First Line Software is a premier provider of software engineering, software enablement, and digital transformation services. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the global staff of 450 technical experts serve clients across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Imagine you’re building the house of your dreams. In your mind, you already have an idea of every little detail it would have—beautiful lighting, baroque mirrors, and fine china. Would you begin by buying all that stuff first? Or would you first get a plan of the house, lay the foundation, and put up the walls?
When you want to build a digital product, you can think of it as building the house of your dreams. You may have a lot of ideas for features it should have here and there, but that is not where you start. And what’s more important – with a custom home that you build for yourself you’ll be sure that it’s just what you want. But when building a digital product, in most cases you’re creating something for a bigger audience. And what’s going to happen when your complex and fancy application appears to be something that people just don’t need or want?
In this blog post, we’ll discuss MVPs – a data-driven approach that offers a solution to this challenge and helps us to investigate demand before we’ve gone too far with our time and money.
What is a MVP?
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. The term was first coined by Frank Robinson, co-founder and president of SyncDev, in 2001 and popularized by Eric Ries, an American entrepreneur, blogger, and influencer, through his book Lean Startup.
The idea behind MVP is to get your product to market quickly and be able to obtain a first round of user feedback as soon as possible. In order to do that, the MVP approach suggests simplifying your idea to its core functionality and saving the “nice to have” features for a future version. The MVP is something that can be built fast so you can test if it will truly solve the challenge you’re trying to build a solution for.
According to a study by Harvard Business School, startups that use the MVP approach have a 75% success rate, compared to a 50% success rate for startups that don’t use it.
MVP for Complex Industries
There are cases when creating something extremely simple is not possible, such as industries with significant regulations or complex tasks like insurance, banking, biotech, or hard tech. While some may wish it was possible, the fact that you can’t build a rocket in 3 weeks is not surprising.
So, does this mean that the MVP approach is not applicable to these types of businesses, then? Not necessarily— there are other ways to look at an MVP and get users’ feedback. For example, you can create a simple website or landing page describing your future product with some screenshots showing the interface or place a subscription form to start gaining potential customers.
While you might not be able to give your solution to users and see how they use it, you can still get a lot of valuable feedback on demand with this method.
Surprisingly, complex industries may come up with their MVPs even faster than common digital businesses. Just like Tesla’s Pickup Truck. The concept version of the vehicle gains a lot of valuable feedback far before production, not only from customers but from automotive market experts.
Advantages of MVP
- Cost and Time-Effectiveness – with building an MVP focused on essential features, you can have a live product on hand quickly—without having to wait or spend money for months on end.
- Better Customer Understanding – the main idea of a MVP is to get customer feedback on your real product (not just an idea or hypothesis) as fast as possible and start iterating with this knowledge, rather than making assumptions.
- Reduce Risk – by gathering feedback in the early stages you can validate demand for your solution before you’ve spent lots of effort and money building something that your ideal audience wouldn’t use.
- Better Agility – based on user feedback, you can find out if there are any crucial features that are lacking in your MVP, or if your users would go about solving their problem in a different way. With a simplified version of your product, it will be much easier to correspond changes in accordance with the new knowledge, rather than with a complex system built on wrong assumptions.
- Faster Time to Market – Speed to market can be tricky, as it brings both advantages and risks.If your product is something unique and new to the market, being the first to offer the solution can be your winning ticket. On the other hand, your competitors may catch your idea and build their version better than your MVP, luring away your potential users.
Disadvantages of MVP
- Lack of Functionality and Differentiation – your first MVP may not have all of the features and differentiators that customers may expect, making it difficult to stand out from similar products on the market. By partnering with a capable team, you can carefully choose the features that should be included in your initial MVP. If you have some stand-out features in mind, it might make sense to include them from the start to help differentiate your product in the market, even if it is not directly related to the core functionality.
- Misleading Feedback – your early adopters might not be representative of your entire target market. Focusing only on one subset of users could result in receiving misleading feedback about your product and missed opportunities. When you are collecting feedback, make sure to have a plan of how you’re doing it. Who are your target customers? What segments do you need to research? Assure that you have spoken to various groups to get the whole picture.
- Technical Debt – MVP can sometimes be developed with less focus on quality assurance, which can lead to technical debt. Technical debt is a term used to describe the cost of maintaining and upgrading poorly constructed products.
Examples of MVP Approach
Many billion-dollar companies that we know today started with a MVP. At the time, those products looked far more simple and didn’t have many features that we take for granted now. However, this approach helped these companies to start building and growing gradually, creating products and services that are in demand around the globe today.
Airbnb might be the most popular example of an MVP application. The founders of Airbnb didn’t have the budget to build a full-scale platform from the start. So, they came up with a simple website allowing people to rent out homes for a night. It didn’t have the functionality to pay for the accommodation – you had to exchange money with the host directly. In fact, it didn’t even have a map. Only one developer was working on the project… part-time.
When Twitch first started, there was only one channel with one live show to watch and, yes, there was chat. So if you didn’t like this show, you had no choice but to leave. The video feed itself also had extremely low resolution and no videogames were offered.
