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Launch Your Start Up: Build the Minimum Viable Product

What is an MVP?

MVP stands for “Minimum Viable Product.” This a term often referred to by the “Lean Start Up” author Eric Ries, and Steve Blank, the author of “Four Steps to the Epiphany.” In relation to your Start-up it refers to the minimum product you need  in order start the important process of validating your product, getting feedback from users, gathering user statistics, and perhaps even raising valuable funding.

The theory is that tech start-ups these days use a far more open and creative launch model than traditional businesses. Well, it’s not a theory anymore, it’s a proven model. Back in the old days the product preferably had to be as perfect as possible with long in-house test phases and a bunch of features before it was released to the public. Now the idea of shipping fast/update often is much more viable and popular, because it makes sense.

It takes into account that your service might be used or loved by the customers in a different way than you initially thought.

This process leaves you with leeway to change things and make your community happy by involving them in the process. You have alpha and beta testers and they are all aware of it. This way, initial functionality hiccups are expected. You can tailor your product to your audience by using advice coming from your community directly

What the MVP looks like or consists of specifically can’t really be defined. It’s different from start-up to start-up and from founder to founder. For some companies it might just be a slide presentation in PowerPoint that is enough to convince a major investor to let you start testing it. For others it’s a landing page with a sign-up opt in, or a minimal functional web service, and for others a quick and dirty mobile app or mock-up of the user interface.

In any case, if you’re thinking of building a tech start-up, you will need one eventually.

Being able to create an MVP shows investors that you are already on the way to implementing your idea – not just talking about it. It creates trust and confidence in you and your team and makes it possible to visually imagine what it will be like to use your service.

Some start-ups concentrate on customer validation first. Writing computer code is a difficult and time consuming process. It’s not always recommended to spend countless hours to code your idea – before you even know if people actually want your service.

The founder of the start-up “Buffer” – which is a service that lets you post to you favorite social media sites with a time delay – first created just a landing page only.

He was simply asking people if they would use his service. He created a page that explained the product including a sign up button. When people clicked on the button a page would appear telling the user that the service was not ready – but if they want they can sign up for the mailing list – to receive notification when it’s ready.

He also put analytics and heat maps in place, making it possible to see how many people came to the site, how many actually clicked the sign up button and how many of those users then ended up giving their emails for possible notification.

He posted the link in several social networks and waited for what would happen. The overall response was very encouraging. As seen by the data gathered from visitors of the site. The vast majority of the visitors  wanted to sign up for the service. There was nothing else there yet – meaning nothing was programmed – the service existed only as a one page idea on the web.

Then in the second step he tried to find out if people would not just use, but pay for this service and if so, how much would they pay.

So he created a second simple page with three pricing options displayed after they hit the sign up button on the main page. This offer included one free option and two premium options. From the analysis of the clicks from visitors he was able to determine that the interest is high and that a significant amount of people are also willing to pay for this service. Now only after following all these steps and getting his idea validated, did he go and program a first actual version.

It is often not necessary to be able to program a whole product in order to get it out there. There is no limit on your creativity in order to hack something together that gets you to a point where it’s only a matter of convincing a major investor to join in and finance the actual product being made.

For some Start-ups “MVP” means “Manual” Viable Product.

Even if you managed to build your first product and it is up and running, very often in the beginning it is just not possible to automate everything. Especially if you are a two person team, working out of a garage. That’s when you have to do a lot of “manual” work, even though it seems unscalable in the beginning. It’s OK.

If, for instance, you have a service that is supposed to return leftover balances on gift cards, theoretically and ideally they should be able to digitally log them and receive their funds back digitally as well. In the beginning stage of the idea, this may have not been possible.

Some aspects of the pipeline might not be implemented or automated at first.

That could be because you are not able to hire employees yet to develop some complicated piece of the code. The process would then become physical- perhaps people are logging in their gift cards digitally, but you haven’t developed a system yet that returns the money automatically to the gift card owner yet. So you may find yourself hand-writing checks to everybody who used your service and sending them back with envelopes to each one.

To the customer it doesn’t matter that you are still in the “Manual Viable Product” mode -behind the scenes– they won’t know the difference. For you it might be annoying but in the end it is beneficial because the product is gaining valuable momentum and you’re receiving valuable Customer Validation data.

