An MVP can be cheaper and faster to build than a fully developed product, but can also be a waste of money if you do it wrong.
That’s why it’s important to understand what a Minimum Viable Product is, why you might want one, and the process to build one.
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
The concept is nothing new. Someone has an idea for a product or service, but they aren’t exactly sure if it’s what their target customers want. They have two options - spend a lot of time and money on market research to try to hone the idea, or just get the thing out there and see what sticks, then adjust as you go along.
The latter approach is the Minimum Viable model. In many cases, this can be enough to get some sales and feedback, but not enough to fully satisfy demand or long-term goals.
History of the Minimum Viable Product
If you’ve not heard the term, it might sound like a new concept, but it’s as old as humanity. Minimum Viable Products have almost certainly existed at least since the dawn of free trade more than 30,000 years ago.
One of our enterprising ancestors might have imported a range of items - Woolly Mammoth capes, eagle-talon bracelets, spices - and offered them to her small tribe or to people from nearby regions. Maybe everyone bought the spices and only a few paid for the bracelets, so she imported more spices, flogged her leftover furs and accessories at bargain rates, and became the Spice Queen of the Caves, later branching out into salts, herbs and medicines.
The Spice Queen was essentially doing some beta testing of her own MVP. She began her cave-commerce business with a Minimum Viable Product, even if she didn’t call it that.
In the tech world, the term was popularised in the early 2000s, but it’s how many of the world’s most successful websites and online tools started life in the 1990s.
Some Minimum Viable Product examples from global names include Dropbox, Amazon, Zappos and eBay. Many companies, including eBay and Amazon, continue to use the Minimum Viable Product model to test new product concepts.
Some businesses and products are better able to use the Minimum Viable Product model than others, though. If you’re trialling a new concept to a new customer base, or to an audience that is happy to be involved in beta testing, then an MVP could work well.
But if you have a strong customer base that expects the highest levels of quality from your company, launching an MVP could be detrimental to your brand. It’s not impossible, but in that case, it does require more controlled testing rather than a broad launch to market.
How to Build a Minimum Viable Product
First, let’s start with how not to build one. You don’t want to build a ‘Potemkin Village’ - a slick-looking façade that has no substance whatsoever or, worse, hides a terrible product. Unfortunately, this is what a lot of MVPs are.
If you invest in a shoddy MVP, what happens is that your product alienates your potential market, gives you no usable data and/or requires an entirely new build when you want to expand the product. All of these costs are just money down the drain.
It’s far better to build a good Minimum Viable Product that will provide the essential input you need when beta testing, and can then be expanded and adapted without the need to build a new product from scratch.
Now you know how not to build one, let’s look at how to develop a Minimum Viable Product.
📌 Keep it simple
A Minimum Viable Product shouldn’t include lots of different ideas and concepts. If you try to do this, it will be almost impossible to figure out what’s working, what isn’t and how to fix it.
Start with one basic premise. If you want to launch an online supermarket, don’t try to include every foodstuff on the market.
Focus on a specific area. Perhaps start with hard-to-find ingredients, like our Spice Queen from millennia ago. Or maybe you want to target the budget end with discounted snack foods.
Whatever your focus, for a Minimum Viable Product, the goal is to keep it simple. Trying to launch a new supermarket with enough products to rival Tesco would be a massive uphill battle. And the information gleaned from your MVP website or app would be a confusing mess since you would be unlikely to have the vast customer base needed to provide meaningful data.
So whatever your ideas are for your product launch, keep it focussed, then put all your other brilliant ideas in a document to roll out for testing later.
📌 Plan for the long game
Budgets can often be tight for new products, so the temptation is to build a mediocre Minimum Viable Product because it’s super-cheap.
Not only will a poorly made MVP deliver you with unreliable results and potentially alienate your potential customers, but it also means that the next stage of your product development will cost you much more since the MVP will be too poorly designed to develop further. It would be like trying to build a house on sand.
In the world of tech, the foundations of the product are everything, and when you build an MVP, that’s essentially what you’re building - the foundation of your fully viable product. So make sure it’s solid and strong enough to use for additional product and market development.
📌 Define your beta audience
The MVP stage is really all about beta testing - finding out what works and what doesn’t.
Whether you have an existing audience or are trying to reach a new one, you need to learn how to segment them in order to achieve usable results.
In 1994, when Amazon launched its MVP selling books, it didn’t target everyone on earth who read books. It focused on a core of avid book readers in a single city filled with people who were likely to be happy to embrace new technology. This was actually a fairly small pool of people back in the day.
Your MVP needs to similarly define the right audience in order to get reliable data from the beta testing period. Just putting your product ‘out there’ and seeing who fancies trying it and who doesn’t will probably not give you the information you need to progress your product to the next stage.
📌 Launch at the right time
Most industries are impacted by purchasing cycles. Brits tend to book lots of holidays in January, so that could be a great time to launch a travel MVP, while shopping peaks in the run-up to Christmas, which is why Zellebrate launched in late autumn.
There isn’t always a perfect time to launch your Minimum Viable Product, but there’s usually a very bad time to launch one. If you put out an MVP ecommerce app that sells bikinis in November in the northern hemisphere, you’re probably not going to get much in the way of usable data. Wait until late spring, and you’ll have more luck.
Of course, it’s not always so easy with some products to know when the best time is to launch, but factor this into your plans. And if you don’t know when your industry’s peaks and troughs are, then you’ll need to do some research before deciding on the launch date.
📌 Don’t rush it
From conception to results, even the simplest launches take time. Many people think you can throw together a basic app or website in a few days, and get usable data from the results a couple of weeks later. If that’s your mindset, prepare to be disappointed.
The key to a successful and useful Minimum Viable Product is careful planning and research at the start, the ability to adapt as needed during the build, and allowing enough time after launch to gather trustworthy data.
None of that happens overnight. Amazon launched in 1994, but you probably didn’t even know they existed for at least a decade. Luckily, most MVPs won’t take that long, but to get the most value for money from your Minimum Viable Product, build in the necessary time.
📌 Test, adjust and test again
Once you get useful information from the launch of your MVP, in most cases, you wouldn’t jump straight into a fully developed product.
Beta testing typically goes through phases, and the best results will be achieved by planning for this.
When you get the results from the launch of your Minimum Viable Product, make some adjustments, and put the second iteration of your MVP out to test again.
In some cases, a couple of tests will be enough to prepare you for a full launch, but if you can allow the time for a few different phases of adjustments and beta testing, you’ll be better prepared for a full market launch.
Benefits of Minimum Viable Products
Launching your website, app or tool with a Minimum Viable Product can give you crucial data and information to feed into your strategy. Do it well, and it’ll save you money in the long-term and help your brand achieve success more quickly. That’s why it’s important to find the right partner to help you achieve your business goals.
Get in touch if you’d like to talk about ideas for your own MVP.