Your ultimate guide to Minimum Viable Product (+great examples)

by @davidnarsavidze


Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is useful product strategy that is loved and used by many lean startup practitioners around the world.  Many entrepreneurs, however, end up with MVPs that don’t land anywhere near their expectations. Their MVPs have very low conversion rates and no paying customers. 
 

This Minimum Viable Product guide will be useful if you want to build a web product your early adopters will love. In addition to that, it is packed with definitions, strategies and great MVP examples. How do you build your MVP?  What are Concierge, Wizard of Oz and Piecemeal MVPs? What’s the difference between low-fidelity and high-fidelity Minimum Viable Products? What are great landing page MVP examples? It covers these and many other questions.

I have divided it into two parts to make it easier  for you. In part one, we are going to discuss problem discovery and smoke test development- things that are better done before you build your actual MVP. In part two we’ll define and discuss advanced lean principles and strategies that will be useful when developing your “high-fidelity” Minimum Viable Product.

Deconstructing your idea into a business canvas/business plan

So, before anything, you have formed the business idea in your mind. You have estimated the potential market size of your idea. You have an idea an idea of who your customers might be. You have defined your revenue model etc. As “The Startup owner’s manual” defines it, you have basically deconstructed your grand vision into the nine parts using the Business Model Canvas (Petri’s canvas the more advanced version of it, by the way, worth checking it out).

Minimum Viable Product-Business Model Canvas

Then you probably ran experiments to test your “problem” hypotheses. This stage is critical and the MVP without the clear problem statement is bound to fail. Usually, this is the stage where the most startups fail. They create a landing page in hopes of testing the problem/solution fit. Kinda taking a shortcut without doing proper problem interviews, whereas they should be concentrating on the problems of their customers first. The result? Very low click-through rates.

Understanding your Customers’ problems

If your MVP looks like a mess, what you are missing is the proper understanding of the problems your customers are facing, this is stage 2. Customer Development in general will never end and is critical to your startup. You just cannot omit that. So before you move on, check this great blog or buy this priceless book. Here are some additional resources you might like.

Minimum Viable Product-identifying customer problems

NB! When done with this stage, sit down and ask yourself the following question: “what do I want to learn from my MVP experiment?” Why is this question important? Having clear learning objectives will help you to design your experiment much faster. Also, having clear goals will help you to decide whether you should persevere or pivot.

Creating a Smoke test or Low-fidelity MVP

In stage 3, you can test your basic assumptions and design pass/fail tests. Will customers click on the buy button? How many views, comments and likes will my video or post generate? Your main goal here is to find out whether there is any interest in your concept.

Minimum Viable Product-Smoke Test

Do landing page, introduction video, mockup or Facebook group count as real MVPs? Well, ask yourself: “would I pay for the product I have just built?” If you are still wondering how to answer this question, then the answer is “no”. This however, does not mean that smoke tests should not be created. Smoke tests are a good way to test your initial assumptions and decide whether your MVP should be built at all.  As mentioned before, the Smoke Test is a basic representation of your idea that will help you find out whether there is an interest in your concept.

Even though sign up forms are not “products,” conversion rates from signup forms might be a good experiment to run, so you could try to test a “problem” in the market without building anything at all. Take a look at the best MVP  smoke test strategies and examples below.

A Landing Page

There are tons of simple ways to build a landing page, run A/B tests and optimize your landing page without a single line of code. A couple of the best ones are LaunchRock and Unbounce. Not satisfied? :) Find more here.

What’s the best landing page MVP example? Buffer, the app that queues up your tweets and posts them automatically, started out as a simple landing page. As soon as people started clicking on paid plans, Joel, the founder of the Buffer, realized that it was the time to create a working app.

There are also tons of other great examples and daily boards full of landing page Minimum Viable Products. Check ProductHunt or Startupli.st for daily inspirations.

Explainer Videos

Instead of creating a promotional video, try to show your product in action (even if it is not built yet). Here are some great Minimum Viable Product explainer video examples:

Thalmic Lab’s Myo device was able to attract 10,000 pre-orders or $1,5 million in sales in the first 48 hours with this video. They have now pre-sold over 30,000 units.

Dropbox was able to increase its beta waiting list from 5,000 to 75,000 overnight with this simple video.

Basic prototype or app

Check these great tools in case you are building an app or a prototype. You might want to check Axure, Balsamiq or Photoshare for mockups and this list for the best app makers (if you’re building simple app). Also, visit ProductHunt for daily MVP app inspirations and examples.

Facebook pages, forums, online groups and communities

If you know your customers well, then you probably know what they like and where they go. Maybe your target audience cares about women rights (everyone should) or likes martial arts? There are unlimited targeting options on the web. Search , Reddit, etc., for sub-groups and communities. Create and promote your own group if you can’t find what you are looking for.

Crowdfunding campaigns

Crowdfunding campaigns offer a great opportunity for validation if you are aiming at the mass audience. They are especially useful for physical products and innovations. You don’t have to create the product itself, just remember to present your prototype or idea well. Check Kickstarter, Indiegogo or RocketHub for great  MVP examples.

Surveys and questionnaires

This will not replace your problem interviews, but will help to polish your value proposition. Surveys can be done manually over the phone, or in crowded places in exchange of gift cards, smoothies or something useful to your target audience. There are also ways to install very simple surveys onto your website using Sodahead’s pollware or Qualaroo surveys . Turn to Google forms or Survey.io if you are looking to create the form itself. Check FluidSurveysSurvio, AYTM, Survata or even mTurk in case you are looking to buy the respondents. Check for particular groups on Quora and Linkydink if you are targeting some specific groups of people. Looking for experts in the field? Go for Zintro. In any case, don’t forget about survey design and keep it very short.

