Deep Dive into MVP or How to Make your Startup Idea Fly

A startup is always about a new product, service or flow. All startups seek to do something which has never been done before. In the beginning, there is usually an “aha” which quickly transforms into a “why not?” However, most startups go through the painful process of evaluating their chances to success asking themselves the same questions – “Can we do it?” Should we do it?” And the most important question – “Will it sell?”

In other words, before plunging deep into the actual development, a startup should determine whether their customers will really want their innovation. One of the methods allowing to validate a new product vision is building the so-called Minimum Viable Product or MVP. In Agile methodologies, designing an MVP is usually the first stage of the product design process.

The concept of MVP is one of the pillars of the Lean Development methodology. Lean approach is focused on the elimination of “waste” during the engineering process, which means getting rid of any work bringing no value to the end product. Designing an MVP at the early stages of product development helps to quickly and cost-effectively evaluate the potential product acceptance by the market by gathering the valuable feedback from the first users.

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Introduction to MVP in software development

What is MVP? - Eric Ries, one of the advocates of Lean Development, defines MVP as “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”. In other words, MVP is the implementation of a product vision focused on its core functionality and stripped of any other auxiliary features. The minimum functional scope must be just sufficient to deploy the product and deliver it to the early users as soon as possible.

What goals can a startup achieve with an MVP programming?

  • Testing the product vision with minimum investment. Deploying a product with just a bare skeleton of core functions helps to answer the ultimate question – “Is that what the customers want?”
  • Quickly getting the customers’ feedback on the product
  • Reducing the amount of resources required for product development
  • Outlining the scope of further development with an option of flexibly pivoting from the original product vision

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Minimum Viable Product development: types and benefits

Depending on the prospective product and the method of its presentation to early customers, MVP software development can be of different types:

  • Landing Page

A landing page is the first page your customers-to-be see when they click your link. At the same time, you can make your landing page into an MVP. This is a good strategy when you have no product yet but want to measure customers’ interest.

Make a truly beautiful landing page describing your future product and make sure you include a call for action – a link to product prices. When your customers click the link, they will see a “Sorry, we are not ready yet” message and an invitation to leave an email to be notified of the actual product release. Measuring the number of clicks and sign-ups brings the so-called validated learning – another Eric Ries’s term describing the process of confirming or disproving the initial product idea through testing. 

Of course, you will have to use advertising media to attract users’ traffic to your landing page – consider Google AdWords or Twitter.

One of the best known and most cited examples of a minimum viable product designed as a landing page is Buffer, an application allowing to publish posts in social media at regular intervals. They started with a very simple landing page giving the basic idea of the product and then suggesting that the user left their email address to be notified of the product release.

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[Image source: Buffer]

Such tactics helped the team to evaluate whether customers wanted to use their product at all.

  • Explainer Video

An explainer video is another example of a minimum viable product in absence of the actual product. Make a short but very focused video of your product highlighting its core features and include a sign-up address. By measuring the number of users signing up to your waiting list, you will validate your value hypothesis – the assumption that your product will be of any value to customers.

Related article: Marketing for Startups: Life after Launch

Dropbox, a file hosting giant, used explainer video giving a brief description of the new hosting service and including a sign-up link. This turned to be enough to boost the customers’ interest and increase the sign-up list more than ten times within one day.

mvp-deep-dive-dropbox[Image source: YouTube]

  • Wizard of Oz

If you build a minimum viable product around the Wizard of Oz concept, you offer a product prototype which looks like a finished product and, on the outside, works like a finished product. However, there is no product behind the prototype and all work is done manually. For the customers, though, the product works exactly as they expect it to work. They just do not know that there is no technology behind it yet… neither should they.

With the Wizard of Oz MVP, you can test and validate the solution hypothesis – the assumption that a certain problem exists and that your product is the solution for it.

A classic example of a Wizard of Oz MVP for business is the story of ZeroCater, a company providing catering service for corporations. They started with managing orders in a spreadsheet and manually ordering meals from local restaurants. Now ZeroCater has grown into an all-inclusive service with customized menus, personalized approach, and top quality hand-crafted meals.

mvp-deep-dive-zerocater[Image source: ZeroCater]

  • Concierge

The Concierge MVP is very similar to the “Wizard of Oz” method in that the product or service is provided manually. However, with concierge approach, the service provider actively works with customers creating manual solutions for problems which in the actual product will be addressed by technology.

This concept allows starting off without even a clear solution hypothesis – you only know the result which should be achieved but you have no definite algorithm of achieving it. Working with customers and gathering their feedback helps to shape the processes and flows which later lay the foundation of your marketable product.

The Concierge MVP approach was used by Airbnb, a global accommodation rental service, whose founders started with renting their own apartment to guests of a conference which was held in their town.

mvp-deep-dive-airbnb[Image source: TechCrunch]

  • Piecemeal MVP

The Piecemeal MVP may essentially work as Concierge or Wizard of Oz, that is, as a product prototype pretending to be a finished product, however, its distinctive feature is the use of existing tools or services. This approach allows reducing the initial investment to an absolute minimum, as all your product features are provided by third-party components.

The advantage of the piecemeal concept is its easy evolution into the actual product, as all connections and integrations can be eventually automated.

Groupon, an e-commerce marketplace for finding deals and offers by various service providers, began with a WordPress blog publishing local deals. They generated coupons as PDF documents and sent them out with Apple Mail. This way, with minimum investments, the Groupon founders were able to validate their hypothesis.

mvp-deep-dive-groupon-thepoint[Image source: archive.org]

Measuring the Minimum Viable Product

Of course, building a solution with minimal feature set and launching it is not enough to validate your product idea. You have to gather the data generated during your MVP campaign and analyze it to confirm that your idea is actually working and to see whether some tweaks are necessary to make it just right.

Related article: Workable Strategies for Engaging Your App Users

Launching your minimum viable product, implement analytics tools to help you measure the results of the MVP release, for example, try Google Analytics. However, it is essential to interpret the obtained metrics properly. If your analytics shows an increase of traffic, a large number of sign-ups, thousands of clicks, these are just the vanity metrics which, unfortunately, have little relevance for MVP evaluation. Instead, such trends as increase or drop of customer revenue or numbers of new vs. returning customers, the so-called actionable metrics, are what you should pay attention to.

mvp-deep-dive-google-analytics

There are several methodologies of testing the minimum viable product:

  • A/B Testing

With this type of testing, you will be able to test different product improvements. Two options can be released at the same time with visitors distributed randomly to see either option one or option two. The metrics gathered afterward allow determining which of the two versions seemed more attractive to the customers and making the reasoned decision about the product improvement strategy.

  • Per-Customer Metrics

Use this technique to measure the proportion of the new and returning customers, particularly, to see whether you are getting more new customers of a different kind. This means that your product or a recent update is attracting a new group of users, and this knowledge may lead to a further product improvement or a focused marketing campaign.

  • Cohort Metrics

The cohort analysis is based on the metrics gathered from certain groups, or cohorts, of users. For example, you can follow the conversion rate of your product by the trends in the group of users signing up for a free trial and the group of users becoming paying customers. If the number of users in any of these cohorts changes dramatically, you need to look closer at what could have caused such change.

Conclusion

To create a minimum viable product, start with finding the optimal set of features to develop, so that to keep the balance between presenting your new product idea in the most advantageous manner and spending just the right amount of resources. Measure the released MVP paying close attention to actionable metrics to learn quickly whether your product is a success or a failure and be prepared to adapt and update it flexibly. 

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