While a few startups radically succeed, nine out of ten startups failed. This cold statistic pushes startup founders to seriously look for ways to minimize the risk before entering a product into the market. That's where Minimum Viable Product (MVP) development comes into play. However, even the MVP stage is still tricky if you can not find the balance between the minimum and viable factors of a product, or achieve the balance between the depth and speed of production. Actually, where is this balance point?
This question drives us to look further into the concept of MVP and think about what builds up an effective MVP, and how to build it right. Furthermore, during our journey assisting different enthusiastic startups in developing their MVP, we take this chance to interview their point of view and their real stories on how to navigate this challenging journey.
But before diving into that, it’s worth starting with the very concept of the MVP and its purposes as it is widely misunderstood with other things like proof of concept and prototype.
What is an MVP?
The Minimum Viable Product concept is encoded and widespread by Eric Ries, the author of the best-selling book The Lean Startup. At the very basic, MVP is the bare-bones version of a product that has only the most crucial features to deliver the core value to the market quickly. MVP is deployed to gather feedback and see whether early adopters need that product. The customers' insights and preferences will pave the way for developers to tweak the product accordingly and plan further updates in future releases.
In a sense, MVP stresses the learning of what works and what does not work, which is often called validated learning. As a result, the MVP helps save time and cost in the wrong directions without fully developing the product. In some other cases, MVP plays a powerful tool to attract investors for their future development budget.
The fundamental premise behind MVP is that it is the actual product, not a landing page, an introduction video, or a prototype. The terms Minimum Viable Product (MVP), proof of concept (POC), and prototype are used to describe stages of product development that are much similar in some respects. Below are some key points that separate the three of them apart.
|MVP||Prototype||Proof of Concept|
|Approach||What are the product’s core functionalities and value proposition?||How will this product function?||Is this idea feasible?|
|Goals||Build the actual product and iterate based on the real feedback from early customers.||Visualize the product’s look and feel, and its user flows||Demonstrate a product’s feasibility or test technical solutions with the aim of verifying its potential.|
|Target audience||Early adopters||Developer groups
Limited end users
Internal domain experts
|Implementation||The first version of your actual product, including the most crucial features||Visual clickable mobile/web prototype that requires no coding||Tech solution with a simplistic UI.|
What builds up an effective MVP?
Creating an MVP is more about the strategy and experiment rather than development. When building the MVP means to ship the lightest product to market as quickly as possible, it might be tempting to think that building an MVP is to chop down half of the features from a full-fledged product and get them in the wild for early feedback. Most of the time, building the MVP means determining which features to include and exclude. Such an approach is not all wrong, but it might set the wrong expectation that MVP is something you just need to build once. The fact that building the MVP is a process of iterated assumption testing, over and over again, until we reach the best version that fits with the market.
During that process, how to recognize that you are going in the right direction?
From our perspective, the MVP should be composed of 3 critical attributes: the M - minimal, the V - viable, and the C - competitive. It will be your constraints yet also your goals to achieve in building an effective MVP.
- Minimal: It's the simplest version of your product that is built with the lowest resources in a short time. According to Yevgeniy (Jim) Brikman, the author of Hello, Startup and the founder of Atomic Squirrel, two essential questions you need to ask yourself during navigation to minimal points: What is my riskiest assumption? And what is the smallest experiment I can do to test this assumption? Trying to answer these questions every time you iterate your experiments will help you maintain the minimum effort, resources, and costs.
- Viable: It means that your MVP is a functional and usable version that at least addresses a clear need for one target group of users. Being minimum while viable pushes the difficulty of building MVP to the next level. First, you need to deeply investigate your target user persona and try to address their need via pivoting every small hypothesis. Then, experiment, correct your course, repeat the loop, and use what you've learned to test new hypotheses.
- Competitive: When trying to achieve a minimum and viable goal, it's crucial to focus on your market space and choose product strategies to differentiate from your competitors. Even when your MVP is good enough and meets the demand, dozens of players in the field are willing to bring customers various choices. Thus, standing out is essential and strategic.
Achieving all those things in one process might be a genuinely challenging and sophisticated journey. So here, you might ask, how do I turn my initial ideas into the right MVP and reach all those goals?