Idea and product spotting networks

There are websites dedicated to the search of new products and ideas. Think of submitting your idea to ProductHunt, Betalist, Moblized or Quirky ; see if you will get some traction. ProductHunt, and Betalist will be especially good for apps, and websites. Quirky, for real-world products.

Mockups, Presentations

Mockups and presentations are probably quite useless on the web, but very useful in sales meetings. We were able to sell great products like tulsu.fi just based on the mockups we presented to key decision makers.

Minimum Viable Product

 Minimum Viable Product

In the first part you learned how to create your very basic smoke test or low-fidelity Minimum Viable Product. In addition to that, you read about critical stages that you have to do before the Minimum Viable Product. This is part two of the MVP ultimate guide. Here we are going to discuss principles and strategies when building a complex Minimum Viable product. Now comes the sweet part— you will present all of the things you learned in the form of the MVP.
 

What is Minimum Viable Product? Here is definition:


[MVP] is a concise summary of the smallest possible group of
features that will work as a stand-alone product while
still solving at least the “core” problem and
demonstrating the product’s value.

-Steve Blank


If there would be one sentence with which to describe the basic strategy when building your MVP, then this would be one: your Minimum Viable Product should provide one COMPLETE FOCUSED EXPERIENCE to your early adopters.

In other words, the best is not to forget the word “viable”in the Minimum (Minimal) Viable Product. Here’s a good example from the Spotify product development team.

Minimum Viable product

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If you want to sell a car (your successful end product) to your customer for the X price, a lot of times a badly designed MVP/landing page might  look a lot like a wheel (see picture). Instead of creating a wheel (incomplete MVP), think of something that would provide customers with the complete experience of  getting from A to B faster than walking. A skateboard might be a very simplified solution to that and it requires a lot of manual power, but it is that complete experience and a faster way to get to B. And, of course, it is much cheaper and faster to build compared to the car.

Remember , this would also mean restricting all the extra features on your skateboard like, for instance, the custom deck design (your MVP’s extra features), etc. Do not worry, early adopters in most cases will ignore “the look,” because they are searching for the solution to  their problem and that is the only thing  that matters to them at that point (PS! simple or minimal does not equal ugly)

The whole point here is that you learn with the least minimum effort! The MVP concept is not as much about the product, as it is about learning. Also, MVP is your critical step before moving onto finding your product/market fit and that’s the ultimate goal. Why would anyone want to mess it up?

How to build complex MVP or high-fidelity prototype

As mentioned before, it is easy to build something that is very minimal and that you can call a “product,” but it is very challenging to build something that is “VIABLE” too. Again:

Minimum Viable Product strategies

 Below, I have added  some great strategies to overcome that challenge. These great strategies will help you  build your ultimate  MVP.

“Emulating real stuff” approach

“Concierge, Wizard of Oz and Piecemeal” MVPs. What is a concierge MVP? It is a method of manually guiding your user through your solution. One of the best examples of the concierge MVP delivery is Food on the Table. Food on the Table provides custom weekly meal plans and ties them down to grocery store sales. Thus, people with specific meal plans don’t have to think what to buy the next day, all the grocery store items are selected by Food on The Table.

In the early days, Manuel Rosso, CEO of the company, had started up the service without even building the website. How? He would go to every customer in person with the recipes and grocery lists. In exchange, customers would pay the subscription fee. Thus, full service was provided to customers along with invaluable feedback from them.

The “Wizard of Oz” MVP seems to do exactly the same, only the customer doesn’t see all the manual work. Your website or app look and “feel” like real products, but you carry out all the product functions manually. Zappos founder launched the website, but would carry out all the other functions like shipping manually until the experiment was a success and it was time to scale up the business.

Another great approach that I got introduced to in this post is called the “Piecemeal MVP.” It allows you to do exactly the same as the “Wizard of Oz” and “Concierge” approaches, but here you will emulate all the missing features with the existing services.

My favourite example is from Steve. Steve Blank describes how he advised one team to change the approach when building their MVP. He was approached by a team of engineers that were planning to build precision agriculture drones. Instead of advising them on the drone features, he proposed  to use the helicopter with a high-definition camera (I guess buying  cheap drone was too expensive back then) and try to sell the data to farmers. The riskiest assumption in that MVP was not the drone technology, but whether the customer would pay for the data it provided. Great “piecemeal” MVP example!

MVP-your riskiest assumption is not whether something can be built, but rather would X customer pay Y price for it

“One Painkiller feature” approach

Many great businesses started either as a hobby, which allowed them to validate customer’s problem throughout the time or as a single feature product (Dropbox, browser add-ons, even google). One of the best examples is Buffer. It started out with a  very focused approach and one feature. Currently, Buffer has many more features, uses, and millions of dollars in sales.

Conclusion

MVP is all about experimenting and learning. Of course,  there are no “rules” and templates when building your MVP. Lean startup is a mindset and should be applied to every stage of your product development. Very often you will end up with very low click-through rates or no interest in your product during the presentation to the potential customers.

Perseverance and constant learning are crucial in here. In the already famous story, Rovio made 52 games and was almost bankrupt before this was sketched. So, keep on learning.


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