Unfortunately, startup success isn’t achieved by just having an excellent idea. It’s the coupling these great ideas with great products that gets you on the right track.
Most products start out with a great idea, but when the product is brought to life the product barely stays afloat. Sometimes months or even years are spent on the development of these products only later to find out that nobody wants to use them.
This typically happens because:
a) Entrepreneurs build too many features which use a considerable amount of time and resources
b) User input isn’t collected until after launch. By then it’s difficult to adjust or pivot.
One way to make sure that you don’t face this issue is to build what is called a Minimum Viable Product.
What are Minimum Viable Products (MVP)?
A Minimal Viable Product or MVP is the smallest version of your product that allows you to deliver value to early adopters. It’s #1 goal is to maximize learning, through testing and feedback, with minimal effort.
Developing an MVP is the best way to lower your risk of failure. Building an MVP will allow you to test product/market fit at a fraction of the cost of a full-featured product. It reduces the time to market, as well as provides data needed for deeper understanding of your market.
After all, your time and money are limited, right? Are you ready to risk it all on the assumption that your product will be great?
Types of MVP’s
Choosing the right approach can help minimise development time and maximise your chances of building something great. Here are three ways you can build your MVP.
Single Function/Core Feature Only
Chances are that 80% of the problem you’re solving can be addressed with a single feature. In a single function MVP, your aim will be to implement one feature that will solve your problem and make it as robust as you can.
WeTranser.com is an excellent example of this strategy. They started with just one simple feature, the sharing of large files, that they made solid through speed and ease of use. In fact, they didn’t introduce another feature until year three.
Now, of course, you’re probably losing it at the thought of not putting in all of those awesome features you have planned.
The plan is to implement those features over time with the feedback you receive along the way. The result is a better product that your customers will actually love.
Wizard of Oz MVP
The “Wizard of Oz” MVP is a product that looks and feels like a complete application on the front end, but you’re actually carrying out all the functions behind the scenes manually.
For example, let say you had a business where users can upload photos that would then be printed and mailed to a provided address. To the users, the process will seem fully automated when in reality, you are manually printing and shipping the products.
This is an excellent way to get your product out quickly!
Now I have to warn you, it is not easy to scale this type of MVP. It is best practice that when implementing this type of MVP, you do so with a strategy to automate it down the road.
Done for you Services
A done for you service, also known as concierge, is a method where you will manually guide your users through a solution to a problem. Just like the Wizard of Oz technique, you will want to offer your services in steps that mimic the automated product you will build later.
An example would be custom workout plans based on how much time per day a user has to work out. As users sign up, you can record information that will mimic their profile. Then manually create workouts to send to them based on this information.
How to use an MVP to boost your chances of success
Like most areas in business, success is made easier with a good strategy.
Eric Ries, the author of ‘The Lean Startup’, who helped pioneer the concept of an MVP, identifies the best strategy for startup success as the Lean Startup Methodology that follows a ‘build-measure-learn’ feedback cycle.
Eric’s method is a systematic approach where entrepreneurs/business owners test an idea with potential customers and quickly pivot/adjusts that idea into a product based on the response.
The responses from these potential customers are categorized as validated learning and give owners confidence in their products.
The phases of the ‘build-measure-learn’ feedback cycle are as follows:
Phase One: BUILD
Ultimately, the implementation of you MVP will vary based on the product you are building. However, here are some guidelines you can take to ensure any MVP will be successful.
1. Identify your target audience and define the problem you are solving for them.
The most important step in creating a successful MVP is to clearly identify the problem you are trying to solve.
One common approach is to create a problem statement. Click here to download our worksheet where we walk you step-by-step through the process.
From your defined problem, you should then create a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a written statement based on your assumptions that you will later prove to be right or wrong. A good hypothesis is essential to your test plan and should focus on the problem you’re solving. Here is a great article that explains how to create the perfect hypothesis.
It’s just as important that you know who your target audience will be. Your target audience is the group of people who would have the most interest in your product because they are experiencing the problems it solves.
2. Plan Out Your MVP
Your ideal plan here is to build a minimum product that will do the following:
1. Allow you to test your hypothesis as quickly as possible.
2. Determine the factors that will help you understand rather your hypothesis is true or false.
3. Create a list of features for your MVP that will allow you to capture some meaningful data around these factors.
Next, prioritize your list.
Identify whether each feature is a core feature, enhancement or just bells and whistles. For the purposes of your MVP, your core features are those that will maximize validated learning. You should only plan to build these core features into your MVP.
3. Implement Your Plan
Once you have narrowed down your list of features, you can start to build out your MVP.
You should use your best judgment as to which type of MVP will best suit your business and your customer base. The three types mentioned earlier in this article is a great place to start. Don’t know which method to use?
That’s ok. Each process is naturally lean and agile.
Just choose the method that you feel is easiest, build it, and test it. You can pivot to another approach down the line if you need to. If you have narrowed you featured list down correctly, changing gears should be a quick process.
You also have many options on how you would build your MVP as well. Some of those options include: coding the solution your self, finding a technical co-founder, hiring a developer, or use non-technical tools such as generators or drag & drop editors.
We won’t go into detail for each but if you would like help determining which technique you should choose, check out our article, 3 Ways to Launch a Tech Startup If You Are a Non-Technical Founder.
Phase two: MEASURE
In this phase, your goal is to test and collect meaningful data. To do so, you will first need to put your MVP in front of your target audience.
Start by creating and executing a marketing strategy tailored for your target audience. Some strategies may include:
- Meeting users where they already are. For example, if you have a product that helps eCommerce entrepreneurs, then running ads on Etsy would probably be a great place to start.
- Create an incentive. Early adopters often have a fear of missing out. Use that to your advantage by creating a limited offer such as a discount for the first 100 paid subscriptions.
- Utilizing the power social media. Facebook groups and Pinterest are great places to find segmented groups of users.
Next, you will want to collect data that will help you validate your hypothesis.
It is important that you understand which data is valuable to your success. It is very common for owners to allow vanity metrics to persuade them into making bad decisions.
Vanity metrics are things like the number of page views, downloads, or free subscriptions. In other words, don’t be fooled by users who are just curious.
Instead, gather data that correlates to a successful product. This is often data that isn’t easily manipulated like: active user sales, repeat users, and customer interviews/reviews. These type of numbers will answer your questions truthfully where vanity metrics often provide a false sense of success.
Yes, it is great for your product to be featured on Tech Crunch but what good does that do you if your target audience is sports fans?
Phase Three: LEARN
Analyze the data collected to decide if your hypothesis is true or false.
If you find that your hypothesis is false, do not lose your commitment to seeing your vision through. As with any test, it is not important that the hypothesis is invalid, but what is important is understanding the reasons why. Then use that understanding to immediately design the next test. And the next, and the next, until you have a product that has been proven successful through validated learning.
Even if your hypothesis is proven to be true, you must be willing to accept feedback from your early adopters. Allow it to guide your development and bolster your chances of success by repeating this cycle as your company grows.
Don’t burn your time and money on a product nobody wants. It’s easy to fall victim to incorrect assumptions when you’re excited about an idea, but if you use an MVP correctly, you can safeguard yourself.
Learn from the feedback an MVP provides. If people are willing to pay you for your MVP, then you have something going. But if they are not, it’s OK too. Take in the feedback and use it to pivot to something else.