How Can You Create a Minimum Viable Product?
The discussion of a minimum viable product, or MVP for short, is all the rage. From Lean Startup founder Eric Ries, the MVP gets you to market faster with a better shot at winning.
A brief description in case you’re not familiar. A minimum viable product is the balance between a product with a minimum number of features, but just enough that someone will still pay for it. Take too many features out and no one will buy it. Leave too many features in and it’ll take too long to get to market.
I get a lot of questions about how to actually design your MVP and it turns out there are 4 major steps.
Step 1: Wrap Your Head around Imperfection
As entrepreneurs, we are often perfectionists by nature. Or if we’re not a perfectionist in our whole lives, we often feel like our product is our “baby.” No one wants their baby called “ugly”, so we fuss.
Get over it!
If you want to survive, you’re going to have to deal with your “baby” being called ugly. In fact, you want the feedback. From the feedback, you’ll create a better product, and an even better one. The minimum viable product is what gets you there. Embrace it.
Don’t make the mistake of analyzing and analyzing forever before launching. You don’t have the time and rarely have the money. It will not be perfect when you launch.
Believe it or not, this is the hardest part for most entrepreneurs. Even if you think you’re okay with this, check yourself again. We’ll test that hypothesis later.
Remind yourself: without this process, your product will have a much harder time getting into the market. And even though you want those “nice-to-have” bells and whistles, you won’t get any of it if you can’t launch.
Step 2: Get Minimal
The first thing you need to do to create your minimum viable product is to reduce down your product to its minimum feature set. But a process will help you find the true minimum as well as give you great data on which features are truly important and which are simply “nice-to-have.”
Create a workflow diagram of how your product works. Put all inputs on the left. Put all outputs on the right. List out each step in a flowchart framework where things that are required to proceed a step are on the left while things which can be done in parallel are listed in a separate row. Think carefully about each box in your flowchart. Each should represent a step either by the user or by the product or system.
Once you’ve got everything on paper, start taking things away, one thing at a time. The question you should ask yourself at each stage is: “what thing is the least important on the paper?” Keep of list of what you’re removing – in the order you remove it. Make sure at each stage you haven’t removed something that breaks the downstream process. For example, if the output you’re getting to requires a step in front, you can’t remove the step in front without removing the output. So remove one block at a time.
You’ll know you’re done when you’re left with one, single path from input to output where every step is required for the one after it. The number of inputs will be the minimum required to get the output you want. The number of outputs you’re left with represent the deliverable of your product. What you’re left with is the “minimum” part of your minimum viable product.
Most entrepreneurs have trouble with this exercise because they believe something is “must have” when it really isn’t. Remember step 1: you need to be disconnected emotionally from taking things away until you’re left with the bare essentials.
Step 3: Get Viable
For this stage of your minimum viable product development, you’re going to have to get out of the office, so to speak.
The biggest mistake people make in creating the viable part of a minimum viable product is not remembering the core question at hand: “Will people pay?”
The only way to test if people will pay is to charge them. You cannot get this information from surveys or fake landing pages for opt-ins or prototype screens or focus groups.
You have to charge people money to find out if they’ll pay.
If you can build the minimal part of the minimum viable product and sell it, great; do it! But sometimes that minimal product takes some time and you want to see if you have something viable before you get to work.
So, ask yourself 3 questions:
- Can you do the process manually?
- Can you do the process after they pay?
- Can you teach them the process?
In each case, the question focuses you on the outcome – paid customers – rather than on the process.
Get creative to get viable. In Dan Norris’ book “The 7 Day Startup: You Don’t Learn Until You Launch” , he describes several examples of how people have tested their minimum viable product in a unique way. In one case, an entrepreneur looking to start a daily deals site for wine threw a party to test the hypothesis. Don’t worry about making it scale. Worry about seeing if people will actually give you money.
A note on surveys: research consistently shows that people overstate whether they’ll pay and how much they’ll pay on surveys. When it comes down to taking out the credit card and charging it, people change their mind at the last minute. Don’t rely on these surveys without expert statistical help to interpret the answers.
Step 4: Launch Now. No, Really. Now.
Once you’ve figured out how to deliver your minimal product to test viability, get it out there as soon as possible.
Conventional wisdom is that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. While that may be true on an individual basis, it rarely holds for whole marketplaces. Many entrepreneurs use this so-called wisdom to delay their launch until it’s “perfect.” (See Step 1.)
There’s no such thing. You don’t have a company until you have a launch. I don’t care how many strategy meetings you’ve held. Get it out there.
A note on feedback. Ask users what they like, don’t like, want, and don’t want. Don’t try to be Steve Jobs and say “users don’t know what they want.” Bogus! You’ll have the opportunity to be Steve Jobs later – like after this startup is successful. Unless you’ve got a name and financial backing, just get out there and find out what people want. You don’t know better than the user who paid.
If you have to add things back in, react only the feedback the paying customers give you. Don’t listen to the “community” that didn’t bother to buy. You don’t know if reacting to that feedback would have led to a sale. Your minimum viable product is built step-by-step by adding pieces back onto your minimum product based on paid user feedback.
Set a Goal. Do It Now.
So set a goal, if you’re sitting on a potential product, to launch within the next 90-days. Make it a goal to create your minimum viable product and launch it. You can get something out there. It’ll be minimum, but it’ll be step one. And you’ll never know what will become the product until you get user feedback.