What is an MVP?
In tech, MVP stands for “minimum viable product.” In other words, it is the version of a new product which allows a team to validate learning and assumptions about customers with the least effort and spending. The MVP is a strategy that allows for fast, data-driven testing.
[bctt tweet="A MVP allows for fast, data-driven testing before a product is fully built"]
Why start with a minimum viable product?
“Fail fast” is a well-known slogan in the startup community and the MVP, popularized by Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, is perched at the heart of this concept. In the world of disruption, progress, and innovation, there’s a lot of guesswork involved. A startup team may think they’ve sitting on a gold-mine of an idea, but building a fully-functional product only to then learn that it’s not what consumers want or need is a waste of valuable resources. Instead, the MVP allows the team to collect the maximum amount of learning about customers and confirm or disprove hypotheses before exerting that effort.
The minimum viable product exists in order to help the team learn something about customers and their behavior. Starting with an MVP can give you a sense of who are the customers and where can you find them. How will they find you? What price can you charge? Most importantly, before you invest time and money into developing this product, your MVP will tell you if there is enough demand to make the investment worthwhile.
An MVP is not a first release.
It’s important to remember that an MVP is not the same as a first release. Most digital products will shift in focus, add features, and transform visually over time. When Wikipedia was launched as a complement Nupedia—an online encyclopedia edited solely by experts—it started out far more minimally than the vast repository of content it is today. Still, this doesn’t mean it launched as an MVP. Similarly, Google’s first launch was a more basic version of the product. Neither of these first iterations were released for the sole purpose of testing a business hypothesis—the essence of a true MVP. In Ries’ words,
The lesson of the MVP is that any additional work beyond what was required to start learning is waste, no matter how important it might have seemed at the time.
[bctt tweet="A MVP is not the same as a first release—it must exist only for testing"]
Minimum viable product examples:
The file synchronization company has one of the most well-known stories of an MVP. As Dropbox proved, your minimum viable product doesn’t need to be a product at all—it is simply a deliverable that represents the fastest way to start learning how to build a sustainable business with minimum effort.
Dropbox was a massively complex product to build and there were other options for storage and sharing on the market. So, as the product was being build, the founders tested their essential question: if we can provide a superior customer experience, will people give our product a try?
They made a video to demo their product’s value proposition, peppering it with the sort of tongue-and-cheek insider’s humor that the specific audience on the outlet he shared his demo would find amusing. The people came. They watched, they laughed, and they signed up on the beta waiting list before the first release ever came out.
To test consumer demand to buy shoes online, Zappos took pictures of shoes at local stores. They put these photos up for sale on their site, and then personally went to the brick and mortars to fulfill orders and ship the shoes to their customers. This allowed founder Nick Swinmurn to confirm that there was a sufficient demand for a high-quality online shoe shopping experience and gave him the confidence that if he did build the e-commerce shoe store, they would come.
A Kickstarter isn’t just a way to test your MVP—it’s an MVP in it’s own right. As startup engineer and blogger Leknarf writes,
The core features of a Kickstarter campaign are exactly the same as an MVP: a high level description of your concept, a way for people to pay, a time limit, after which point an unsuccessful campaign must be abandoned.
Once your Kickstarter confirms consumer demand, you’re go to build.