There are many startup owners who mention a minimum viable product concept when writing a project documentation. To me, a minimum viable product (or an MVP) sounds wonderful because it falls in with our development approach. So, when I see an MVP mentioned in project specs, I start believing that the project owner thinks the same way I do and is familiar with the rest of the Agile (or Lean Startup) methodology.
However, it is not always true. Sometimes people use these words - minimum viable product - not how it was supposed to be used in the beginning. So, let us go through some aspects of MVP development to make it clear what project is an MVP and what project is not an MVP.
There are a few people who have made a contribution to the MVP paradigm. The most famous one is Eric Ries, the author of the Lean Startup methodology. He defined MVP as "that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort".
It is a little bit different from what many startup owners think MVP is. They mix it up with what we call "a minimum loveable product" - a project that has all features they cannot sacrifice but still fits in their budget (or does not fit in it).
However, MVP is not about staying within the budget and not even about impressing users with a minimal effort. It is about learning.
What is an MVP
The first thing about MVP is purpose. A minimum viable product is designed to change the world. So, a traditional ecommerce software is not an MVP. Nothing that has been done many times before is an MVP. A new hot idea is what requires a minimum viable product development.
MVP is supposed to solve a real problem. Probably, a kind of a problem no one has solved before. If an MVP software solves a real problem, it can afford to be minimal because users will fill in the gaps in the feature set with some tools outside of the application.
MVP is built to learn customer feedback. Since it refers to a new idea, the startup owner should acknowledge and accept the fact that a possible user reaction is unknown. So, it is essential to get user feedback and see if the startup has a potential.
It is worth reminding that a minimum viable product is minimal. Ries highlights the point by saying: 'It is much more minimum than you think'. It means that the project owner should pursue a release as early as possible to get a feedback sooner rather than later.
Examples of MVPs
I looked into what is MVP and what is not, and found out that explanation through examples works out best. Here you can find brand giants that do not need an introduction now, but which started off from MVP:
At first, Facebook was just a basic social media tool to keep in touch with friends, with simple profiles and used exclusively by Harvard students. After the MVP proved to be a success, Facebook was advanced to the way we know it now.
Creators of Airbnb used their apartment to validate their idea, due to a lack of resources. After creating a minimalist website with photos and information about the property, they found customers quite fast.
Amazon started as an online bookstore with Jeff Bezos purchasing books from distributors and sending them whenever he received an order. High book sales proved that it is necessary to add more books to the store, purchase warehouses, and give buyers a more tailored experience of the website.
A podcasting platform Odeo experienced tough times and decided to organize hackathons to come up with what to do next. At one of the hackathons, the idea of creating an SMS-based messaging platform was born. It was used for internal communications at first, however, employees started to spend much money to post on the platform, which showed the team that it is a solution they were looking for.
Spotify team aimed to create a top streaming platform and their MVP was focused solely on music streaming. They developed a desktop application and ran a limited beta to test the waters in the market, which turned out to be a success. Afterward, they were busy creating a mobile application, signing contracts with more artists, and entering the US market.
What is not MVP
MVP is not about getting profit - neither at the first stage, nor at the second stage. Well, probably at the third one - who knows? It all depends on the user feedback.
MVP is not designed to impress potential users visually or by a rich feature set. What should impress them is the specific problem the product is supposed to solve.
A minimum viable product does not actually refer to building a small product. Rather, it is a strategy to launch a software that will later become a platform for other products for solving the same problem but more attractive and refined according to the user feedback.
MVP is not something carved in stone. A minimal viable product is supposed to change. It is a set of experiments every one of which makes the project more adjusted to the user feedback, more mature - and hence more viable.
Why is it important to develop an MVP?
Since MVP is an initial product version with essential features, shown to users, it allows getting meaningful feedback and understanding which features are vital for the users with limited use of financial and time resources. In my team, in Anadea, the development of minimum viable product is considered important because of:
MVP includes only features that are essential for product functionality, therefore it allows to avoid unnecessary expenses on extra features.
- Verification of market demand.
You might have some wrong assumptions regarding users' needs, MVP allows us to get customer reviews and focus on areas of improvement.
- Faster release of the product.
You can gain a competitive advantage over competitors and find highly engaged users faster.
How to build an MVP
You have first to decide whether you need to follow the MVP pattern or not. If you know your audience and your project is just a way to grow your business, you can simply follow the "release early, release often" approach of the Agile methodology. It is much easier than getting knowledge about the world in an iterative "build-measure-learn" manner.
Define what makes your product stand out in the market. What makes it unique? What real problem is it supposed to solve? How important is this problem? To whom?
Developing an agile minimum viable product requires experience. If you have decided that you need to involve this strategy, find a professional software development company who knows how to track user activities and gather feedback.
Once the project is started, be proactive. Your development camp can help you to define minimal work scope, but your job is to make it viable. Get your early adopters and motivate them to be the first who can get value out of your idea. Let them think that they are ahead of the future.
Be brave and decisive. Following the MVP approach requires not only a hope that "the idea will work out as expected", but also an ability to learn from the feedback, remove unnecessary stuff from the project and focus on the main problems your minimum viable product is supposed to solve.
Updated on 15 June 2021