How to build the right MVP for product-market fit
Depending on the nature of projects, there are multiple frameworks to help us build an effective MVP. Among them, we would like to select two MVP approaches that are accelerated by two experts in Agile and startup. Of course, they should by no means be considered the only two ways, but it could be your trustworthy reference sources to ease the sophistication of building the right MVP and put you on the right path from the start.
The Lean Inception
Lean Inception was developed by Paulo Caroli, who is a principal consultant at ThoughtWorks. During his career, he focuses on Agile and Lean processes and practices. This framework has been successfully tested in ThoughtWorks projects and is strongly endorsed by Martin Fowler.
The Lean Inception is the effective combination of Lean Startup and Design Thinking to decide a Minimum Viable Product. It's a collaborative workshop that is divided into a series of activities that fit in 1 week. This framework is helpful when the team needs to develop an MVP iteratively. Based on that, we can choose which features are valuable to users based on testing the assumptions. Another critical benefit of Lean Inception is that it improves the team relationship from day one of the workshop.
This timetable below is a great example for you to imagine how things flow within the Lean Inception workshop.
The Lean Inception Workshop
Introduce the inception, kick-off, and write the Product Vision
|The product is - is not - does - does not|
Describe the Personas
|Discover the Features|
Technical and Business Review
|Show the User Journeys|
Display Features in Journeys
|Sequence the Features|
Build the MVP Canvas
Showcase the results of the inception to those interested in the project
The final artifact of the Lean Inception workshop is the MVP canvas. This canvas covers all elements of Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Business Direction:
- Lean Startup: Build-Measure-Learn loop, which is translated into Features-Metrics-Outcomes
- Design Thinking: Human center, which is translated into User-Journeys
- Business Direction: Support business plan with MVP vision, cost, and schedule.
When combining those things, the MVP canvas assists startups to align their ideas with the underlying (minimum & viable) work to create and validate them.
Source: The MVP Canvas by Caroli
The MVP Tree
An MVP tree was developed by Shawn Carolan, the early-stage investor of Menlo Ventures. It was written down by Steve Blank, a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies and Hollywood media companies.
The idea behind this approach is that many startups often fall into the trap of building toward their business idea rather than a minimum viable product. MVP Tree is born to bridge the gap between ambitious missions with the reality of limited resources and what the real-world market needs. The ultimate goal is to solve one job for one customer group that helps them happily do one part of their jobs or personal lives. It makes them stick around with your product. At the end of the day, is this retention your most important point for your earliest startup stage?
The MPV tree approach includes three main components: customer archetypes, jobs to be done, and execution. To make it easy to understand, let's go over eight following steps:
Step 1: Articulate your big mission in a simple statement
It might be tempting to start coding right away, but there are many great products out there; you'll need a mission statement representing something specific, impactful, and little for your own product to acquire and retain customers. It may evolve as you create and learn from your customers, but its goal is to conjure a better image of the future and inspire the team's actions.
Step 2: Segment your market into different customer archetypes
It might lead to a risky situation when you want to create a product for everyone worldwide. Each new segment you wish to serve will extend the scope, put more strain on your limited resource and push you farther from the minimum point. So here, figure out several potential customer archetypes that would be highly motivated to solve their pain with your product.
Step 3: List out jobs to be done
Breaking down your mission into multiple jobs to be done that help your customer to accomplish their reoccurring work. This itemization will most likely narrow your product scope considerably while still allowing you to build something of significant value.
Step 4: Figure out execution branches
Execution branches will vary based on the business but think of them as the components of what gets built and sold. It could be the delivery platform, the sales channels, the chip platforms, the data ecosystem, etc. Be selective when picking the branch that you have the best shot.
Step 5: Scope out your candidate MVPs
The MVP is made up of each leaf picked on each branch. The reasonable permutations are your candidate MVPs. Remember, an MVP is the minimally scoped product that gets some job done for your selected customer archetype.
Step 6: Evaluate your candidate MVPs
How do you determine which MVP to build first? According to Steve Blank, an effective MVP satisfies three criteria: address a meaningful job to be done, make the economic paid acquisition and have a rapid time-to-value.
