Your software idea is a good one. You’ve done your research, validated the concept, and are ready to build. But hold on: are you really ready to throw your whole budget into development? For many entrepreneurs, the answer is no. That’s where MVPs come in.
Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) are pared-down versions of your software—just the essentials—designed to help you work out glitches, better understand customer needs, and further validate your concept. Here we’ve explored the ins and outs of MVPs—why they’re important, how to build one, and what key takeaways to look for.
What is a minimum viable product?
A minimum viable product (MVP), made popular by Lean Startup author, Eric Ries, is an early version of your product with stripped-down functionality. The purpose of MVPs is to learn about your customers—their needs, pain points, and whether they’ll purchase your product—with the least amount of effort (and budget) possible.
MVPs can vary in degree of functionality, but the main objective is to build a product that has enough features to give you a complete understanding of how customers behave. You’ll want to build your MVP with all core functionalities as well as good design and usability. Then, you’ll observe how customers interact with the product and use the information to improve future iterations.
8 types of minimum viable products
As we’ve mentioned, MVPs can vary in degree of functionality. You can have an MVP with core features users can access to solve problems or an MVP with features users can see but not use. Based on this description, we can place MVPs under two broad categories – low-fidelity and high-fidelity.
A low-fidelity MVP is quick, easy, and affordable to develop. Examples include wireframe prototypes that provide a rough idea of how your final product will look and work. On the other hand, a high-fidelity MVP costs more and takes longer to build because it closely resembles how your final product will look and work. It will have elements users can interact with to try out your features and experience your UI.
In summary, the higher an MVP’s fidelity, the closer in appearance and functionality it will be to your finished product. Below are the types of minimum viable products you can build with your preferred level of fidelity.
1. Email MVP
An email MVP is a simple and inexpensive way to introduce a new product or feature to existing or potential users. It involves sending an email describing your MVP to recipients, and the recipients provide feedback. If the feedback is positive, you can proceed with building the proposed feature or product.
2. Feature MVP
Development teams often build feature MVPs to test a specific product feature or functionality. Unlike building a complete product MVP, feature MVPs cost less time and money. They are ideal for verifying if a specific feature will be worth developing because it meets user needs.
3. Landing page MVP
A landing page is a website page that showcases a product idea. The page will describe your product or service and showcase its advantages. Users can show that they find the proposed product appealing or unnecessary by filling out sign-up forms, joining your mailing list, pre-ordering, or performing other actions. Alternatively, you can gauge user interest in the proposed product by tracking the page’s click-through rates or other engagement metrics.
4. Wizard of Oz MVP
The Wizard of Oz MVP is a higher fidelity MVP ideal for testing your product’s features and usability. It involves creating a product prototype that users can interact with like they would with your finished product. However, instead of the product automatically fulfilling selected tasks for the users, you will have people manually fulfilling the tasks in the background.
For example, a ride-hailing app should automatically find nearby drivers and match them with users. A Wizard of Oz MVP for such a product will have people manually search and pair available drivers with user requests. The MVP is ideal for testing a product’s feasibility before investing time and money in full automation or development.
5. Concierge MVP
A concierge MVP is similar to a Wizard of Oz MVP because people manually complete tasks behind the scenes. However, unlike a Wizard of Oz MVP, a concierge MVP doesn’t create the illusion of automation. Instead, it provides users with genuine and personalized human interactions.
The MVP’s primary purpose is to understand user needs and preferences and gather feedback in a manual and highly personalized manner. You can use it to gauge demand, gather feedback, or test your solution’s effectiveness and popularity before developing.
6. Explainer video MVP
An explainer video MVP involves creating a video to demonstrate your product's unique value proposition. You can post the video online and verify user interest in your product or feature by tracking user engagement metrics like view count, shares, and watch time.
You can also collect user feedback through surveys and comments to gain greater insight into user interest in the proposed product or feature. Besides being a cost-effective way to gauge user interest in your product idea, an explainer video MVP is excellent for ensuring users understand what your product can do for them.
