If you have any experience in startups, you know how challenging it can be to navigate decision-making. You’re so focused on minimizing costs and maximizing the value of your limited resources that even picking a color scheme can feel like a live-or-die moment. What you need is a reliable way to gather and process information like customer feedback and market research into actionable insights that will lead to business success.
One of the best ways to achieve these goals is using the Lean Startup tool of building an MVP. It’s a powerful method for getting the information you need without making a big upfront investment. But what is an MVP, and how do you make sure your MVP process is successful?
In this post, we’ll discuss what an MVP is and what you need to be prepared to do to build one.
What is an MVP
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. The goal is to design a version of your product that minimizes waste while also maximizing the amount of learning you can do about what your early customers want. This sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly dense, so let’s expand it.
First, it’s easy to focus on the ‘minimum’ part of the sentence and reduce the idea of an MVP to a super-simplified version of the product you want to build. This is too narrow a view, and can easily lead to unnecessary wasted work. It can be helpful to start with the product you want to build long-term and then start reducing it to a simpler example of what you are trying to prove. However, doing this well requires being able to see ways to test your idea that don’t necessarily require building your product at all, at least to start.
Second, your goal is to gather the information that is relevant to what you are trying to do right now. Which questions your MVP needs to answer are going to vary based on where you are in the business journey. If you already have a product and are planning to launch a new version of your platform, then your MVP is going to look very different from a company with an idea and some seed money.
Third, this information gathering is from your early customers. Long-term, your goal may be to appeal to a broad swath of people from various backgrounds that will see your product or service as the solution to whatever problem you are trying to solve. Right now, however, you are appealing to early users. That means people who are willing to test out unproven solutions, who are willing to participate in a process of shared value development, and who will be candid in their feedback with an eye toward improving your offering.
Two Different Paths
Imagine two different startups targeting the blockchain with specific services. The first is planning to build an RPG with tokens, collectibles, and play-to-earn gameplay. The second is planning to build a platform to create a blockchain-based solution for investing in agricultural real-estate products.
For the game, it is known that there is an interest in games like this, so the question is, are people interested in what makes this game different from the competition? An MVP for this company will likely require developing a simplified version of the game that highlights its new mechanics or design. The focus of this initial offering could be on making it easy to find, download, and share feedback. It could be as simple as a five-minute demo. If people play the game and express appreciation for what sets it apart, then you know there’s something valuable there.
For the investment platform, while it’s known that using blockchain solutions to access new levels of investment is of interest, it’s not known if investors are interested in using the blockchain to invest in these specific assets. An MVP for this service could be as simple as a landing page that offers people a place to sign up for that opportunity. Before you take the time to secure example assets to invest in, develop integration with blockchain wallets, or write up a white paper explaining what you are hoping to accomplish, you’re finding out if investors even have enough interest to try out your proposition. If no one uses the landing page, you know there’s insufficient interest in the initial idea, and you don’t need a scaled-down version of the platform with initial assets to offer to find that out.
Following MVP thinking sounds easy in theory, but it takes a lot of effort to do properly when you are trying to get your business, your baby, off of the ground. There are three common ways people get tripped up trying to do this.
Fear of a False Negative
Basically, the assumption that whatever information you get from building your MVP, you would have gotten different or better information if you’d taken more time to build something better. This is understandable. You are confident that your product has potential. You can envision your target users on your app and you just know they would love it. Of course the landing page for your investment service didn’t get any clicks. The landing page isn’t the draw, the service is.
You may be right. It could be that if you’d just built your platform and put it out there, the traction would appear, the users would clamber on board, and you’d set sail perfectly. But for a startup, taking the time to get good information can be painful; spending weeks or months building a fully fleshed-out product only for it to flop is excruciating.
Assuming Customers are Ignorant
It’s common to assume that customers can’t reliably tell you whether or not they want what you have to offer. Again, this can make sense. It’s unlikely that focus group input would have produced the iphone or led to the creation of the sophisticated array of retail financial services available at your local bank. It’s true that an MVP is not going to tell you whether the full version of your product as envisioned is going to be as successful as you think. That’s also not a question you need answered. You believe that your product is going to succeed, or else you wouldn’t be trying to make it real. MVPs help you figure out the answer to all the questions along the way that get you to that final stage.
Are your game’s new features of interest to people? If not, is it because they need to be presented in a different way, or because people want different new features? The average customer may not have your vision, but they know what they want, and ultimately, you are trying to solve real problems.
There’s No Time
Startups operate on short timelines, and your goal is to get your product to market as fast as possible. Being an entrepreneur can feel like you are constantly behind, and it may feel hard to justify taking the time to gather more information.
The MVP process was built with this understanding in mind, ie it was built by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. It operates on short timescales that work with your need to get useful data quickly. It focuses on minimizing your costs while still yielding positive business value. The information you get will help avoid painful mistakes, and give your work clearer guidance, which can lead to valuable acceleration. Finally, it’s not an either/or situation. This is a process that can and should be implemented simultaneously with other efforts to build and grow the business. Don’t let that anxiety get in the way of you getting invaluable insight.
Your MVP is a Tool, Not a Solution
For all of the positive attributes of an MVP, remember that it is just a tool for gathering useful information. Judgment and analysis are still required to determine what that information is telling you and how your business can best leverage that information. An MVP may not reveal exactly what you need to resolve user complaints, what channel to use for marketing, or which features to prioritize. That decision is still up to you. But the MVP process, if done right, will give you the data you need to make those decisions with greater confidence and clarity.
MVPs are powerful when done right
There are few circumstances where building an MVP does not add significant value to the work you will be doing. Navigating the process and ensuring that you truly get valuable information takes practice and flexible thinking. It can help to have someone with experience in this process to guide the design and implementation.
We have experience helping clients and partners find their way through this process. Whether you are looking to build a new app that will be the core of your company, or you are looking to launch a new service on your existing platform, we can help determine the best way to learn what you need to achieve success. If you are looking to try something new, an MVP is probably right for you. Give us a call and we can help you do it right.