So if there is anything you can do manually instead of wasting a lot of time programming it, feel free to just do it. Especially if it’s keeping you from moving forward with your project.

How to build your MVP

You can build your MVP using any means possible. There is nothing wrong with hacking it together, as long as it serves the purpose you need. This process is usually it to get seed investment or to test if the product would be useful for clients.

You can also do surveys, or even launch a starter product which you then update and add features to as you learn more. You are, of course, limited to the things you or your team can do. So learning some coding is always beneficial since it opens up a lot more possibilities.

There is nothing wrong with a nice, thought-out slide presentation, or an explainer video. Even if you don’t have film-making or animation skills, there are tons on free resources online that help you create a video.

Just make sure you show how your future product might look like and how it will work – from the user perspective so people can imagine themselves using it.

A presentation with only words and graphs might work but it would be much more effective and powerful if you had some illustrative images that go along with it. If you want to show how your internet service works in the browser or your app on the smartphone, you can also create a flow-animation that shows the process of clicking through the service, without having to code anything.

If you can’t design on Photoshop or Illustrator, make hand drawn sketches and graphs on paper and photograph them. Make slides using them or even create stop-motion animations.

If you create info-graphics or an explanatory video for your pitches don’t forget that you can reuse it on your landing page of your website. It works wonders to have a little video explain your product rather than trying it with just text.

So with all these resources and options at your fingertips, why haven’t you started you Minimum Viable Product? Share your story!

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Martin Labud

All around nice guy from Germany who is learning how to code, and raising two cats while traveling the globe. He is Co-founder of Tipabl, a social giving platform. Previously he worked as an Animator and Game Designer.

15 thoughts on “Launch Your Start Up: Build the Minimum Viable Product

  1. Michaela Cristallo

    Great insights here into the real life process of getting an MVP together. I’m reading The Lean Startup at the moment and find the whole re-imagining of the ‘old’ way of doing business fascinating. There are so many fantastic ideas and new ways of thinking in there not only for tech businesses but any business, or anyone who has an idea of any kind really. I believe the concept of an MVP is smart thinking for anyone with a good idea because there is no reason to pour months and years into building something that, perhaps, no one even wants. Good for you for going about your startup the smart way!!

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      Thanks Michaela! You’re right- there are so many new ways of thinking and it doesn’t just apply to tech. It applies to just about anything you can think of! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Save time by testing it out first! The Lean Startup is definitely recommended reading material.

      Reply
  2. Michael Knouse

    I love the MVP idea! Even though I don’t code software or offer a technical product, I am a huge proponent of validating any and all business ideas before investing large amounts of time and money into them. There is simply no excuse anymore for not testing ideas before launching them. Technology makes it so easy to test your ideas. You can easily validate ideas with surveys, test/seed launches, landing pages and good old one-to-one feedback.

    I tested two ideas and my first one (which I felt was a great idea) fell flat while my second idea proved to be a winner. I saved myself countless weeks and months by testing and validating up front to find an idea that was viable and that people would pay for.

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      You’re absolutely right, Michael. No excuses anymore. Testing is key in saving time, energy and heartache. Glad to hear that you applied these principles to your advantage and came out a winner!

      Reply
  3. Amy Scott

    This is great; it really gives me a sense of the different ways that you can start a business, or start selling a product, from virtually nothing. I actually did this with an online program; I sold spots in the program before any of the content had been created, and once I knew people were interested, I created the content as we went along. Definitely better than spending a lot of time creating something only to discover no one wants it anyway!

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      I love this! I love how you sold spots before the content was created. Bold move, Amy! What a great way to energize yourself to get the work done. And after the first time doing this, you have some great content and validation already done. That’s what I’m talking about~ congrats on that.

      Reply
  4. Wendy

    This is a really timely article for me – I am still trying to narrow down who I want to help and what I want to do, and thinking about what my MVP would be helps with that!

    Plus, you don’t make money until you get something out there right????

    This is great article on how to get started and get your readers to “beta” test something for you. I always forget that that’s possible and am always trying to think up something perfect. Which isn’t the point of a MVP! I need to gather what my readers want first, and perfect it from there! Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      Wendy, you’re right. No money until you start, and starting is all about shipping. Don’t be a perfectionist! (yet) I’m very happy you enjoyed this article and it helped you think about your MVP again.

