How to Make a Minimum Viable Product your Most Valuable Player

Alex Tarasenko
Alex Tarasenko

They say that customer is always right. 

Extremes aside, this is a true statement. It doesn’t take Gary Vaynerchuk to understand that clients are the focus of every service or business campaign. The stumbling stone is to guess exactly what the customer wants. While market analysis and questionaries can surely add up to the cause, nothing like a field study shows an accurate picture. Now, how do you conduct it without wasting a fortune on running the show? 

The answer is a minimum viable product, or simply – an MVP. 

What is an MVP?

Defined by Eric Ries in The Lean Startup back in 2011, MVP is a functional version of the product that enables gathering maximum customer feedback with the least effort. 

It can be a landing page, a promotional video, or even a Kickstarter campaign. The idea is to develop a practical learning tool allowing you to craft the best solution for the target audience’s issue. 

So, instead of assembling a complex business plan and relying on expert estimates, you introduce a solution using the least amount of resources and observe the actual user behavior. The insight gathered then suggests whether you are moving in the right direction or need to change course.

The process of creating an MVP typically consists of 5 stages. 

  1. Defining the task
  2. Evaluating the competition
  3. Determining the key features
  4. Building the product
  5. Testing and fine-tuning

In general, it looks something like this:

MVP process cycle

Before moving on, let’s get clear with the terminology. 

Viable means capable of working successfully. This is something many entrepreneurs miss, as it is difficult to see the essential behind an “ideal” image. A successful MVP resolves a key user issue and is neither fancy nor sophisticated. Moreso, it can be plain out boring (unless you are developing a game, of course), as long as it provides value.

Here’s an example: 

Say, you’re making a dating app. A minimum value here would be to help the user find a date. In a perfect scenario – a responsive multi-platform app with ratings, interests matching algorithms, and in-built messenger. 

In this case, a possible MVP looks like a serverless web service with profiles that include a picture, location, and an email (or a #-free messenger link).

MVP vs Final product

So, an MVP is very different from the final or ideal product, mainly in its goals. It doesn’t aim to sell, rather testing the market. 

A real-life case in point everyone is familiar with is McDonald’s. Its founders jump-started the now-global chain of restaurants by combining two of their customers’ main values – top-demand food and low lead time. First, the menu was reduced to just 3 food positions (with a few choices of drinks). Then, they managed to decrease the order time down to under a minute. The result was the clients’ favorite meals ready for takeaway in a blink of an eye.

No friction, and ultimate efficiency. 

Years later, McDonald’s menu grew back to include dozens of positions and is available in every corner of the world. But they had to strike that MVP first, in order to take off.   

MVP vs Full product

Minimum Viable Product Benefits

Building an MVP instead of developing a complete project can help you to: 

  • Save time and resources at the development stage.
  • Gather a client-base and early adopters.
  • Learn whether the target audience is engaged with your offer.
  • Get insights on what features to focus on when building a fully-fledged version. 
  • Benefit from publicity and attract investments


Naturally, there is rarely a one-fits-all solution in the IT industry, especially for launching a startup. So, different approaches to running an MVP will fit better depending on your goals, as well as the stage of the project.

In general, MVPs can be categorized as low-fidelity and high-fidelity ones. 

The first approach is good when you need to:

  • Get to know your target audience and their issues better
  • See if the solution you provide is what the customers are looking for
  • Learn about the market’s demand for resolving the issue
  • Find the best solution to the clients’ problem 

Whereas high-fidelity MVPs are beneficial to: 

  • Assess the optimum price for your service
  • Get early adopters that’ll recommend your solution
  • Optimize your promotional strategy
  • Spot further business development opportunities

Before building an MVP, consider your main risks, the time required to build the product, and how much you are willing to spend. These questions will not only help to determine the best approach for you but also paint a roadmap of the process. 

Types and examples of MVPs

Now, let’s look more specifically into the common types of MVPs. They range from requiring virtually no development to a minimum amount of effort:

Landing page.

The first type implies creating a basic landing page with the product description and some visuals (optionally). The goal is to provide potential clients with a general image of your service and offer a simple CTA with an option to sign up or make a pre-order. You then launch an AdWords campaign and look at the numbers to see if the target audience likes the idea.

