The Definition of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
An MVP is the simplest form of your product that you can create while still providing value to your customers. Then you can use feedback from those customers to expand and perfect your product.
Knowing what and how to build an MVP will save you time, money, and valuable resources. Essentially, this is PROVING that your product will be built according to what CUSTOMERS want, not what YOU think they want.
“An MVP is good enough and can be improved to be great one day”– Alex Iskold, Co-founder and Managing Partner at 2048 Ventures.
The Origins Of Minimum Viable Product
Frank Robinson coined the term minimum viable product in 2001. It gained popularity and industry notice with the help of entrepreneurs like Eric Reis. Reis’ 2011 book, The Lean Startup, is where he dove into the concept of the MVP and ultimately brought it to the masses. A key component of Reis’ lean startup methodology is the build-measure-learn process. This methodology emphasizes learning as quickly as possible and building an MVP based on what is learned.
This book has proven to be quite a favorite amongst entrepreneurs; it’s a New York Times bestseller with over 1 million copies sold and is translated into over 30 languages. We agree with these entrepreneurs; building a minimum viable product to prove your idea is up to snuff before diving deep into full development is the way to go.
What Comes Before an MVP?
Before you see an MVP fully fleshed out, there may be other smaller builds along the way. The proof of concept and prototype are deliverables that might be made during your product’s development timeline. Just like snowflakes, you know that no two projects are the same, so you may not need each of them. Let’s dive into their differences so you can better understand when talking with a development partner.
MVP vs. Proof of Concept vs. Prototype
What are the differences between these early-stage deliverables? While they all may be options for development before a fully-fledged app or software is brought to life, some distinctions can be made.
What is a Proof of Concept?
A proof of concept (POC) can be an excellent first option for entrepreneurs to build, but it is not always used. A proof of concept is one implementation of a function or idea that could later become part of the MVP. The POC proves any technical risk worth it quickly and cheaply, so often the function will be rebuilt with improvements added to it for the MVP. Using a proof of concept is used in cases where you need to confirm the viability of your vision and the technology behind it.
Unlike a prototype or MVP, the POC is not fully coded or realized deliverable. It is the bare-bones option to test the waters with your concept. Design choices are not set in stone at this stage; that is focused on when your idea reaches a prototype.
What is a Prototype?
A prototype is an introductory, interactive visual that helps show off the look and feel of an app, software, or website. The client and potential users can test basic functionalities and get a taste of the overall experience. Adjustments and pivots in the design are made based on any feedback gathered. This method saves time and money before development is fully underway and code needs to be redone. Prototypes don’t usually need code; that is often implemented during actual development later on. UI/UX Designers commonly build prototypes in programs like Adobe XD or Sketch.
It’s easy to understand that prototypes and MVPs might get confused and thought of as synonymous. A prototype lays out a wireframe with imaginary data to display what the product will be able to do for the client and users. It is used to gather feedback, but an MVP gets sent to the market to collect firsthand reactions and critiques from the entire userbase. The MVP is a working model in which improvements are added further down the line.
What makes an MVP unique?
Unlike a proof of concept or prototype, a minimum viable product is a workable product with a minimum set of features that can satisfy users’ needs. An MVP lets you know how users accept a product, what they like, or what they expect to get later (source: rubygarage.org).
Minimum Means Minimum
It’s tempting to add “just one more feature” to your MVP. But don’t give in. Minimum viable product has the word “minimum” in it for a reason. Making your MVP simple means using the fewest number of resources possible (capital, time, natural resources, etc.) in your first stage of product development. Doing so has benefits like not overbuilding your new product, getting into the market faster, and creating your customer’s perfect product.
At Codelation we’re fans of a similar concept called SLC, or Simple, Lovable, and Complete. Simple in this context means that the product is small and can be delivered quickly. Lovable stands for users wanting to use it. It’s been found that simpler products that are loved are often more successful than more complex products that are met with lukewarm reception or even dislike. The last piece of SLC, complete, is where we see a larger difference between the two concepts. Complete means that the product itself is a complete version of something simple that customers want to use, not an incomplete part of something bigger that leaves customers feeling like they’re missing something. In an MVP, the product you offer is likely version 0.1 of a more complex product rather than version 1.0 of a simple one. Either path works, but at Codelation we tend to lean towards SLC as the concept strikes a chord with us.
Three Key Characteristics of a Minimum Viable Product (source: Technopedia)
It has enough value that people are willing to use it or buy it initially.
It demonstrates enough future benefit to retain early adopters.
It provides a feedback loop to guide future development.
Your MVP will be the most basic functioning product that allows you to test your business assumptions against the real deal— your actual intended userbase.
An Example of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP)
Let’s say you want to start a pet food delivery service. Rather than buying company cars, developing a website, stocking up on dog food, cat food, snake food, bird food, rabbit food, fish food, and the like, you could form an MVP.
Creating a simple website or Facebook page could send customers’ orders straight to your email, and then you could go pick up the pet food from the store. While driving to and from the store for every order isn’t a feasible large-scale business plan, it works great for an MVP because it focuses solely on product sales.
After delivering the pet food to their houses, you’ll be able to get feedback on your business plan. Feedback means customer comments and recommendations and includes your evaluation of whether or not customers are using your product.
Go To Market Faster
Spending less time building means you can release your MVP to the market sooner.
More time in front of customers means more feedback, possible revenue, and potentially more market share.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”– Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn.
By starting with the basics and releasing your MVP to the market early, you will get a better grasp of what your customers truly want.
Early communication with your customers is invaluable. If you understand your customers’ wants and needs in the beginning of your process, you are able to avoid building features or an entire product that they simply won’t use. On the other hand, if they love your product, you’re able to push your ideas forward while knowing that you have an engaged audience.
No matter what you discover through an MVP, it will likely be a more accurate and beneficial discovery than if you had just asked a customer their thoughts without first providing them a “trial product” (an MVP) to refer to.
MVP in Action
As you can see, developing an MVP can save you time and money, keep your product from being a flop, and save you from a whole lot of headaches.
Of course, like any great thing, an MVP has shortcomings.
By releasing an MVP to the market, you assume that early adopters can see the value and future of your product.
If early adopters can’t envision your product, you may not be able to receive the feedback you need.
For this reason, MVPs are often most conformable to products in the technical field since technology is easily adapted and advanced.
Because resources are valuable and customers’ needs are important in every industry, creating some variation of an MVP can be a beneficial step in forming any business’s best version of itself.