September 30, 2023

What is Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

In the dynamic world of product development, one methodology stands out for its simplicity, efficiency, and impact - the MVP or Minimum Viable Product
What is Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
Understanding MVP

The term MVP or Minimum Viable Product originated from the Lean Startup methodology, pioneered by Eric Ries. At its core, an MVP is the most basic version of a product that allows a team to start the learning process as quickly as possible. It's not about building a 'half-baked' product, but rather about developing a product with enough features to satisfy early adopters while minimizing risks and rework.

You can always assume, that during creation of your product something will go wrong: wrong assumptions, not enough value, change of the market, new unknown before niches. To mitigate these risk MVP and MVP testing are critical.
Lets repeat.

An MVP (Minimum viable product) is a basic, launchable version of the product that supports minimal yet must-have features (which define its value proposition). It is built with the intent to enable faster time to market, attract early adopters, and achieve product-market fit from early on.

Some people call MVP when there is even no product, just marketing materials and mockups showing future product. In this case we will call it "test MVP", because the main purpose of such marketing/test sites to test our hypothesis about product before even start building it.

Test MVP - Concept of marketing description of product / mockups/ presentation/ website that are used to test our hypothesis about product and users before building actual product.

A prevalent misstep is the skewed emphasis on the term 'minimum' within MVP. This often becomes a cloak to unveil an MVP that's lacking in substance or one that justifies a mediocre user experience or technical glitches. While the ethos of an MVP is to be a streamlined version of the final vision, it's paramount that this lean version still delivers unequivocal value to the user.

To paint a clearer picture, let's delve into the picture below (Jussi Pasanen’s MVP Pyramid Model):

Jussi Pasanen's MVP Pyramid Model

It accentuates a product’s core characteristis: functional, reliable, usable, and delightful. One pyramid veers towards the flawed notion that MVPs are simply feature-stripped products devoid of usability, reliability, or delight. In contrast, the adjoining pyramid underlines the true essence: an MVP, albeit with streamlined features, should inherently encompass.

Why is MVP Important?

Now we understand 2 types of MVP and when they are used:

The goal of crafting an Test MVP - To test our hypothesis/assumptions/potential user demand even without building product.

The goal MVP - swiftly bring a product to market, rooted in a solid concept, without heavy financial outlay.

And now we can sum up benefits of this approach:

  1. Quick Market Validation: Launching an MVP helps in gauging the market reaction. Is there really a need for your product? Do users understand its value?
  2. Cost-Efficiency: Instead of sinking a lot of money into full-fledged product development, MVPs allow teams to test the waters with a smaller budget.
  3. Reduced Risk: By validating or invalidating hypotheses early, companies can pivot or persevere, thereby reducing the risk of large-scale failure.
  4. Feedback Loop: Early adopters can provide critical feedback, helping product managers understand what works and what doesn’t.

MVPs should give PMs the answers to the questions:

  1. What’s the minimum number of features your product needs to have in order to solve a core user problem?
  2. How can the product team identify only the most beneficial features that they can then build upon using analytics and usage data?
  3. What’s the best way to discover validated learnings about customers using the least amount of resources?
Before you build an MVP, validate

Before building and shipping an MVP, PMs often validate that their product has a promising customer base/audience. This is commonly done via A/B tests on a page dedicated to their product (landing page), videos or a crowdfunding campaign. As we discussed before and called it "test MVP"

Real life examples:

Dropbox's video validated that customers wanted their SaaS product—they posted a demo video to Hacker News and got lots of immediate feedback via comments, and later invited viewers to a simple landing page to capture emails, which grew their beta list from 5,000 to 75,000 overnight.

Buffer's simple landing page detailed how it would help users by scheduling tweets. It also collected emails to validate customer interest in their product. They later even added a pricing page and also validated that people were willing to pay for the service.

Does $$ = validation? Maybe. If users are willing to click on a “pay” button or enter their credit card information, you have strong validation for your product idea. But it’s worth noting that not all MVPs are interchangeable with user research.

As you learn from and iterate on your MVP, you may continue to offer your “minimal” product for free, but then charge for add-on features. Experimenting with different payment models will help you determine what you should be charging for, and how much people are willing to pay for it.

Illustrative Examples of MVPs

Dropbox: Before building their product, Dropbox’s founder, Drew Houston, created a simple video showcasing how Dropbox would work. This wasn’t the product, but it was an MVP. The overwhelming positive response validated his hypothesis and provided momentum for further development.

Airbnb: The MVP for Airbnb wasn’t the sophisticated platform we know today. It was a simple website set up by the founders to rent out air mattresses in their apartment during a conference. This simple test helped them validate the demand for a new kind of accommodation experience.

Zappos: Instead of setting up a full-fledged e-commerce infrastructure, the founder, Nick Swinmurn, tested his hypothesis by taking photos of shoes from stores and posting them online. If someone ordered, he would buy the shoes from the store and ship them. This MVP approach validated the demand for online shoe sales.

A Hypothetical Example: Let's imagine you have an idea for an app that uses augmented reality (AR) to place virtual furniture in a user’s room. Instead of building a complex AR app right away, the MVP could be a simple mobile app where users upload pictures of their room, and select furniture items to superimpose onto the picture. The user experience wouldn't be real-time AR, but it would allow you to gauge interest and get feedback.

A Hypothetical Example of Test MVP: Let's imagine you have an idea for an app that uses augmented reality (AR) to place virtual furniture in a user’s room. Instead of building an app, you prepare website that shows concept how it will be working and ask people to sign up for new news about application. By tracking conversion rate you can judge if there is demand for this type of application.

About other possible tests you can read in next post - testing MVP.

Challenges and Considerations in MVP Development
  1. Balancing Act: One of the trickiest parts is ensuring that the MVP isn’t too bare-bones. It should offer enough value to attract users but remain simple enough to be built quickly and cost-effectively.
  2. Pivoting: If the MVP reveals that the original idea isn't resonating, the team should be ready to pivot. This requires a blend of humility, adaptability, and resilience.
  3. Stakeholder Buy-in: Not everyone understands the concept of MVP. It's crucial to communicate its purpose and benefits to stakeholders, especially those expecting a polished final product.

Conclusion

The MVP approach is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of a product manager. It provides a way to transform ideas into tangible products, learn from real users, and adapt to market needs, all while minimizing risks and costs.

Remember, the beauty of an MVP lies not in its perfection but in its potential to evolve. After all, today's MVP could be tomorrow's next big thing.

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