Note: This article was updated in February 2020.
In today's customer-oriented, on-demand economy, consumer needs change quickly, and products that fail to address them stand no chance at surviving on the market.
So how can business owners ensure that their products are in line with customer expectations?
By building and releasing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
With an MVP, founders can check whether customers want their product, get valuable feedback, and fine-tune their offer to better respond to customer needs.
Just recall MySpace – it failed because it didn't evolve in the direction of the changing needs of its user base.
In this article, I'm going to cover the following points:
- What an MVP is,
- Why it's worth investing in one,
- And how to build an MVP that does its job.
What is an MVP and why you should invest in one?
A Minimum Viable Product is a version of a new product that allows gathering the maximum amount of information about customers with the least effort. That's how Eric Ries defined it in his book The Lean Startup.
A good MVP solves a particular problem using the most basic functionalities. It targets a specific audience by addressing a single pain point. It can be built and launched quickly with a user experience that is functional and intuitive.
Here's an example of what an MVP can do for your business:
You probably get an Uber every Friday night. Well, back in 2010, Uber was called UberCab, and was used only by founders and their friends. Focusing on a small user base in San Francisco, its founders learned more about customer needs and preferences. They refined their product and before Uber got into trouble, managed to raise around $11.5 billion in 14 rounds of venture capital and private equity investment.
So yeah, an MVP is a good idea.
Here are 4 more reasons why you should build an MVP:
- It accelerates product building – it's smart first to verify your idea and then start creating your product. If you're not 100% sure about what your customers need, it's risky to build a team and set up a sales process.
- You get to know customer feedback quickly – show your product to customers as soon as you have a functional first version of it and gather valuable feedback to build something your target audience wants (but also a sales or marketing process for it).
- It attracts early adopters – this is the first group of people who will use your MVP. Once you recognize who the early adopters are, it will be easier to validate your product assumptions and build a marketing campaign.
- It generates high ROI with low risk – maximize the value of what you already have with minimal risk. Instead of building all features of your new product, ask users first – they might need only 1 or 2 of these features to solve their problem. That's how you save time and money on launching your product.
The best thing about the MVP is that it's very accessible to non-technical founders. You don't need to know then ins and outs of a particualr technology stack, or make serious tecnology commitments right from the start. With an MVP, you can build a simplified version of your product to test in on the market immediately.
We have also prepared this for you:
- 5 challenges non-technical founders should prepare for
- Building tech products without technical competences
Here’s how to build an MVP that does its job
Define the ‘why’
There's one thing you should do before setting out to designing your product – identify its ‘why.' Only then you will be able to motivate others to buy your idea.
Answer these questions or risk developing a failed MVP:
- What problem does it solve?
- Who is the target?
- Why should they care?
- What makes my solution the best one to solve this problem?
Sketch user stories
Once you define the 'why' of your MVP, it's time to come up with its potential features.
But an MVP is a simplified version of your product, so you need to prioritize features and decide which ones are absolutely essential.
You can do that by sketching user stories.
Write down a list of tasks that you want users to complete with your product. Now it's time to prioritize these tasks. Assign a ‘must-have’, ‘should have’, and ‘can have’ labels to them - that’s how we indicate the importance of features.
See the features that made it to the top of your list? They represent the smallest number of features required to deliver an MVP with a unique and well-designed user experience that helps users solve their problem efficiently.
Don't throw your list away – it will serve as a backlog of features you may add as you develop your product.
The ultimate feature test
If you're still not sure whether a feature should make it to your MVP, ask this question:
Can I launch my product without this feature?
Answer it from the user's perspective. If you launch without that feature, will the user be still able to solve their problem?
If your answer is yes, move it down the backlog. If it's a no, evaluate the resources required to add that feature and decide whether it's within your timeline and budget. Reduce your product to the bare minimum to lower its risk.
Follow the cake model
The cake model developed by Brandon Schauer offers two different models for developing a product over time.
One way to plan a new product is starting with a dry cake. As the project develops, you add filling and icing. But adopt the customer's viewpoint for second, and you will see that this model is problematic. The truth is that a cake without filling or icing isn't that attractive.
Practically anyone could make a cake like that.
The other model is the cupcake model which you should follow when developing an MVP. Start with something small, but desirable. Your cupcake will have all the necessary ingredients and an appealing look.
You may be providing a limited number of functionalities, but they will come in an attractive package.
Build a community
It doesn't make sense to spend money on marketing when you can start building a community of loyal users without spending much.
Here are 3 strategies to promote your idea and start gathering people around your value:
- Create a landing page – a landing page helps to validate your business idea. That's something Buffer did, and it worked. Describe the benefits of your product, add one powerful Call-to-Action and bring in web traffic. Get in touch with your customers and adjust your product to match their needs.
- Start a blog – Groupon started out by writing a WordPress blog. They promoted their blog posts within local communities and grew their conversion rate to service a smashing 48 million customers today. A blog gives exposure to your idea and offers a platform for users to leave feedback.
- Make a video – Pebble used video to fund their smartwatch idea on Kickstarter and finished the campaign with over $10 million pledged. Video is a powerful format you should consider for showcasing the benefits your product.
At Sunscrapers, we often meet founders who have fantastic product ideas, but don't want to risk investing a lot in a solution that might not answer market needs accurately.
That's when we suggest creating an MVP.
It's the best strategy to check how an idea performs on the market, helping entrepreneurs to understand the core of their product, market it to their target audience, and gather customer feedback to fine-tune their offer.
We helped 30+ founders create their MVPs. Got an amazing idea? Let’s talk about it! Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.