What is a Minimum Viable Product?

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) uses a development technique where new products only include sufficient features to satisfy early adopters.  Only after acquiring feedback from initial users do the final features and options move into design and development.

Eric Ries, a consultant and writer on startups, originated the concept.  As described by him, “Minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

The point here is that the customers have to actually see the product in action so that they can provide feedback. Elan Musk’s “Master Plan” for Tesla Motors is a good, recent basis for introducing Minimum Viable Product (MVP). So, if you’re Elon Musk, you can pretty much stop reading. Get back to work, we need a Reinvently office on Mars!

You’ve probably heard a lot about features, early adopters and product development, especially if you’re thinking about growing a business or developing a mobile product of your own.  You might already be in the process of launching your startup. We understand you want to move fast and have worries about funding.  Resisting the urge to rush, skip process or cherry pick data requires discipline but can lead to huge dividends faster than you’d expect.

That brings us to another crucial thing to keep in mind when building your product.

What an MVP is NOT

An important part of understanding what a minimum viable product is and how it works is knowing what it isn’t. Let’s clear that up. An MVP is not:

  • a prototype;
  • a half-baked version of the product;
  • a cheaper version of the product;
  • about building minimum products;
  • a smallest collection of features;
  • about hitting some magic release date;
  • a landing page.

Minimum Viable Product’s aims to maximize the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop of your “idea” to justify and help prioritize further development. Herein, your “idea” can be just about anything – a product, service, website, mobile application, even business start-ups.

Two things you must know about building your minimum viable product:

  • Don’t build features you may not need. Start basic and add complexity only when users ask for it.
  • You cannot add quality and delight later. They are the basic features of an MVP.
What is a Minimum Viable Product explained
MVP as explained by Boagworld.com.

In old-school terminology, MVPs could be likened to pilot projects. Ultimately, pilot projects from the 80’s and 90’s were a lot like MVPs for answering lots of questions:

  • Will customers buy it?
  • How much will customers pay for it?
  • What portion of customers exposed to it bought it?
  • What do they like best about it?
  • How frequently do they use it?
  • What other features are they asking about most?
  • And ultimately, IS IT WORTH INVESTING IN?

The list of questions does not end there. MVP aims to provide you the statistics needed to help you form and guide your development strategy. That’s what we are talking about with MVP’s first objective of acquiring maximum useful knowledge from customers.

The second part, “least effort” is sometimes forgotten or misconstrued.  This is the trick that makes MVP effective. “Least effort” can mean different things depending on what you intend to do, but all of these boil down to one common point. At the risk of confusing acronyms, that common denominator is likely to be defined as the Most Valuable Property or Most Valuable Purpose – the reason you think customers will buy it.

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Real world MVP examples

The Tesla Roadster

Returning to Tesla, their MVP was a battery-powered vehicle in the same price range (over $100,000) as some Maseratis. The Roadster didn’t strive to compete on style, luxury, speed, or great performance on high-speed turns, just for being able to drive over 200 miles on a single battery charge.

The drive for green, eco-friendly energy is a major market unto itself, but how would people take to a battery-powered car? The only way to really test that, as Musk surmised, was to actually create a battery-operated car. It is safe to say that he generated an enormous amount of feedback from the Roadster.

Tesla_Roadster_Japanese_display
Tesla Roadster. It was a very high-end type of MVP. But it worked!

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding lets the “Wisdom of the Crowd” decide, “Is your idea worth buying?” It is a direct line into answering “Is it worth doing?” before there you have a tangible product.

Crowdfunding platforms inherently enable you to start getting customer feedback (and raise funds) with a Minimum Viable Product – the idea itself, the description, examples of how it works with diagrams or videos.

Some successful crowdfunded projects started with less than a video – sometimes employing only some text, a picture or two, a schematic or drawing. Remember: that may work, but that’s not an MVP. After that video, they have to actually build a prototype. And then, have an MVP to get the most important, measurable feedback. And that MVP should be the Minimum Lovable Product.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, RocketHub, and Crowdfunding Platforms (CFP’s) are practically libraries full of MVP examples. Still, a video is recommended while some projects have warranted fully-functional prototypes.

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Things to Avoid with Minimum Viable Products

In between the extremes of scribbling on the back of a napkin to needing to actually produce a car, is everything else.

The easiest way to stick to creating an MVP is to ask two questions:

  • Will it help me get useful information from customers?
  • Is it critical to the most valuable property or purpose?

If you answer “No” to either of these two questions, odds are pretty good it does not conform to an MVP-based project. This can lead you to a series of development mistakes including:

  • Failing to prioritize or take effort away from your most valuable purpose.
  • Adding features that confuse or reduce customer feedback relating to your most valuable purpose.
  • Trying to include too much too early – features that end-users may not want or need.
  • Adding features that may not scale or be easily standardized.

How to Create Your Minimum Viable Product

Knowing what an MVP is, what it needs to avoid, and having a variety of examples to draw upon where you can always turn to Kickstarter for ideas, you can set about putting your own MVP into motion.

  • Define your product emphasizing its most valuable property using text, pictures, diagrams, videos, possibly slideshows or even a prototype.
  • Ask questions, want information do you want from customers? From what they think of the idea, whether they would buy it, how much they will pay for it, how they will use it, when, who will they share it with, etc.
  • Detail how your product will get that information – possibly from comments, forms, surveys, Google Analytics, or built-in user tracking components.
  • Build it.
Minimum Viable Product concept visualization
An illustration of an MVP by Boagworld.com

Your MVP might be a simple or complex, but its main purpose remains the same: getting the insights you need to grow (or change? or quit?) your product. You do that by putting something tangible directly into the hands of customers.

Want to see more about MVPs?

It is also helpful to see how the MVP development process fits into the big picture.  The following article compares the MVP development and launch process to how startups were launching in 1999 and 2012. Take a look at the difference – you can practically quantify it in investment dollars.

Artem Petrov

CEO at Reinvently

Artem is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO at Reinvently. His background in applied mathematics, software development, and interface design spans 15 years of experience in building better businesses with mobile tech.