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Minimum Viable Product: A Crash Course For Startups
Statistic: Most popular social networks worldwide as of January 2022, ranked by number of monthly active users (in millions) | Statista
Statista.com: Number of monthly active users (MAUs) for the leading social media platforms.

Facebook was not always the social networking website with 2.9 billion monthly active users that it is today. You may wonder, why am I talking about Facebook while the topic of this article is ‘minimum viable products for startups’? Well, because Mark Zuckerberg knew the importance of an MVP and cashed in on it in the long run.

So, what was the minimum viable product behind Mark’s immense success? In 2004, after failing to create a photo comparison website for Harvard students, Zuckerberg launched TheFacebook.

Originally, the website—a student directory—was only available internally to Harvard students. After a few months, Mark introduced TheFacebook to other universities such as Yale and Stanford due to its massive popularity among his fellow Harvard students.

The initial product did not have the current features and kept evolving. But what did Zuckerberg gain from introducing TheFacebook to his mates? An idea of how the early adopters will react to the first user experience, as it was an easy way to check the product-market fit. 

Similarly, when you're a startup, launching an MVP is the equivalent of taking your first long-distance vacation. It's exciting because it means that your product is finally ready for the world to use and judge—but it can also be nerve-wracking because there's no telling what will happen once it gets out there. 

Zuckerberg faced this uncertainty as well, but proceeded and kept validating his idea. So, in a digitally evolving world, I advise you to give the minimum viable product approach a try. To bridge the gaps, I'll share my experience of several years working with startups and established companies about how to launch an MVP so that any future startups or small businesses can avoid the pitfalls.

Lean Startup Methodology

The lean startup methodology is a popular approach proposed by American author Eric Ries. He introduced the concept in one of his books named 'The Lean Start-up'. The methodology emphasizes product development that promotes the use of Lean thinking and principles to quickly build and test products. 

One key component of the Lean methodology is the concept of the MVP or minimum viable product. It refers to a version of a new product that includes just enough features to provide value to users, while still being lightweight enough for rapid development and testing.

One of the biggest advantages of Lean methodology and MVPs is that they allow companies to quickly test and refine their products, minimizing wasted time and resources on unproven products. As a result, the Lean methodology can be a very  effective way for businesses to stay competitive in today's fast-paced market landscape. 

Whether you are just starting out as a new business owner or looking to improve your existing product development process, Lean methodology and MVPs can help you achieve your goals while minimizing risk and maximizing efficiency. So why not give them a try today?

What is an MVP?

What is a minimum viable product? This is a question that many founders ask when they are just starting out. A minimum viable product, or MVP, is a version of your product that allows you to test the most important assumptions about your business idea quickly.

minimum viable product for startups infographic

The above graph from zippia indicates that 21.9% of startups fail in the first year. The startling stats further enhance the need to build an MVP.

A minimum viable product is the smallest thing you can build that provides value to the end user. This may seem obvious, but it's not always easy to figure out what counts as a minimum feature set for your product that truly depicts viability.

If you're into software development and developing an app, for example, an MVP might include just one feature—like "find my favorite restaurants" or "find my favorite bars." If this sounds like too much work right now (and I totally get that), keep reading! I'll explain how you can use this approach as early in your startup as possible and still start with making something useful and valuable for real customers.

Examples of MVP

The leading MVP examples include:

1. Amazon

Amazon was not always a $1 trillion business, and Jeff Bezos was not always among the world’s richest CEOs. The company started small, as a lean startup with a single focal point of selling books.

The business kept growing, and now we have an example to cherish that started with an MVP.

2. Instagram

Instagram was not a glamorous photo-sharing app in the beginning. Rather, the immensely popular social media platform was the brainchild of Stanford graduate Kevin Systrom who launched it in 2010 as a photo check-in website called Burbn due to his love for  whiskeys and bourbons.

The lean business model, however, attracted 25.000 users in one day at the launch of the Instagram app with minimal effort for marketing.

3. Dropbox

Dropbox was a hard-to-swallow pill for its financial backers. The developer of the idea, Drew Houston was an engineer without the slightest idea of the right marketing strategy. However, his take on the type of MVP was marvelous.

Whenever he proposed the idea in front of the investors, they refused to provide funding, stating that they had worked with a similar product in the past and saw it fail. Drew decided to make a video demo of his brilliant idea and convinced everyone that he can give seamless cloud storage to anyone across the globe.