In this case, your spendings are to down to the cost of a landing page plus your ad campaign budget. It is the strategy Joel Gascoigne applied when launching a two-page LP (description & pricing) for Buffer, with no actual functionality behind.  

Buffer LP

Video.

Another option of MVP comes down to recording a promo clip or an explanatory video, putting it up at YouTube, then watching if it gets any views. The good news is that engaging videos often get viral, automatically launching a word of a mouth promo campaign. Bad news – few videos hit that mark, and it’s impossible to predict which one will. 

You have to climb a tree in order to get the fruit, after all. And making a clip is not nearly as cumbersome as building a complete product. It worked for DropBox. Why wouldn’t it do the same for you? 

Here’s the award-winning video: 

Crowdfunding.

A potent way to learn the market’s response to your idea without eliminating the family budget is to launch a crowdfunding campaign. What you do is prepare a concise presentation of your idea, perhaps build a prototype or a visual design. Then share it at one of the popular crowdfunding services. If it gets the attention, you receive the funding to invest in something already favored by the market. If it doesn’t – you lose nothing. 

The only drawback to this option is that many fear their idea will be stolen and compromised. But hey, you don’t have to give away all the key ingredients. And plus, if the idea is that good you’ll get the funding before the plagiarists jump out of bed. 

One of the most impressive crowdfunding MVP success stories is that of Pebble. Back in 2012, Eric Migicovsky decided to try his luck on Kickstarter after running out of the initial funding for his revolutionary smartwatch. Guess what followed? A $10M investment and almost half a million watches sold in two years. In fact, the brand repeated its success a couple of years later, scoring another eight-figure. 

Pebble at KickStarter

And yes, it didn’t quite survive the competition as time passed, but that is the topic of a whole another discussion…

Email

An email MVP simply means using online mailing to provide a service. 

Either promoting your business and assembling special offer emails for existing clients or exploring new audiences via mass-mailing, the key thing is to use this free platform to reach customers. 

Uber is a great example of applying such a strategy, famously requiring the initial customers to email one of the founders in order to access the service. As they say – all is fair in love and war… and business, of course. 

UberCab LP

Concierge & Wizard of Oz. 

These two MVP types imply using human resources to manage what should potentially be automated. 

With the concierge method, you act like a concierge – greeting guests in person and opening the doors on their way to the value provided. Meanwhile, you are able to collect direct feedback from working closely with the clients.

Let’s say, you’re thinking about launching a construction service. Before investing in a website, you create a social media page with a short description (or even go around the neighborhood) to inquire whether your potential customers are interested, how much they are willing to pay, and what type of works are the most in-demand among them. LIke that, you can gather a lot of valuable field data before investing a cent. 

The Wizard of Oz scheme applies a similar approach. The main difference is that while using manual work to execute the task, it is visually indistinguishable from a complete, finished project. Therefore, users see it as an end product while it’s actually not so – behind the curtains. 

For example, you build a website with a catalog of products, without stocking it. Once an order comes in you get that item from the original supplier and ship it to your client. Believe it or not, this is how Jeff Bezos initiated Amazon back in the day. 

Jeff Bezos in 1995

Single-Feature Product

Last but not least, a single feature product is, well, exactly what it sounds to be. The idea is that you offer a service with nothing but one key feature. Say, you want to make an online photo editing tool with lots of cool filters, albums, crop tools, etc. Just to kick things off and prove there is the potential, you choose one supreme filter and build a website where users can process and share one pic at a time. 

This will require minimum investments, low server capacity, and overall production simplicity. If people love it, you can always scale up. 

A good example of a successful single-feature MVP is the way Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines took off by flying just one plane en one route – between two major airports in London and Newark, New Jersey.

Gtwick - Newark route on map

Minimum Viable Journey

All in all, developing an MVP allows you to save time, cut spendings, understand potential customers, and build up the audience. This is an efficient marketing tool not only for startups but for existing companies introducing new services, as well. 

A common mistake to avoid is here confusing the idea with a minimum value solution, which is a totally different thing. By implying a minimum product, an MVP actually offers ultimate value.