Step 7: Pick, Beta, Ship
Now keep iterating until you're completed one specific job. Don't pivot to a new job unless you've learned something new that causes you to reconsider your initial hypothesis. It's possible to take a lot of time, but that's alright. Then, where there's a job to be done, you can build a solution with enough time, talent, and concentration.
Step 8: Double-Down
Once you find your product getting recurring work done better than any other tool, keep sticking with it. After consolidating your position among this first set of customers, you can earn the right to extend the scope and move on to other jobs, platforms, and customer archetypes.
In sum, this step-by-step guide will help you sort out the right MVP version to start validating. The most significant benefit of the MVP tree approach is to help build the minimum viable product while keeping a look on your north-star mission.
How startups build their MVP with our Enlab team
Over the years working with startups to help them build their MVP, we have precious chances to witness their challenging journey and support them at our best to translate their ideas into a minimal working product.
One of the interesting stories we want to share with you is Flyp, a professional marketplace in Australia for the gig economy. They help connect thousands of frontline workers to employers in different industries like warehouses, logistics, catering, hospitality, delivery, security, grocery, retail, administrative, and support. The Flyp MVP is a responsive web app that allows users to create a digital resume like a short bio, experience, verified gig platform ratings, video stories to showcase personality, and sign-up via Facebook.
Taking this opportunity, we would like to interview Jascha Zittel, Co-founder of Flyp about their MVP experience and how they approach to reach the minimal and viable factors:
Q: Hello Jascha, could you share your experience about your MVP journey with an offshore team?
A: Neither my co-founder nor I are software engineers. Our backgrounds are in product management and product design respectively.
We decided to work with an offshore team for developing our MVP as opposed to hiring in-house because it allowed us to move faster, access great talent at more affordable rates, and avoid the overhead that comes with recruiting, employee onboarding, and people management.
When you’re building an MVP, you want to be able to move as fast as possible while keeping opportunity costs to a minimum. Your sole focus should lie on validating your hypotheses with customer data.
Working with a trusted offshore team allows you to do exactly that.
Q: How do you find the right balance across desirability, feasibility, viability, and minimalism?
A: Attempting to deliver the highest quality, in the shortest period of time, at the lowest cost is generally not a formula for success, but a formula for trying to please everyone. It rarely produces positive outcomes.
As a result, we are always in trade-off mode when it comes to developing new features. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and each initiative requires us to think about the relevant business objectives at hand and how to best balance the so-called triangle of death (time, quality, cost) in order to achieve them. For example, we would prioritize time and cost over quality for running quick experiments on new feature ideas. But once we have greater certainty that a particular feature will actually deliver value, we would likely reprioritize and focus on quality over speed or cost.
Thank you for your support, Jascha! We are happy to accompany you on the way to build Flyp and hope your on-hand experience could equip startup founders and entrepreneurs with precious perspectives for building an efficient MVP.
Over the years, building MVP has a proven record for minimizing the risk of introducing a new product into the market. An MVP will prevent feature creep and procrastination, helping businesses build a clean, simple and functional product with an optimal time to market. Changes and upgrades are delivered iteratively to keep a laser-like focus on satisfying the changing customer's desires. Once you gather the first milestone of positive feedback and gain confidence in your vision, you can start pushing further and further out, into the deep, towards the product of your dreams.
Even though there is no one-size-fits-all formula for building an effective MVP, we hope this article has given you a solid knowledge base and cited several trustworthy sources to get ready for riding the efficient MVP development rails.
- Vadim Dagman, How To Build A Successful Minimum Viable Product, www.toptal.com.
- Paulo Caroli, Lean Inception, www.martinfowler.com, 2017.
- Cameron Chapman, Getting Maximum Impact from a Minimum Valuable Product, www.toptal.com.
- Paulo Caroli, Build the MVP Canvas, www.martinfowler.com, 2017.
- Steve Blank, A Path to the Minimum Viable Product, www.steveblank.com, 2021.
- Jim Brikman, A Minimum Viable Product Is Not a Product, It's a Process, www.ycombinator.com.