“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”- Peter Drucker
In a post-mortem analysis of 101+ startups, CB Insights revealed that the number one reason why startups fail is product/market fit or more precisely the lack of it. The grim reality is that most startups spend months or even years building a product only to discover that they were wrong in their most vital assumption: that the product will resonate with users in the first place.
Software start-ups can dramatically boost their chances of success if entrepreneurs adopt a systematic approach to build what is called a minimum viable product.
The term gained viral traction after it was used by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup — a book that places MVP at the heart of its message. In his talk on “Building the Minimum Viable Product”, Eric Ries explains a simple formula for finding the MVP, “Take what you think it is right now and cut it in half — and do that two more times.” His point is that we all tend to design in much more functionality than what is actually needed.
Your MVP consists of all the core features of your application, i.e., the absolute essentials that form the crux of your product rather than the potentially valuable nice-to-haves.
The idea is to build the most basic version of a product on which to gather feedback, after which you can start adding more features and functionality. That’s the “minimum” part of the equation. It should also be “viable”, in that the early adopters should still want to buy the product. And the applicability of this principle isn’t limited to startups―teams within large, complex enterprises can maximize the pace of innovation by building successful MVPs.
How Facebook started- the MVP
One can learn a lot about the importance of this approach from the first version of “The Facebook” released by Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard in the year 2004. It was a far cry from the sophisticated social networking site we use today consisting of just a single profile page for each user, a way to search for people you know, and send friend requests and messages. There were no news feeds, groups, events or even photo sharing (barring your profile photo), and even like buttons.
Such a minimalistic approach helped Zuckerberg get the products into customers’ hands quickly and provided the validation that he was onto something big.
How to build the right MVP
Building an MVP and determining what goes in it is no easy task. It’s about striking the right balance between velocity and quality and adopting lean principles to go to market early, understand end users better, fail fast and iterate again and again.
There’s certainly no template for building a successful MVP, or validating your ideas. What works for one startup won’t necessarily work for another. That said, we hope our guide enables you to get your MVP off the ground and bring your core vision to market faster.
Define your MVP, Set Strict Constraints
Defining an MVP should rely on conversations with several potential customers:
Do customers really have the problem you believe they do?
What features will give them enough value to sign up for it, buy it and recommend it?
What features do they like about existing solutions? And what are the features they aren’t willing to give up?
It’s worth researching your competitors well to see what you can offer differently.
It’s also crucial to set strict limits on budget, time, and feature-set to mitigate the risk of spending extra time and money on a product that nobody wants. While ideas may come pouring out of your MVP efforts, try to determine the nice to have vs must have features and prioritize the core functionalities for the first release. The rest of the ideas can be built into future versions based on feedback.
Ensure your MVP is ‘V’
Try to establish the viability of your MVP by collecting user experience feedback and tracking user behavior through usability tests and surveys. You can observe your Alpha customers use the product and/or send out weekly surveys on general satisfaction and satisfaction per feature. Identify the features that attract them maximum, collect their feedback to find out what additions they are looking for, and iterate the product accordingly.
Tools like A/B testing keep your MVP thriving by helping you iterate quickly. Whenever you need to choose among alternative product behaviors, A/B testing allows you to do so in real time without having to roll out a whole new version.
Keep Design Realistic
Another consideration for MVPs is to what extent the appearance and feel of the product matters. While it is important to bring your product to market quickly, within the lowest possible budget, the design and user experience cannot be put on the back burner if you want your users to actually engage with it.
A complete end-to-end product experience may not be necessary. But the user experience must be good enough to ensure that your users stick with the MVP and provide concrete feedback for future iterations.
It’s worth noting that building an MVP doesn’t guarantee that your idea will be a success. But, what it certainly does is help you gain an accurate reading of customer interest, before you invest too much effort into launching a full-fledged solution that no one might actually use. And if you reach that first milestone of positive feedback, you can begin pushing further and further out, towards the product you envisioned.
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