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.
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.
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.
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.