Why you should always start with an MVP

Posted on 16 August, 2019

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When it comes to making a new product, it can be quite daunting to get started. You’re potentially looking at layout out a significant amount of money (and time) on something that you *hope* people want.

It’s not helped by the fact that you know that around 50% of small businesses fail within the first four years.

So, what can you do to try and ensure that your product captivates your intended users and is a success? Start with the Minimum Viable Product.

Minimum Viable Product

Your minimum viable product (MVP) is a version of your product which has the smallest set of features to prove that people want your product. This means pairing your idea back to its base elements. For example, Instagram started life in MVP form just applying filters to images. No social elements, no hashtags. Just pop a filter on an image and save it to your device.

Your MVP doesn’t even have to be an app or website. It could be sketches, InVision prototype, little HTML demo, or even just a slide deck. The important thing is that it should communicate to your users what your key functionality is and allow you to gather data to validate your product.

A Minimum Viable Product is “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup.

Uber MVP

Uber launched its MVP back in 2010 to a very limited number of users (think founders and their friends). There was no public beta, you had to email a founder to get access, and they did no marketing. Back in the MVP days, Uber only existed to fix one problem: getting a taxi quickly. The features we know and love nowadays (live tracking, fare splitting and estimations, and journey sharing) were all added in slowly and one at a time once Uber had gathered enough data to validate that the feature was needed or wanted. This approach will have not only saved Uber money by ensuring they didn’t waste dev time on unwanted features but also will have decreased their time to market as they could easily launch the MVP to wider audiences and other markets without hassle.

How does one MVP?

Starting your product off with an MVP will save you time and money but only if you ensure that your MVP 1) solves a problem your potential users are experiencing and 2) collects enough data to prove this.

Solving the right problem

In Uber’s case – its founders tried so solve a very simple problem. It’s hard getting a taxi sometimes. You might not know the number or where you are. Mobile phones have GPS, wouldn’t it be good if there was an app to a) contact the taxi and b) send the taxi my location.

Before you start work on your MVP – you need to really get stuck in and work out the most simple form of your idea. But just because you’re getting back to basics doesn’t mean you release a rubbish version of your product and be done with it. The MVP needs to give users a viable and working product (or prototype) to allow them to achieve their goals.

Pick the right medium

As I said earlier – your MVP doesn’t have to be an app or website. It could be enough for you to validate your idea via a slide deck, demo video, or interactive prototype. Dropbox started out as a concept video and then a flashier video showing more functionality. The video makes it look like Dropbox is actually finished and ready to launch but actually, most of it hadn’t been created yet. They knew what they wanted it to do (and displayed that in the videos) but didn’t want to put the significant effort into creating it without getting feedback from potential users.

Dropbox MVP video
Dropbox concept video

Dropbox were really smart about who they targeted their MVP video at too. They showed it to a bunch of tech early adopters who would have noticed that the file names are all in-jokes and would probably have been interested in signing up to the ‘closed beta’.

The waiting list went from 5000 people to 75000 after the video was launched. A pretty good indication that their MVP was wanted by their users.

Know your metrics

In order to be able to validate your MVP, you need to know what you’re measuring. You can normally split these metrics into two groups: Vanity metrics or actionable metrics.

Vanity Metrics

These are measurements which might make your product look like a good idea but actually don’t have anything to do with its viability. These vary by industry and product type but a good example is web traffic. By taking web traffic by itself all you can see is that you’ve had a lot of users visiting your site. Many businesses use web traffic as a key metric and then end up spending an awful lot of money in AdWords to get it. But what use is that spike in traffic if none of your bought visitors converts into a customer?

Actionable Metrics

Actionable metrics, on the other hand, are measurements which do show you how viable your product is. They tie specific and repeatable actions to observed behaviour and results. To get actionable metrics, you may need to shift your organisations thinking away from pure numbers but I’ve got another post here to help you ensure you get actionable metrics.

MVP in essence

MVPs are a great way for a product to start. They allow you to:

  • Release to market as quickly as possible
  • Reduce cost in getting to market
  • Test demand for your product – just because you and your mum think its a good idea doesn’t mean its wanted
  • Mitigate failure
  • Learn about your potential userbase

You might also find that while your main idea wasn’t viable, something you had considered to add in later as a bonus is! Because you’ll always be learning from your potential users and can build something with them, rather than for them.