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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