Your Guide to Business’ Latest MVP: The Minimum Viable Product

Geoff Whiting

architect shows prototyping of MVP


Your Guide to Business’ Latest MVP: The Minimum Viable Product

Pushing your team to create a minimum viable product is about the closest thing you’ll get to a sure best in the entrepreneurial world. It’s a mix of minimal stakes and market opportunity that helps companies of all sizes continue to grow by expanding reach and diversifying revenue.

Nearly every major brand has either started with a minimum viable product or used them to reach new markets and customers. It’s a big reason that you should consider it your MVP for long-term, sustained scaling regardless of your market and customer base. 


What Is a Minimum Viable Product?

A minimum viable product is both a general idea and a specific product you’ll develop, and it’s important to learn both.

The conceptual version of the MVP is just the realization that many of the products, initiatives, and ideas you come up with to scale your business are going to be significantly large. When they work, they’ll be something far bigger than you can accomplish in a meeting or a month. Look at an idea and if you can’t see the ceiling, apply the MVP to understand where you get started.

The minimum viable product, especially in the software world, is something your starting point that a customer or team is willing to start using (and hopefully pay for). It’s the immediate, buildable product that you can sprint to in order to get started with the business growth and building a customer base. Think of it as “what can we ship next week?”

Combine the two MVP concepts to identify big opportunities for long-term growth and then see what small element you can tackle right away in order to start offering, testing the assumption of how viable this new market concept is.

How to create a minimum viable product
NetSolutions makes it easy to picture what an MVP looks like


Here’s What It Isn’t

Just as important as knowing what a minimum viable product is, you should also keep in mind what it isn’t. The biggest MVP trap companies fall into is that they create this product as a watered-down, low-quality version of what they want to offer.

The MVP needs to worthwhile and a true test of your market. So, what you’re offering should hold value to your customers and be useful. That way, it’ll return value to you. (In the modern world, that value is just as likely to be data you can harvest as it is money in your pocket.)

What Is an MVP in Agile?

In the Agile development world, MVP has the same concept: “the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value.”

What makes these minimum viable products special in the Agile space is that it inherently is part of an iterative process where you’re seeking out ongoing feedback. It’s what you might be able to charge for, but mainly is compelling enough that you can get beta testers on board with, supplying a steady stream of data.

The minimum viable product will include a limited list of features and capabilities that are easy to develop and scale, with a UI that is clear and concise. You’ll typically want to build in a direct feedback mechanism (and it often won’t live to see the final release) to streamline much of the process. Automating this within the software and making it always available can help reduce the number of emails or calls you need to get the feedback required to build a better product.

Whether you’re working in the agile framework or not, here are some benefits you can expect from your MVP:

  1. Creates focus: Your team understands what the most important part of a product is and can prioritize this core — perfect for any lean operation.
  2. Gauges the market: Helps you identify opportunity and early testing infrastructure.
  3. Validation: Not only do you find opportunity, but your MVP can test price points and other elements needed to understand if the business model is valid.
  4. Feedback chain: If people like your MVP, you can build strong rapport with customers to get feedback here and for future efforts. They may also note other aspects of your business that need help, such as customer service or billing.
  5. Budget protection: An MVP allows you to develop and test an idea without major investment. products can be built quicker with this limited focus and you avoid a major (costly) marketing and sales push before you know if something has any interest.

5 Steps to Create a Minimum Viable Product

Now that you’ve got the idea and benefits under your belt, let’s think about how to start building your MVP. The product is an ongoing effort that will have a lot of give and take with your audience, so you’re going to need to get your development, sales, and customer support teams all ready for the change.

person walking up steps as part of a process
Take your time on each MVP step


Step 1: Review the Current Market

The minimum viable product is a quality idea that usually starts somewhere else, before people start to think on what makes sense. Bring your team with these ideas together and see what potential items address needs with your current market. If your most popular MVP item doesn’t mesh with existing customers, identify potential targets for it.

Consider surveys, interviews, competitor analysis, and published research.

Step 2: Refine Your Idea

Next, you want to discuss your minimum viable product in broad terms. What do you want it to do and what need does it serve? Define how your customers and company benefit and if those benefits would be enough for someone to make a purchase or sign up for a service.

Keep working until you have an MVP idea that links both customer and business goals.

Step 3: Build Feature Lists

The minimum viable product is never designed to end in this stage. Plan for its launch as well as its growth by considering how you can meet the immediate and long-term goals you defined in step two.

List out the features you need to have to meet MVP launch demands and provide the instant return for your customers. Determine how you want it to grow and create a separate list — put this in a drawer until after step five so that you can avoid scope creep.

If you’re struggling with what to include or where to begin, add a note for each feature that directly links it to a customer benefit. The highest priority benefits are your must-have features.

Step 4: Create the Product

Roadmap your MVP with the features list and then start your design process. Knowing the needs will help you get a clear timeline and keep you on schedule. The list will also help you determine complexity so that you know how much prototyping and internal testing is needed before the beta.

