Working with many diverse and different startups is one of the real pleasures of what we do, and it gives us insight into what succeeds and what fails. Naturally there are no guaranteed routes to success, but the ones that make it big always, without fail, get their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) right.
So, what’s an MVP?
Put simply it is the smallest set of features needed to test your new product in the marketplace.
Let’s say you have an idea for a product. You know that it’ll cost £100,000 to build and take to market. Naturally, you want to know if it’s worth remortgaging your life for. The idea of the MVP is to, as cheaply and quickly as possible, determine whether it’s worth the risk. The questions you need to ask are the most basic ones: Do people need your product? How much will they pay for it? And so, your entire focus in developing the first stage of that product is to answer those questions. If you spend a penny more, or a minute longer, creating something more than is needed to answer that, then you’re just wasting money.
What does an MVP look like?
Well, it depends on the product. Usually it’s a cut-down version with the simplest feature set needed to demonstrate it. It doesn’t actually even have to work: so long as you’re showing enough to demo what it could do, then that’s all you need. People can answer whether they’d use it or not.
To take one extreme, your MVP could even be just a picture on a piece of paper. Again, if it’s enough to show what the product does so that people can answer whether or not they’d use it, then it’s a completely valid MVP.
So where do people go wrong?
The most common wrong way to go about it is to think “what is the minimum set of features I need for the product to be usable?”. The difference is subtle but can literally be the difference between life and death of your new business.
You don’t need to create a usable product to test whether it’ll work in the marketplace. This can be a difficult thing to practice if, like us, you come from a world where user experience (UX) is everything. Indeed, the final product must provide a perfect UX – but the MVP explicitly must not. You almost never need configuration options, demos, user assistants, super-scalable back-ends for millions of users, or good graphic design. You don’t even need a good user interface. Obviously all of these things must come later – but they are superfluous, even a distraction, for the MVP.
One startup we worked with insisted that their MVP must run on 6 platforms: Android, iOS, Windows, OS X, Linux and web. This was enormously inefficient and, needless to say, they ran out of money, meaning that a potentially great product never got to market. All they needed to do was demo it on one platform, and a positive reception to this would have given their investors confidence to take it wider.
So, to conclude, build only what is necessary and cost-effective to test your product in the marketplace. That is your MVP: anything else is unnecessary. Don’t think of your MVP as a working product; instead, it’s the first step towards working out whether you should take an idea further.