7. Smoke test MVP
Do you have a product idea but are uncertain if there’s a market for it? If so, you can test your product idea’s marketability with a smoke test MVP. You don’t have to build any prototypes. Instead, create promotional materials for your product and share them on your website, social media, or other channels. People engaging positively with your promotional materials, such as by clicking, signing up, sharing, or commenting, will strongly indicate people’s interest in your product.
8. No-Code/Low-Code MVP
A no-code or low-code MVP, such as a digital mockup, is inexpensive for showcasing your proposed product’s appearance and functionality. You can use it to quickly get design feedback and verify a product idea’s viability. However, since the MVP is a non-functional digital representation of your product's user interface and interactions, it’s unideal for collecting usability feedback.
The benefits of MVPs
Receive better quality feedback than simple polling can provide. The main idea here is that people don’t always do what they say they’ll do. Observing firsthand how customers interact with your product, and ultimately whether they make the purchase, is more valuable than taking their word for it.
Further validate that your product is viable. Even though you’ve done a lot of research and market analysis, you still can’t guarantee your product will sell. MVPs are the best way to ensure your product is viable.
Work out unforeseen problems. There’s nothing worse than sinking your whole budget into your product only to discover you’ve included unnecessary features or that your UX design needs work. MVPs allow you to identify places for improvement before you develop your final product.
Improve your chances of being funded. MVPs aren’t always necessary to convince investors to fund your product, but they can help. Providing that extra layer of polish and proof of viability makes betting on your product less risky.
Why build a minimum viable product?
Building an MVP may seem like adding an extra step to your product development process. But it’s a worthwhile step that can save you loads of grief in the long run. Below are the top reasons to build an MVP before fully committing to product development.
Validation of concept
With an MVP, you can test a product idea and verify if it’s a good one before proceeding with development. Running real-world product idea tests provides accurate insights into whether people will find your product valuable and if it’s worth building.
Skipping this step puts your business at risk of investing money, time, and other resources into building a product that turns out to be unsellable. Also, concept validation provides you with a proof of concept you can show investors, partners, and stakeholders to convince them your product has a high potential for success and profitability.
Avoid resource wastage
Building an MVP saves you money in the long run by helping you avoid investing in developing a flawed or unsellable fully featured product. Avoiding such wastage is especially crucial if you are a startup with limited resources.
Established companies also benefit because building MVPs provides insights that can help make well-informed feature prioritization decisions. For example, if you have multiple features you want to build, providing MVPs to users will reveal which features users consider more valuable. You can then prioritize building your features in order of most valuable and scrap or improve on features that received negative feedback.
Iterative development can shorten your time to market and reduce the likelihood of launching a product with major issues. The development approach delivers these benefits by letting you build your product incrementally with frequent iteration releases. MVPs facilitate iterative development by allowing you to test and improve features in each iteration until you have a market-ready product.
Each MVP you release can provide valuable user feedback from real customers. The feedback provides valuable insights into what works, what doesn't, and what improvements each iteration needs before developing the next one.
How to Build an MVP
Perform market research. Chances are you’ve already done your research, analyzed competitors, and thought about how your product is better and/or different from the rest. If you haven’t, now’s the time to do it. Even though MVPs are designed to mitigate risk, they do cost money, and any concept validation that can be done via market research should be done prior to building your MVP.
Identify your product’s core functionalities. Sure, your product will have plenty of handy features and depth of use, but for MVPs, you must choose which functionalities are essential. Maybe that’s all of them, maybe it’s not.
Determine what automated features can be done manually during the MVP process. Maybe your MVP will need to include all the features of your end product, but there might be opportunities to perform core functions manually behind the scenes while validating your idea.
Outline user flow. Before you get to building, you’ll need to fully understand how users will move through your software, from first opening the software to making a purchase. Draw this out before beginning the development stage.