Features of a Minimum Viable Product 

There are many different features of an MVP that can make it successful when launching a new product. Some of these features include:

  • A clear value proposition that allows customers to understand the benefits of your product.
  • A functioning web page or landing page that allows users to easily find and purchase your product or sign up for updates about it. This can also include features like easy checkout and payment options, an FAQ section, a feedback form or contact information, etc.
  • A team or a group of people who are dedicated to the success of your product. This can include developers, designers, marketers, social media managers, or any other members that are needed to create and promote your product.
  • The ability to easily track and make changes to your MVP based on feedback from customers. This includes tools like analytics dashboards and A/B testing so that you can see what’s working and what needs improvement.
  • A set timeline for developing and launching your MVP, including a launch date or time frame in which you plan to go live. This will help you stay on track with your goals and avoid getting sidetracked by other projects or changes in priorities.

Benefits of an MVP

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a strategy used to validate the idea of a new product or service. By building an MVP, a team can test their hypothesis and gather meaningful feedback from customers. 

This allows businesses to fail fast and learn quickly. When implemented correctly, this approach has been shown to be highly effective according to the lean startup methodology.

There are several key reasons why MVPs work so well. 

1. An Idea of Resource Allocation

First, they allow businesses to quickly get their product or service out into the market while minimizing costs and risks. Rather than investing significant time and resources upfront, an MVP allows companies to test different assumptions about their product/service with customers. This allows them to gather customer feedback and make necessary adjustments before investing heavily in their product or service.

2. Pictures the Startup as a Customer-Centric Entity

Second, MVPs build customer trust by proving that a company is committed to bringing value to the market. By putting out an incomplete product/service and using customer feedback for improvement, companies show that they are listening to customer needs and are willing to change their product/service based on feedback.

This can create a strong foothold for future sales, as customers are more likely to trust a company that has shown this level of commitment to improvement.

3. Mitigates Risks

Lastly, MVPs allow companies to minimize risks by getting customer feedback before committing additional resources.

Why Do Startups Need an MVP?

There are several benefits to creating an MVP for your startup:

1. Allows You to Test the Market for Demand

An MVP gives you the opportunity to quickly gather feedback from potential customers on whether they would be interested in using or purchasing your product, as well as what features they would like to see added. 

This feedback can then be used to help you fine-tune and improve your product before you spend time, money, and other resources developing it further.

2. An MVP Helps You Understand If Your Idea Is Viable

By launching an MVP, you can test whether your product idea is actually viable and has the potential to succeed. If you’ve created a complex and expensive product, only to find out that there isn’t enough demand for it or that customers don’t like certain features, then you may have wasted a lot of time and money – but with an MVP, you’ll learn this early on, so you can make any necessary changes before moving forward.

3. Refines Your Product and Helps Get Feedback from Customers at an Early Stage

Trying to create a perfect or finished product before launching it would be extremely time-consuming, expensive, and impractical – and there will always be things that you’ll want to change based on feedback from users or customers. 

By creating an MVP first, you can get this valuable early input and then use it to improve your product before releasing a full-fledged version of it.

4. It Allows You to Test Out Different Business Models for Your Product

Launching an MVP can test whether potential customers or clients are willing to pay for your product. This will help you identify the business model that makes the most sense for your product so that you can then move forward with confidence and focus on building a full-fledged version.

You can choose different versions such as freemium, subscription, etc. 

Difference Between MVP and Prototype

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. This is a concept that entrepreneurs often use when they are trying to launch a new product or platform. The idea behind an MVP is to create the minimum product required to test out your idea and get feedback from real users. This might mean creating only the most basic version of your software or app, or just creating a concept that you can share with others to get their feedback.

A prototype, on the other hand, refers to an early version of a product or platform that allows developers to test out and refine their ideas before they actually create the final product. A prototype might be more polished than an MVP, and it may include more advanced features or functionality. Many startups find that using prototypes is helpful in gathering initial user feedback, which can then inform future iterations and changes to the product or platform as they develop.

Overall, both concepts are used by startups when they are launching new products or platforms so that they can quickly get real-world feedback from users before making any significant investments in the final product. However, while there are some similarities between MVP and prototype, the two terms have different meanings and are often used for different stages in product development.

So, to summarize, the main difference between MVP and prototype is that an MVP is typically a very "minimal" version of the final product or platform - it might be very basic functionality-wise or include only the most basic features - while a prototype tends to offer more advanced functionality or be more polished overall. 