      Reply
  5. Katherine Harms

    I am not doing anything technical, and my business is a service, not a product, but my MVP is my willingness to jump in and try things. Editing is a broader field than I even imagined when I decided to become a paid editor. (I have been editing most of my life as a courtesy for friends.) I could not have known about all the variety and opportunity if I had waited till I thought I had everything completely ready before I fearfully hung out my shingle to edit Christian books. My history is not to move till I know exactly what I am doing, but that history is in the dust now. My future is to make a move when I see opportunity and figure out the next move when I get there! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      Katherine, great progress~ “My future is to make a move when I see opportunity and figure out the next move when I get there!” Love that attitude. This idea of the MVP applies to services as much as it applies to products. Actually most online “products” out there are services, essentially. So don’t hesitate to apply these principles more specifically to your services as well!

      Reply
  6. Tom

    Well written article on the topic of creating an MVP.

    Some other resources I highly recommend:
    Lean Startup
    Running Lean (this book is EXCELLENT)
    Lean UX
    http://practicetrumpstheory.com (author of Running Lean)

    I am building an MVP in commercial software…I’ve thought about testing the splash page idea w/ no actual product, but I’m hesitant because of the nature of the industry. Our MVP will be finished shortly, then it’s all a matter of creating proper sales channels to get people in front of it.

    Good post Martin!

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      Hey Tom! Thanks for bringing some new references for the readers. It’s great to have you here. Ash Maurya is great! We took his Running Lean course on Skillshare, which is really helpful. Didn’t read the book yet but many of the same concepts were taught in that class. I am definitely looking into getting the book via your recommendation though. Good luck with your MVP.

      Reply
  7. erica

    Hi Martin, I’m in the planning stages of my MVP. I’m not quite sure how I am going to approach it, but I’m toying with the idea of a seed launch which would allow me to test the waters for interest. I guess the best approach in this instance would be a splash page or squeeze page is it? that asks for an email address that I will use for contact once the product/program is actually available. What if there’s not enough interest, do you just let the concept fade away?
    My MVP will be an info product not a physical product (at this stage anyways). I appreciate your thorough breakdown of all the different approaches one can take; It has certainly broadened my horizon on the possibilities.

    Reply
    1. Martin Labud Post author

      Hey Erica, I actually understand what you’re going through better than you know. I am also in the middle of “seed launching” and right now we’ve just been putting off on creating a landing page collecting emails for a while… but not anymore. We wanted to include more information and content on it, but that’s just wasting so much time, we’ve decided to just go ahead and put up a landing page. Validation occurs not only on collecting leads, but on interviewing people and seeing the reaction of your target audience. If the reaction from several interviews is overwhelmingly positive, that’s a great sign. Splash pages are great but they are only one small aspect of the testing. You should test it on as many channels as possible before thinking about giving up on the idea. (We actually never want to give up, we only slightly pivot if we see the need because we’re dedicated to making our thing work.) Nevertheless, the whole MVP process doesn’t matter if your testing is not conducted in a thorough and rigorous manner! So just test the sh*t out of it before even thinking about letting it fade away.

      Reply
  8. Aqeel Aslam

    The article is very nice. No Doubt. But the thing I find even more interesting is that the author is taking time to reply every single comment by anyone. That isn’t something you see very often and it is so good to see. Keep it Up !

    Now my thoughts about it; You present the idea in a very plain manner. However, I think that the landscape changes when we change from a B2C to a B2B model. For example, I have figured out a problem small businesses have which most of them DON’T think they have (sounds common ?). Now the MVP for my startup needs to be something more than the diagrams, flow charts, click ready prototypes but an actual running product, very small features initially, which THEY can use with THEIR customers. This will help me validate not only MY CUSTOMERS hypothesis but would also make it clear to them that they HAVE a problem.

    Could there be any way that I could, without spending any good money or time, validate my hypothesis? In my scenario, I am sitting (in Asia) far from my target market (US, UK, Europe) and need SOME funding only to be able to relocate and validate my ideas. Could this geographic barrier somehow be made irrelevant in the MVP stage ?

    Thanks

    Reply

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