A major reason why startups fail is because they design their initial product based on assumptions. Entrepreneurs fall into the trap of assuming that their product will solve a problem better than any existing solution on the market. They also assume that people care enough about the problem to pay for a solution. When these assumptions are wrong, the startup never gets off the ground.
To avoid this happening to you, it’s worthwhile creating a minimum viable product, or MVP. This allows you to test the idea for your product and find out if users like it.
Before we go on to look at examples of minimum viable products, it’s important to be clear what we mean by the term.
The Definition of a Minimum Viable Product
A minimum viable product is the first form of a product that you can release to users. It provides core functionality without any additional features. Entrepreneurs use MVPs to assess how customers feel about an idea. If the idea does have potential, they use customer feedback to develop the next version of the product.
When you use an MVP, you’ll have only invested minimal effort and resources to create your product no matter what happens. You’ll avoid building a complete product that has no appeal to customers and eliminate the risk of including undesirable features that you later need to adapt or remove.
The Minimum Viable Product and Lean Startup Philosophy
The minimum viable product concept is based on the lean startup methodology, which applies to both products and businesses as a whole. The aim of a lean startup is to reduce the length of time spent on product development cycles and to figure out if a business model is viable early on.
Minimum Viable Product vs Minimum Marketable Product
It’s important to note that a minimum viable product is not the same as a minimum marketable product. An MVP is a learning vehicle. It allows an entrepreneur to assess an initial product by measuring data. A minimal marketable product, however, is a complete product that is ready to sell. It has the fewest features users need, but it still allows the business to see decent sales.
Minimum Viable Product vs Proof of Concept
Proof of concept is also distinct from a minimum viable product. Proof of concept tests an idea you have to see if it’s attainable. No customers are involved — you just create a small project to assess the technical capability and feasibility of your business concept. You may like to use proof of concept before moving on to building an MVP.
Types of Minimum Viable Products
It’s useful to understand what possibilities you have for creating an MVP. There are six main ways to use the concept.
1. Software Prototypes
A prototype of a piece of software is one of the most complex, yet most common, types of MVPs. It requires building software with just the core components.
Minimum Viable Product Agile Software
Most MVP software uses agile development. This flexible process involves discovery and development through collaboration, followed by continuous improvement. The scrum framework is the best-known example of agile development.
2. Product Designs
There are a few different ways to use product design as an MVP, all of which are especially useful for software, mobile apps, and other tech tools. The most simple is a sketch, which you can do by hand or using a tool. Slightly more complex is a wireframe, which will show things like user experience, hierarchy, and navigation. Finally, you have a mockup, which can demonstrate exactly how your product will work.
3. Demo Videos
Through a demo video, you explain what your product will do. Showing the video to potential users allows you to see if it’s the kind of solution the market is looking for.
4. Landing Pages
With a landing page, you can announce your new product to quickly gauge public interest. By asking users to submit their email address for updates, you’ll figure out how many people are interested and gain leads whom you can market to.
To create a piecemeal MVP, entrepreneurs bring together components from tools that already exist to show how the product will work.
Through a concierge MVP, you find people who would like to try out a subscription service that sends them a personalized selection of products. You start out manually selecting products for each individual. If the idea proves successful, you build an app that analyzes user responses and chooses what product to send to each person.
7. Wizard of Oz
Also called manual-first and flintstoning MVPs, the Wizard of Oz model involves acting as if your product already exists when, in fact, it’s still in development stage. This is ideal for many types of service-based startups.
Examples of Minimum Viable Products
The most successful minimum viable products don’t stay startups for long. In fact, you’ve undoubtedly heard of most of these — although you may not have known that they were once MVPs.
Starting out as a demo video MVP, Dropbox explained the benefits of storing data in one place. The feedback from users helped the then-startup receive the funds it needed to develop its offering.
Most people know that Amazon began as an online bookstore. You may be unaware, though, that Jeff Bezos started out by buying books from distributors and shipping them to customers every time his online store received an order. The high book sales meant it made sense to keep adding more products to the store, then acquire warehouses, and finally provide each user with a personalized experience on the website.
When users began using Foursquare, it had just one feature. People would check in at different locations, which allowed them to win badges. The gamification made people excited about using the service. Only once Foursquare had a solid user base did it expand to become a full city guide.
4. AdWords Express
When AdWords Express came out, it seemed like it was automating ad copy. In fact, there was a team of students quickly typing ads and delivering them customers. Once it became obvious that this was a service people wanted, AdWords Express developed into an actual automated process.
Today, Groupon is a huge platform, operating in countries all over the globe. However, it began as a piecemeal MVP, promoting the services of local businesses and offering deals that lasted for a limited amount of time. As the founders were unable to build their own content management system at first, they used a WordPress blog. They waited until they were successful before scaling the venture.
The most famous example of a Wizard of Oz MVP is Zappos. To test his business idea, founder Nick Swinmurn took photos of shoes he found at stores to see if anyone would be willing to purchase a pair without trying it on first. It turned out that consumers liked this model!
Beginning with the founders’ own apartment, Airbnb gave people the option to list a room for short-term rental to earn extra income. It became clear that travelers were willing to stay in someone else’s home to save money on accommodation, and the platform grew from there.
Upon its release, Facebook was just a basic social media tool to connect with friends. Profiles were as basic as could be and members were all students at Harvard University. The idea proved popular enough to be worth expanding, and the platform gradually added more complex features.
9. Food on the Table
An example of a concierge MVP is Food on the Table, which sends users recipes and deals from grocery stores to help them save money while making meals they’ll love. When the company was still an MVP, founder Manuel Rosso chose recipes, created shopping lists, and found coupons manually. After user feedback showed that the model was viable, he set up an automated process.
Before Buffer actually had its app for scheduling social media posts, the startup launched a series of landing pages. The first landing page just asked people to submit their email if they were interested in plans and pricing for the product. The second asked users if they were interested in a free version or one of two paid options. As most people chose one of the paid plans, it was clear that Buffer had potential.
Many platforms require a huge network to take off, but they can start small by launching first as an MVP. AngelList, a job and investment platform, is a great example. It started out using just the team’s own contacts, and the first connections all took place via email. This showed that the model worked and AngelList was able to grow into the much larger platform it is today.
If the type of offering you want to create is suitable as a minimum viable product, it’s worthwhile going this route. If your idea turns out to be less successful with users than you hoped, you can pivot before you’ve wasted a large amount of resources. Furthermore, if the idea is viable, using an MVP model will allow you to take user opinions into account in the early design stages.