The e-commerce giant and one of the most impactful technology companies in the world initially started simply as an online bookstore. Back in those days, Amazon challenged the big brick-and-mortar chains selling their books for less money and that strategy worked… even better than expected.
The idea of Twitter was created during a hackathon. The podcasting platform Odeo was having a tough time after Apple’s launch of iTunes, and they started organizing hackathons in search of new ideas. The SMS-based messaging platform first called Twttr was born during one of these events. It was supposed to be for internal use only but became so popular among employees that the founders decided to try it in the public realm.
Tips on building a MVP
Identify the Problem
First, you need to hone in on the problem you’re trying to solve. What is your target market? What needs and pain points do they have? It might be useful to go and talk to some users before you decide to build your MVP. You don’t need to conduct a three-year study or have worked in the industry for a decade—just a few conversations may help to validate that the problem is real and that people aren’t happy with current fixes. You can’t imagine how many founders ended or began their start-up journey before anyone interacted with their product.
Define the Basic MVP Features
What often happens is that founders want to address all of their potential users and all of their problems and needs at once. But this is not the idea when you’re building an MVP—in fact, it’s not even possible. A MVP is just a base to iterate from. Giving you the ability to focus on a small set of initial customers and their highest-order problems and ignore the rest until later.
When defining features, specify the time you have and all the features you need to develop before you launch. Having a “time box” might be very helpful to avoid lags and focus on the most important features. Remove everything unnecessary that can’t be created within your time frame. If there are no non-important things – start cutting less important features. The goal here is to get something out to the world and start working on it. Otherwise, before you have anything launched you can just delay, delay and delay.
Design and Develop
The design of your MVP should be simple and functional. Focus on usability, not aesthetics. Once you have the design – start to develop it. You can use an Agile development methodology to build the MVP in small iterations. This will allow you to test and validate the product as you go, making changes as needed.
Many large digital companies are still referred to as startups, as this is the way they began. Even today, founders often think that it’s important to create a big buzz around a launch with media publications and influencers involved. But that is not always the thing you want with your MVP. Do you remember the Google launch? Or Facebook?
Minimum Viable Product is a prototype product that has a lot of work ahead of it. You just want to give it to your audience, let them play with it, and start improving stuff based on their feedback. If you really want to get huge media attention for your idea – delay it for a bit later and consider it as a press launch, when you have a solid and tested solution on hand.
Get Feedback and Iterate
Now you have an MVP to get in front of your users to provide feedback on, you’re well on your way to developing Version 2 of your product. Keep your target audience in mind and which segments you might be interested in. Do your research with all of them and collect feedback to start iterating and improving.
Additionally, remember the difference between iterations and pivots. There are many founders who fall in love with their ideas. And when it appears that it doesn’t work, they start struggling to find some other ways how it can be leveraged. Sometimes it might work. But in many cases, you can find yourself trying to figure out how to apply a bicycle to a kitchen table. You’re losing the initial customer need and starting to do something that nobody asked for. Go back to the problem you’re solving. Understand why your solution is not helping, and iterate on it until the solution works.
Beyond the MVP: MMP and MLP
While the MVP approach is great as a first step, some experts say that it is not enough today to build a product that just works. They suggest other product development strategies based on the MVP idea – MMP (Minimum Marketable Product) and MLP (Minimum Lovable Product). You can consider these methods as separate and start from them, or use them as a continuation after you’ve built a Minimum Viable Product.
Minimum Marketable Product (MMP) is an extended version of MVP that suggests building your first version in a way that it can be pushed out to the market and sold to the customers. This means focusing more on the minimum set of characteristics that are needed to make the product efficient on the market, including improved user experience, extended functionality, and a unique value proposition.
Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) is more about feelings and emotions, and it emphasizes work on the User Experience. Improving the design, adding special features, and creating a user-friendly interface. Everything that helps establish a minimum emotional connection with the users.
Other Ways to Validate a Business Idea
MVP is definitely not the only way to validate business ideas. There are other research methods that you can apply or use simultaneously with your MVP strategy including:
- Customer Interviews – talk to your potential customers to gather feedback on your product idea and understand their needs and pain points.
- Surveys – use online platforms to create surveys and distribute them to your target market. You can find out your customer’s preferences, problems, and willingness to buy your product.
With both customer interviews and surveys, you should be very careful and thoughtful about your research design in order to get real information about your product, rather than empty promises.
- Market Research can help to understand industry trends, competitors’ products, overall market size, existing challenges, and opportunities.
- Prototype Testing is about creating a prototype and showing it to your audience. This is a great way to gather feedback on the usability, functionality, and overall user experience of your product.
Ready to Build an MVP?
As you can see, building an MVP is both simple and complicated. Great ideas can be buried, and bad ones can send you down a rabbit hole if you make a mistake in your early steps.
If you need a reliable partner with a broad understanding of how to run and build technology that solves challenges and has a complete set of resources to develop the product of your dreams, contact us.
We won’t begin with ornamental lighting and stylish dishes, but we will help you build a strong foundation and put up firm walls that will support whatever MVP endeavor you can dream up!.