Entrepreneurs who get caught up trying to create the perfect, feature rich, product first time often end up not releasing anything at all. Some end up spending so long adding finishing touches that someone else beats them to it. And then there’s those who spend years (as well as their life savings) developing their idea only to discover there isn’t actually a market for it.

Of course, you should be striving for the best, but if you’re spending years developing your product and not releasing anything, how will you ever really know if there’s a market for it?

What is a ‘Minimum Viable Product’?

If you’ve ever moved house, you’ll probably agree that, at first, you don’t really need an amazing kitchen or bathroom. What you you need first is to be able to cook a sunday roast or have a quick shower. You can wait 6 months for the perfect bathroom but you need to be able to shower ASAP.

Its the same with products. Instead of trying to build the perfect product straight away, we should be building something that meets our basic requirements, reevaluating and then improving on it. Your first milestones should be based on the main benefits you can offer your customers not all the extra features you could have. They come next in the second, third, fourth (etc etc) iterations. What you need to start with is a Minimum Viable Product.

While the concept of a Minimum Viable Product has been around for decades, it has more recently become popularised by Eric Ries and his lean startup method. Ries proposes that more efficient product development can be achieved through a number of iterative product releases, starting with an MVP, based on feedback from early customers.

“The minimum viable product is that product which has just those [the basic] features and no more that allows you to ship a product that early adopters see and, at least some of whom resonate with, pay you money for, and start to give you feedback on.” Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup Principles
The Lean Startup Principles

Your MVP allows you test your market, however, unlike market research, your MVP helps you find out how people feel about your product. Does anyone want it? Are they willing to pay for it? And if they are interested, what additional features would they like to see and how would they improve your existing ones? Starting with a basic MVP allows your early customers to help you build the product they want.

“It’s about targeting your ideal early adopter customer and getting them to help you build a product that can truly impress and succeed with a broader market.” Darrel Etherington, Techcrunch

How do I build an MVP?

First, think about the goals of your MVP. What do you want to find out? More often than not, your goals will be testing your core feature(s), picking up early adopters and getting feedback on your idea so you can decide how to grow it. What is the bare minimum your product needs to test these hypotheses?

Don’t get carried away with features and beautiful design. Build a basic product that allows you to test your hypotheses and build upwards from there. Sometimes this might even mean not building a product at all…

Take Buffer as an example.

Buffer is a simple application that allows you to schedule your posts to social networks. Buffer founder Joel Gascoigne wanted to take the scheduling feature he had seen in other social media management apps, and make it the sole, awesome feature of Buffer.

First, Gascoigne decided to see if there was a market for his idea. He created a simple landing page which explained what Buffer offered with a link to a “plans and pricing” page. This redirected to a page saying “Hello! You caught us before we’re ready” and asking users to leave their email address if they were interested.

Buffer-MVPImage: Bufferapp.com

It turned out people were interested in Buffer, using the form to provide their email address and posting early stage feedback on Twitter. The next step, Gascoigne decided, was to see if anyone was willing to pay.

He added a pricing page between his homepage and email sign up page. The pricing didn’t put people off, they were still providing their email address and some were even selecting paid plans.

Once Gascoigne had identified his audience and knew they were willing to pay for his product, he started building it.

Think about what you want to achieve with your MVP and only include the minimum features it takes you to test your hypotheses. Once your target audience start telling you what they want, then you can start building upwards and adding in exciting new features that you know your users will love.

Be smart with your MVP

This article from Venturebeat provides a great example of how important it is to identify the goals of your MVP before you start building it.

The article discusses a small startup whose plan was to fly drones with hyper-spectral cameras over farmland, collecting data to provide farmers with valuable information about their crops. The startup had done their market research and found that farmers would be interested in the data these cameras could catch. They decided that the next step was to raise some money and get to work on their MVP by building the drone and camera and gathering some data.

However, what the startup didn’t consider is that, while the farmers cared about the data, they didn’t really care where it came from.

“That meant that all the work about buying a drone, a camera, and software and the time integrating it all was wasted time and effort, at least for now. They did not need to test any of that yet.

They had defined the wrong MVP to test first. What they needed to spend their time is first testing is whether farmers cared about the data.” – Steve Blank, VentureBeat

Instead of buying the cameras and building a prototype drone, the team were able to test their product for a fraction of the price by renting a camera and helicopter, flying over the fields, hand processing the data and seeing if farmers would pay for it.

Your MVP doesn’t have to be a cheaper, more basic version of your finished product. Think outside the box and consider all the ways you can measure your market.

What if my MVP fails?

If you’ve defined the goals of your MVP fully, it can’t really fail. If your goal was to see if your audience are prepared to pay for your product and they aren’t, your MVP has succeeded in disproving that hypothesis.

Your target audience hates your product? Your target audience doesn’t even exist? Well then it’s probably time to pivot. It doesn’t mean your idea is worthless, but that you should consider repositioning it based on the feedback you receive. You may find your original idea morphs into an entirely different product that you would otherwise never have thought of.

Think of your startup as a living, breathing entity, constantly growing and adapting. It’s your job to identify what is and isn’t working and take steps to improve. Building an MVP allows you to test your idea without putting all your eggs in one basket. If it doesn’t work? Adapt your idea and test again!

So should I build an MVP?

Almost definitely. We’ve seen it time and again – startups getting so carried away with adding more and more features that their original idea gets lost, startups spending so long perfecting their products that by the time they release anything, they don’t actually know what their target audience wants.

Building an MVP will help you find out what your ideal customers actually want. Doing your market research and creating personas is great but nothing matches the feedback you get from allowing people to use your product in real life and giving them a say in the development process.

Is it too late to build an MVP?

It’s never too late to build your MVP. If you’ve gone overboard, adding feature upon feature and you’re still not getting anywhere, consider stripping back to the basics and gradually adding in features your early adopters tell you they want. You won’t regret it.

Need a hand with your MVP? Give us a shout.


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