Additionally, MVPs are generally created earlier in the product development process than prototypes, as they are intended to help developers get feedback on their idea before investing too much time and money into creating the final product.

Misconceptions About MVPs

Myth 1: MVPs are Meant Only for Products That are High-Risk and Prone to Failure

In actuality, the goal of an MVP is to minimize the risks associated with any project or product launch. The keyword here is ‘minimize’. Whether you're launching a new, revolutionary product or simply updating your company's logo, you need to ensure that whatever you're doing won't fail in front of the eyes of your customers and stakeholders. 

This means minimizing financial risks by maintaining control over costs and reputational risks by proving demand for your product/service.

Myth 2: MVPs Are Only for Tech Startups

Generally, any business can benefit from the use of an MVP framework. Even if you're not in the technology sector, a Minimum Viable Product can help ensure that your product or service will be successful by getting it in front of real customers as quickly as possible. 

This early market feedback allows you to gain insights into how well your idea will work and what improvements/adjustments will make it more effective before investing too much time or money.

Myth 3: MVPs Are Just a Way to Cut Corners By Launching Something Incomplete and Patchy

MVPs are not necessarily about having lower quality standards — they're simply about understanding whether people really want what you're selling. Hitting your intended target audience with a well-crafted MVP can help you determine where to focus your efforts and how to proceed in development and implementation.

Myth 4: With An MVP, All You Need Is a Working Prototype

While prototypes are an important part of the product development process, it's not necessarily about having a physical model in front of people. Instead, think back to the times when undergrads first used Microsoft Word or Google Docs — they didn't have functioning word processors or text editors; they had only primitive files that displayed as blocks of text on their screens. And yet those early iterations were still minimum viable products since they allowed new users to get immediate feedback.

The Step-By-Step Process of Building an MVP

Developing an MVP is hard work, yet it is one of the best decisions you’ll take as an entrepreneur. Here are the crucial steps for MVP development:

1. Research the Market

As you start working to bring your idea to fruition, remember that a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is essential to increasing the likelihood of success. An MVP is a product that includes only the most necessary features and functions of your product in order to test whether or not customers would be willing to buy it. 

The main goal of an MVP is to prove your hypotheses while minimizing risk and costs, both financially and time-wise.To get all these things right, researching the market through surveys is the basic step. 

Missing out on it can cause serious consequences. The first step in market research is to define the target market and then proceed with surveying it.

2. Adding Value

Your MVP should test a small portion of the core value proposition or unique selling point that underlies your business model. This can be accomplished through multiple methods, including:

  • Building a proof-of-concept to show that your concept is viable as a marketable product. For example, you may develop a prototype or mockup of the product, which you could use to validate your design or technology.
  •  Creating a minimal working version that can be used for actual testing. This may involve actually creating and selling the product, demonstrating its value using an online service, a mobile app, or simply building a landing page as part of an online marketing campaign.

3. Map Out User Flow

In the process of developing an MVP, user flow is of utmost importance. Even if the product is only based on a single premise, you need to make sure that the user base can easily understand the overall flow. 

Missing out on the user flow can cause obstructions in the feedback process. More so, it can lead to a frustrated early adopter who is not ready to endorse your MVP.

4. Prioritize MVP Features

As discussed earlier, an MVP can either be a basic product or a product with value addition. If you and your development team are launching an MVP loaded with features, prioritize the features first. It means that the business doesn’t need to bombard the users with all the features at once. Occasional testing works fine for various features.

5. Launch Your MVP

Now, the process enters the final stage of launching the MVP. The MVP doesn’t need to be only a bare-bones version of the final product, but one which gives an idea to its users through basic functionality and ease of use.

6. Inspect & Adapt 

The MVP is launched. Users are trying it. Now, the final and most important step of getting feedback and using it to improve the product starts. The MVP has done its work. Now, the business decides the pace of its success or failure with its product improvement decisions.

Final Thoughts

From e-commerce giants like Amazon to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, almost every hugely successful startup was once a minimum viable product. All the advanced features came later with rigorous testing and continuous application of customer feedback.

The quest for a minimum viable product starts with an idea and goes through several steps of market research, analysis, the MVP launch, and a solid feedback implementation cycle. The key idea that an MVP underlines emphasizes is that entrepreneur needs to focus on the market needs instead of his or her personal preferences.

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By Mandy Schmitz

Mandy Schmitz is a freelance consultant and project management expert with 10+ years of experience working internationally for big brands in fintech, consumer goods and more. Join her on Changeaholic.com to learn how to optimize your business operations.

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