It’s okay if your first creation is a little rough around the edges as long as it meets the customer needs.

Design is one area where your market research is incredibly important. Knowing your audience will likely tell you how much polish the UI needs before you release it. Typically, the more consumer-facing the more design counts even in a beta. For big B2B and enterprise plays, or if you’re targeting Angel and VC cash acquainted with your software space, functionality and reliability of data will trump UI to an extent.

Step 5: Get Feedback and Use It

Welcome to the rinse and repeat stage.

Turning a minimum viable product into a fully-fledged product requires getting feedback from your users and making improvements or changes based on that feedback. It’s always-on testing.

Business plan adjusts as part of iterative design process
Change is good when driven by actual users and customers

Paying attention is your most important skill here. Some users will tell you directly what works. Others might demonstrate this by only using select features or having their usage decline during your beta. Complaints are just as important as compliments, and someone going silent means there’s a disconnect between your offer and their needs. Keep listening and stay creative.

For instance, if reviews start mentioning competitors, this is a great sign. It shows you’ve tapped into a need and got people looking for solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve. Take this data and use it to offer something that’s more compelling so you can keep these users around.

Your product is developed to help your customers. Use their feedback to refine it and better tackle needs. Once you reach step five, you stay here long past the time that your MVP becomes a full product, and hopefully an ongoing stream of revenue.

3 Examples of Minimum Viable Products

Spotify

Spotify took on streaming and purchase music services in the days of major label frustration over online music. The company didn’t need to create general market demand, it had to create demand for both the users and the labels themselves. Its product was initially popular thanks to its simplicity and speed, with a growing library. Take a look at what it was and then think to now, where the Winamp feel is long gone.

Spotify’s early minimum viable product
Wired provides a look at early Spotify


Amazon

The digital behemoth Amazon had its early start as a rival to brick-and-mortar book retailers back in 1994. It had a large stock, made shipping easy, and the interface was minimal. Amazon’s goal was to just to tap into the book market when many stores would order and ship books for customers if they didn’t have them in stock — which might have been often depending on the books you want.

Amazon showcases website as minimum viable product
Amazon’s original website, restored via Version Museum and Taran Van Hemert 


Dropbox

We’ll finish up with Dropbox because they are a fitting example of our next discussion topic around research and MVPs. Dropbox built an explainer video to help everyday people realize that cloud storage was available. The video was sharing alongside a marketing and sign-up campaign to generate interest before the product itself was available. It generated more than 100,000 email addresses and kicked off the company’s success because they were able to back it up with a solid product.

YouTube link for the video = https://youtu.be/iAnJjXriIcw

Momentum and Research Not a Product

If you start Googling MVPs, especially in the startup space, you’ll find a wide range of advice and tactics. Unfortunately, many of them can get confusing very quickly because marketers love the terminology. It gets people excited, they want to read about how it’ll lead to money thrown in their laps, and unscrupulous people can make an MVP seem like no work at all.

It’s not the case, at all. Remember, if your product isn’t delivering value to the customer/user, then it isn’t an MVP. Lists that include a landing page or crowdsourcing aren’t telling you anything about what to build, they’re telling you how to learn about your market your MVP. It’s what you need before you create an MVP.

Action plan brainstorming for marketing
Review your product and market to determine the right research path

These lists aren’t all bad, however, if you put them in the right context. They can give you the tools you need to create momentum around the product that you’ve completed, which is especially important if you’re in a new market or don’t have an existing customer base interested in beta testing your next offering.

Where to Start Your Marketing: The Explainer Video

Video is taking over the world. Consider these two stats: one-third of all online activity is watching video and 85% of US internet users watch online videos. It’s the perfect way to get your MVP out there in front of a willing audience.

How do you do it? Build an explainer video.

Explainer videos are a simple concept, they just demonstrate your product in compelling, quick way that’s designed to engage the viewer. They’re short, interesting, and fun, whether you’re showcasing how to use the product, the benefits it delivers, or answering frequent questions.

One reason we think that they’re especially useful is that you can easily customize them for your audience. When you build a video in parts, you can add introductions and conclusions to core components, so your audience gets what is most relevant to them. 

For instance, if your MVP saves people time, you’d tell a business owner that it frees them up to focus on sales, while you’d tell a parent that it gives them more time to enjoy with their family. They’re minor changes but can have a substantial impact.

When you’re ready to make these engaging videos and want a simple set of tools to help you craft and customize, it’s time to sign up for a free trial of CloudApp. It’s product-worthy access to amazing features like screen recording, GIF creation, and image annotation — everything you need to make business boosting explainer videos!

What Is a Minimum Viable Product?

The minimum viable product, especially in the software world, is something your starting point that a customer or team is willing to start using (and hopefully pay for). It’s the immediate, buildable product that you can sprint to in order to get started with the business growth and building a customer base. Think of it as “what can we ship next week?”

Use MVP identify big opportunities for long-term growth and then see what small element you can tackle right away in order to start offering, testing the assumption of how viable this new market concept is.

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