Coming up with a minimal viable product (MVP) is not about providing people with the cheapest product or service, it’s about thinking strategically and for the long-term. You might have the best idea in the world, but even brilliant ideas can flop. Until you know there is a hunger for the product, there’s no point in throwing all your time, energy and hard-earned money at it.
If you want to build a product which is going to find a market, then you need to start out with a clear and realistic picture in your mind. Creating an MVP is about thinking big but starting small.
What is an MVP?
Some entrepreneurs throw everything they can at their ‘big idea’, with no guarantees that it will turn out to be a success. Starting out with an MVP is a much safer option, because it allows you to test the water and then build on what you’ve already launched, without overstretching yourself or your finances.
Put it this way: if you were strapped for cash, you wouldn’t renovate your entire house all in one go. Instead, you would work on it room by room, as and when your budget allowed. The same should be true of your product. You can go back at a later date to add all the bells and whistles, but the sensible option is to start off with the basic minimum and build it up from there.
Why start out with an MVP?
An MVP is a bit like a prototype, in that it’s a pared back version of what you would ultimately like it to be. You may have a grand vision in mind, the dream product or service you always wanted to launch. It’s good to hold onto that as an end goal, but you need to start out small and work up to that final iteration. Too many great ideas fold because their creators were over-ambitious and overstretched at the beginning, never having tested the market to see if there’s a demand.
It’s not about offering the cheapest thing to your customers, it’s about offering them the basic product or service with the spoken or unspoken promise that it will be built on over time. Once you know there’s a market, you can change your plans and adapt to customers’ needs, because flexibility is crucial if you want to make a success of your product.
MVPs: Taking the first steps
All MVPs start life as an idea. You may have spotted a gap in the market which you think you can fill, so the next step is to carry out market research and talk to potential customers. Only by talking to people will you find out if your potential product has legs – if there’s no demand for it, then there’s no point pursuing the idea.
Ask yourself who your potential user is, what problem they have and how your product or service might address that problem. It can be helpful to draw up character profiles for your chosen demographic, to help you visualise your potential customers. What are their names and what sort of things do they like? How old are they and what are their occupations? This is a great exercise for focusing the mind, because losing sight of the customer means losing sight of the end goal.
Building on the blueprint
As soon as you know there’s a market, you can start to develop your idea. Consider who your stakeholders are and which business processes you will need in place, as well as working out how tech could help you achieve your goals in a simpler, more straightforward way.
You also have to think about what you will need in order to build your product, when you can make a start, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Nothing needs to be precise, because you’ll always hit bumps in the road no matter how diligent you are in setting timeframes and costing everything up. Having a basic idea will, however, make life a lot simpler once you get started.
Test, test, test
The only way to know if your finished MVP is working is to test it out. Once it’s been built and launched into the big wide world, you need to be able to measure its success by asking yourself a number of questions about how well things are going – where are customers dropping off? What are people saying about the most useful or pointless features? Are they using the product as a one-off or are they coming back, and why?
Not all feedback will be glowing, but the negatives are just as valuable because they will help you improve. As well as looking at individual comments, you have to take in the bigger picture. Users may need to be nudged into making a purchase to stop the curse of the abandoned cart, or they may need educational videos and tips on using the product.
Testing and getting feedback will help you work out how good the user experience is and how it might be improved, anticipating people’s needs even before they do. Asking the right questions and collecting the right data are critical to the success of your MVP, but no startup gets everything 100% right the first time around. Launching an MVP is all about trial and error.
An MVP is a way to make the minimal investment whilst working out what people want. With that in mind, be prepared to fail. You may find there’s no appetite for your product, but it’s better to find that out having put as little money as possible into it. Failure isn’t necessarily a defeat. Remember, if one MVP flops it doesn’t mean that your next big idea won’t take off, so start over again and persevere.