Design a user-friendly software interface. This step may require help from a designer. You’ll want to create an MVP that’s just as polished and user-friendly as your final product will be. This will ensure you’re getting an accurate look at how viable your product will be.
Develop your MVP. Whether you’re employing in-house developers or outsourcing MVP development, you’ll want to build software with clean code that provides a good experience for users.
Mistakes to avoid when building an MVP
Not researching thoroughly beforehand. Failing to cover all your bases during the initial research phase could result in an incomplete understanding of your customers and market need.
Building too small. If your product is too minimal, you’ll have trouble getting users to make the purchase. This could falsely signal that your product idea is not worth further pursuing when really your MVP is just not a good representation of your final product.
Building too big. An MVP isn’t intended to be as robust or automated as your final product. Building too big will consume more of your budget and could defeat the purpose of an MVP altogether. Find the sweet spot between minimum and viable.
Ignoring UX and design. Your product’s interface is one of the most important parts of your MVP. Customers should feel like they’re purchasing the final product. Poor UX could deter customers from making the purchase, falsely implying that your product idea is not viable.
5 best practices when marketing your MVP
Targeting the right market with your MVP involves tailoring marketing efforts and strategies to engage your specific target audience. Unlike other consumers, your target audience members are most likely to benefit from and be interested in your MVP. Here are the best practices for ensuring effective marketing with your MVP.
1. Use the right MVP type
Selecting the wrong MVP type to test a product idea or showcase your product to users or stakeholders can be costly and provide inadequate or misleading insights. Avoid such an outcome by comparing MVP types and picking the one that aligns with your needs and objectives.
Ideally, the right type of MVP to build will accurately showcase your product idea and specific product aspects you want to test or validate. Also, your available resources will be sufficient to build and test the MVP.
2. Pinpoint your target audience
Marketing targeted at the wrong people is a waste of money because they have no reason to convert. Avoid wasting your marketing budget and efforts by clearly defining your target audience.
Achieve this by performing user research that helps identify your ideal target users and understand their demographics, pain points, and preferences. Once you’ve identified your target audience, you can tailor your messaging and marketing campaigns to engage and resonate with them.
3. Market research
Thoroughly research your existing competitors and target market opportunities. Insights from your research will enable you to tailor and optimize your MVP to achieve your goals. It will also enable you to tailor your messaging to clearly articulate your MVP’s unique value to engage and convert your target audience.
4. Educational marketing
Help your target audience and stakeholders understand your MVP by creating educational and informative content. The content should address your audience's pain points and reveal how your MVP can help them solve their problems. You can post the content on your website or landing page or share it via email or social media marketing. Social media marketing with influencers is especially effective because it can help you reach a wider audience.
5. Testing and feedback
Don’t make MVPs for yourself. Share your MVPs with real users so they can provide feedback that you can use to improve the design or determine its viability. You can also use positive feedback from users, such as testimonials and success stories, as user-generated content for marketing.
However, users aren’t always enthusiastic about providing feedback. So, motivate users to provide feedback by ensuring sharing their experiences is as hassle-free as possible.
How to Measure and Learn from Your MVP
Evaluate the data. The primary purpose of your MVP is to validate need before moving forward. For this reason, metrics like adoption and frequency stand out from the crowd. However, the more detailed your understanding of user engagement, the more valuable the data becomes.
Determine if your product is viable. Your data combined with customer insights should give you a good idea of whether your idea is viable. If your MVP fails, it’s often worth trying again with a different audience, price point, or positioning.
Identify areas of weakness. Heat mapping and user feedback can provide information about the weaknesses of your product. These can be addressed in the next iteration.
Identify the product’s strongest features. The same tools can be used to determine your product’s strongest attributes. These can be further improved upon or highlighted in your marketing.
Incorporate findings into future iterations. Back to the “build” stage. You now have better insights and can build a superior product.