Minimum Viable Product: On the Way to Startup Success

Today dozens of entrepreneurs what to launch their projects and turn them into businesses. Facing all facts, it should be admitted that building an app or a website from scratch can turn quite a challenging and risky task. As practice shows, there’s no use in developing an application to make benefit from if you don’t know for sure whether potential consumers are going to pay for it.

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

Reid Hoffman, The Start-up of you

The first thing to find out is whether the product will be able to satisfy its users’ expectations and meet your business needs. Is there any way to find this out without spending enormous lots of money, time and resources? There is one approach which makes it possible to avoid the conventional strategy of investing money into the complete product without preliminary business idea verification. It is called “Minimum Viable Product”.

What is an MVP?

The term “minimum viable product” initially was coined by Eric Ries and Steven Blank in lean startup concept. It is a special technique which can be used to ensure the future product success. The minimum viable product (further – MVP) 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 (Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Start-Up”). In other words, building an MVP is about avoiding the development of products that consumers simply don’t need thanks to gathering and further research of feedback from customers.

However, some people misinterpret the core idea of this technique and think that an MVP is a set of fragments of a product pushed out piece by piece. An MVP itself is the smallest functioning and fastest product the company can deliver to test how the business idea survives in the real market. Thus, the MVP helps companies answer one important question before launching its first product: are we on the right path or not?

What are  MVP objectives?

The main goals of the MVP development are:

  1.      Testing hypotheses about the product with minimal expenses;
  2.      Fast obtaining of the data required to build solutions;
  3.      Significant time saving in development;
  4.      Fast delivery of products.

Why is to launch of MVP not that simple?

Some people might think that building of an MVP is a fast and not much effort-consuming process, but we suggest supporting the opposite statement and agreeing with Eric Reis who said that “MVP is an attempt to get startups to simplify, but it’s not itself simple”. MVP development is not much easier than building a fully packaged product because it should go through the same stages – planning, design, development, quality assurance and it requires numerous features to pay attention to:

  •         constant learning from previous iterations;
  •         analyzing data obtained from metrics;
  •         full target audience understanding;
  •         and checking people’s feedback all the time.

MVPs usually work out because their philosophy is to have conversation with potential customers again & again, over & over. 

What has to be specified before building an MVP?

As it has been mentioned above, the development of an MVP only looks easier and faster than building a fully-completed product. The first step of an MVP creation is to define some principle, major features of the product that will set value for it. Development specifications have to be comprehensive and clear to contribute positively to further project success. To sort out must-have functionality for the MVP, the following features have to be specified:

  • Target audience.The MVP idea is clearly not to satisfy the needs of the mainstream audience. Why? If they dislike the product, the wrong feedback will be received. The target group has to be found to rely on. Members of this group should share an equal necessity in the product and have a common problem to solve. 
  • The problem, which the product is able to solve. It is not reasonable to develop a product without defining the range of problems it should be capable of solving. When a problem is specified, it’s easier to discuss the set of the essential features to embed in the initial product version.

The process of describing features the MVP  should possess should be smooth and distinct. For example, when you create a booking app, the core function is obvious – to provide booking. It has to be implemented in the MVP. The rest (perfect design, chatbots, etc.) is additional functions and can be done later. There’s no need in putting emphasis on extra features in the initial version. 

Sometimes the principles of right prioritization are being neglected, and in the end, the company faces a poor-quality MVP unable to do what it was planned for. It happens because companies concentrate on delivering as many features as possible forgetting about that all of them will be sooner or later morphed into a final product.

How to prioritize MVP features?

When identifying MVP features gets problematic, there should be a prioritization technique at hand. There are dozens available,  but the MoSCoW method has proved to be the most efficient. What is the essence of this method? According to the scheme, all the product features regardless of their size, can be divided into 4 groups considering their value and relevance:

  •         Must Have
  •         Should Have
  •         Could Have
  •         Would Like but won’t have.

MVPs are about the development of Must-Have features.

What is a Feedback / Build-Measure-Learn Loop?

The MVP development turns into a cycle which is called a Build-Measure-Learn Loop. The core idea of the concept is a focus on the mix of customers and experiments feedbacks, measuring and researching results, changes making and delivery. Schematically, this idea can be illustrated in the following way:

In a more simplified form, the idea of a feedback loop takes the following appearance:

Why do companies avoid building MVPs?

It is natural that some startups are skeptical about launching MVPs because they believe that a shortcut product development will be excessively costly and will not help in gathering marketing analytical information which is essential in the releasing stage. What do most companies fear?

  1. They think that customers would have liked the full product, and MVP which is lacking good design, full functionality, and perfect performance will turn potential customer’s backs upon them. Such companies just give up trying and abandon the vision immediately.
  2. Some companies are sure that the success of MVP and its contribution to further achievements are unreal because customers simply don’t know what they want themselves. How can a company guess what their wishes are? Startups can see no profit in building up an MVP which in result will bring no difference in the approach to the audience.
  3. Other companies believe that building a full product from scratch without constant changes will be faster, so the revenue will be received more quickly, because the market niche will be taken by their product, already perfect and ready to be sold.  

Obviously, some of these arguments do carry weight.  However, MVPs accelerate time to market. Isn’t it the most important in the accelerated race with potential competitors?

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