beneficial step in your business plan.
In MVP development, there is a productive natural tension, especially between M and V. Minimum is mostly about costs, while viable focuses mostly on functionality. These two aspects tend to clash and the key to success is balancing viable and minimum to make sure you create a product that people will use.
Big Name Examples of Minimum Viable Products
Take a look at these real life examples of an MVP from big name products:
Facebook: When Facebook first launched it was strictly for students at Harvard University. It only allowed you to search for fellow students and find out who was in your classes. This initial MVP was the starting block for Facebook which today allows you to connect with people all over the world, find jobs, shop and sell items, and so much more.
Etsy: Etsy started as an alternative to eBay for people who wanted to sell homemade crafts. Today, Etsy targets a huge market of customers and not only sells crafts, but plants, antiques and even offers online courses.
Amazon: We can’t discuss MVPs without highlighting Amazon. What started out as a website specifically selling books at cheaper prices than physical stores turned into the 2-day shipping giant they are today. Starting out with a strict focus helped them to gain a user database and allowed them to be able to add on new features.
6 Key Benefits of Building a Minimum Viable Product
The question many new entrepreneurs are asking is: Do I really need to build an MVP? If you were to ask us, we would say YES! There are several benefits to building an MVP that we will explore.
User Feedback: Before completely developing a product, getting user feedback from an initial MVP can help you avoid failure. Users of your product can help to highlight initial problems, necessary usability tweaks, and suggest new features to help it succeed. All suggestions from initial users are not necessary for the success of your product. You can ask early users: “Do you need to have this feature in order for my product to have value to you?” This is a common practice in today’s IT industry and can be useful in the planning of a project or startup.
Save Time and Money: Are you sure the product you’re investing in will be successful? New products can be a risky investment for a business if they are not approached with care. With an MVP, you can validate that your assumptions are correct before investing in a full feature set.
While the cost of developing your product might still be pricey, because it is created over a period of time, validation of your MVP and subsequent incremental enhancement can spread out the cost while at the same time ensuring your growing feature set is resonating with the user base.
Developing a new product also takes a significant amount of time. With an MVP you can see what users respond positively and negatively to and not waste time developing product features that will go unused. Investing time into MVP development at the beginning saves you more time in the long run because you are confident in your product’s success.
Develop a User Database: Wouldn’t it be great to already have a group of potential users ready to communicate with when your full product is released? Users that initially test your MVP are more likely to follow up with the product after the official launch. Take advantage of that select group of people when releasing new versions or looking for additional feedback.
Attract Early Champions and Investors: Developing a product from the ground up is tough. Even if a company has a solid reputation, each product requires its own build-up in order to succeed. Getting people to invest in your product early on can be vital to success. With an MVP, you can establish a positive first impression and in turn lead champions and investors to see the value in your product earlier than with a full feature-complete product that is then released to the market.
Define the Direction of Your Product: Maybe you are wondering what the final version of your product will look like or if a component is necessary to achieve success. With an MVP you can define the direction of your product because you can take risks and test out features without making a solid commitment. No matter the polish of your product, an MVP gives the information that constructs the big picture: what is working and what is not, what can be improved and what should be added or removed.
Quicker to Market: When releasing a product, your goal is to launch sooner rather than later. What if another company develops a product with the same idea as yours before you have the chance to release it?
With an MVP, you can launch a smaller version of your product quickly. This means that you can get your product into the hands of users and investors early on. When you hold off on releasing your product until it is perfect, you could be setting yourself up for failure because you miss out on critical feedback all along the way.
Common Mistakes of Building an MVP
With all the benefits of building an MVP, it can be easy to think that it doesn’t come with any downfalls. It is important to note that MVP development isn’t risk free. You run the risk of squandering the patience and goodwill of early adopters and investors if your alignment of features and target market is not in sync. The risk is you could have spent time and money developing an MVP with features that lack viability and aren’t fulfilling to early users.
Feature Creep: Early on your MVP might run into ‘feature creep’ in which you are continually chasing the next feature to make the product ready for market. This can cause setbacks because it becomes an endless loop of product improvement and feature additions, instead of a truly minimum viable product from which you can learn based on real user feedback. You must exercise discretion to separate what is essential for success from what’s on your wish list or the wishlist of other stakeholders. Take into consideration your current resources, demand, and what features will be essential in the future.
Disregard User Feedback: Another common mistake developers make is to disregard user feedback. One of the main goals of an MVP is to gather user feedback about your products. The future of your product is dependent on whether or not potential customers will actually use your product. If you are not receptive to this feedback and have a process for evaluating, responding and taking action on it, the value of the MVP model could be drastically diminished.
The advantages of building an MVP far outweigh the disadvantages. MVPs set your product up for the best chance of success and allow you to test the waters without making a full market commitment. With every version you release, you will be able to point back to the beginning and see the journey you’ve taken to understand what did and didn’t resonate with users, what users really want based on their experience, not simply the hypothetical, and what requests could be considered nice-to-haves for the future.