Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a development technique that aims to introduce a version of a product to the market with basic features in order to elicit feedback from users that can help to improve future product development.
The term was coined in 2001 by Frank Robison and then popularized by customer development and management entrepreneurs, Steve Blank and Eric Ries. It is a recent technique that has been adopted by a variety of businesses to help avoid lengthy production processes and receive quick, insightful feedback.
Building an MVP is important in product development because you are able to test market reactions and efficiently iterate on working versions of your product. Unfortunately, not many companies know how to build and properly implement MVPs into their product development workflows. We’ve noticed that there are a number of common mistakes businesses make when building MVPs that reduce the effectiveness of the whole process.
Some of the most successful companies and products today like Amazon, Airbnb, Groupon and Dropbox started out as minimum viable products. In this post, we’re going to highlight the five common mistakes teams make when building an MVP and how you can avoid them when you are starting out yourself.
What does Minimum Viable Product really mean?
A Minimum Viable Product is an efficient way to test whether there is value and utility in what you are creating. A MVP will have just enough vital features for the product to be deployed, and no more.
The MVP may be given to early adopters who are more likely to give feedback so that the development team can see whether they are on the right track and whether users can grasp the essence of their product vision from the basic version.
A MVP is not a prototype or Proof of Concept (PoC) - it is a fully workable product but with a limited set of features. The MVP needs to be solid and have all the characteristics of a finished product including functionality, reliability, usability, and great design.
Ideally your MVP will be:
- Include a limited number of features
- Developed quickly and cost-effectively
Building an MVP is an excellent way for a startup or a company to validate a business idea because a successful MVP will reveal customers' real opinions and their desirability for the product. It may also reveal whether there is a gap in the market for your product and will allow you to realistically judge the future development of the product.
The main problem with MVPs is that many companies don’t really know how to build them. This is usually because they have never done it before. 70% of tech startups fail within 2 years on from their first financing because they do not meet market needs.
In many cases this is because they have not been able to do enough effective market research. Creating an MVP is a gateway to understanding the market and where you might be able to fit in.
Using an MVP will enable you to validate the actual potential of your idea and guide the direction of your overall development process.
So, let’s take a look at some common MVP mistakes and how you can avoid them…
Mistake 1: No market tests
The first mistake we see very often is businesses jumping right into building an MVP without doing any proper market tests. At Netguru we are sometimes approached by founders with brilliant ideas for new products. However, it quickly becomes evident that they don’t have any real data to back up their idea or understand the practical steps they need to fully develop their product. In practice you won’t find the real answers behind your desk.
You need to go out to your customer group and make sure that the problem you are tackling exists.
You also need to ensure that people would be willing to pay for a solution that solves this problem. Market testing is the only way to understand the current product landscape and assess the needs and wants of your prospective customers/users.
For example, you’ve had an idea for a Smart Salt Dispenser. The first thing you need to ask is, “Do people really have a problem with using salt?” and, “Do you really need a smartphone and an appliance to get a pinch of salt?” It is like creating a solution to a problem which does not exist.
We see this problem all the time but thankfully the solution is simple. Talk to your customers. Conduct customer interviews and surveys to collect the required data. Then use this data to shape your MVP in a way that is practical and realistic.
Mistake 2: Too many features
Many MVP’s fail to serve their purpose because they are released with too many features and not enough focus.
SMALT, the “smart” voice controlled salt dispenser that also acts as a bluetooth speaker and an ambient light source, is an example product that has no clear focus. What is the core feature here? Where is the value? How is this solving a customer problem?
Your MVP should not be a Swiss army knife. The main purpose of an MVP is to test the product's core features and allows you to understand how your product brings value to its user.
If you add too many features the whole purpose of the MVP will become muddled and the process will become counterproductive.
Simplifying your product can be difficult. In our experience, one of the biggest challenges in building an MVP is to capture the essence of the product and distill only the most important functionalities for testing. It can be tempting to add in some of your favourite tertiary features. But remember, these can be added later if the MVP is successful.
This limited scope will help you keep the budget small and shorten the time to market. It is also important to remember that the MVP should be good enough. So, don't become obsessed with polishing the MVP. Instead, find a good balance between quality and time to market.
Mistake 3: No prototyping
Prototyping is an essential phase of product development. It doesn’t really matter if it is hardware or software, prototyping is vital. This is also true when building an MVP.
We’ve seen that some companies in order to save time tend to skip the prototyping phase and jump straight into proper development. This can be a really costly mistake. Iteration and prototyping is an important part of the creative process and will lead to more robust, enduring designs.
Prototypes, whether they are on paper, or they are clickable mockups or 3D printed, are fantastic learning tools which help to solve numerous problems.
They make the MVP development process more iterative and much smoother which often leads to a better end result.
One common mistake product managers sometimes make is to not test their prototypes with real customers. This is mainly because they are afraid to reveal too much about the product at an early phase. This mistake can also be very costly because without real customers you are unlikely to get real or useful feedback.
Juicero is an example of a product that had poor prototyping and a lack of proper testing with customers. To make juice via the Juicero product you need a smartphone and internet connection because the device lacks full control using physical buttons.
If they would have spent some time on prototyping and testing with customers at an early phase they would have found out about this problem and the end product might have looked completely different.
Mistake 4: No data analytics
All the effort of building an MVP can be wasted if you don’t have analytics embedded within. It would be like driving a car without a dashboard. It may drive ok but you cannot really see how it performs and what is happening under the hood. During the rollout phase of the MVP you want as much insightful data as possible to better steer further development of the product.
It is crucial to see and understand:
- How your customers are using the product in real-time
- What features are most popular
- What elements can be dropped
- What should be optimised
- Where you should focus your development efforts in the future
Without proper data analytics the only way to get customer feedback is to do interviews, focus groups and surveys. These are usually more costly than data analysis, they often take more time and in the end they do not give the full picture of your product that you need during the MVP rollout phase. Data analytics is one of the best ways to steer your MVP towards success.
Mistake 5: Low scalability
MVP scalability is an essential factor in the long term success of your product. While it is important to focus on the basics you also need to understand how the simple mechanics can work at scale.
Your MVP needs to be designed with scalability and extensibility in mind in order to be prepared for a sudden growth in demand when the MVP becomes a success. Most businesses will have a plan in place in case of failure but we’ve seen that many forget to plan for success. The best way to approach scalability is to prepare for it.
The worst case scenario is that when the demand for your MVP surges you can’t handle your users or you need to do a major code and architecture refactoring before you can add any new features to your product. This can significantly hamper the growth of your product and become a real bottleneck.
Therefore you need to be thinking about scalability right from the beginning:
- How effectively can you mass produce your product?
- What will be the unit economics for the product at large scale?
- How will updates or fixes work when the product is fully scaled?
- How can you test the scalability of your end product through your MVP? How many users can I serve during the MVP phase?
These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself at the beginning of the development process to ensure your MVP is scalable.
Creating the ideal MVP
It can seem like creating an MVP is difficult but really it should be a rewarding and valuable part of your product development process. Whether working on core features, responding to market research or working through the prototyping phase, building an MVP should be an exciting creative experience for designers, developers and everyone on the product team.
Overall, as long as you avoid these five common mistakes your MVP has a great chance to succeed. Ensure that you conduct insightful market testing and prototyping. Include only those features necessary for the product to function, use data analytics to steer development and understand how your MVP can scale.
If you take time to consider all these elements you will be able to produce an MVP that serves its purpose and helps you create a fantastic market-ready product.