Get Behind the Buzz: What’s an MVP?

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How to build a scalable business imageA minimum viable product, or MVP, is a bare-bones test of user interest in a product. The commonly accepted definition comes from Eric Reis, who popularized the term in his book The Lean Startup: “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

An MVP essentially allows a company to discover what users think of a product idea without spending the time to create the launch-perfect version. Creating an MVP gives you the opportunity to nail down the fundamental product or service you’ll offer, and see how users respond.

Why is launching an MVP advantageous?

Rather than launching a product with bells, whistles, and hooplah, an MVP allows a company to test out the viability of an idea before investing massive amounts of resources. It’s not necessarily an easy solution — it often involves synthesizing and interpreting a lot of user feedback — but it does allow a company to be responsive to users and to avoid wasting money creating an unpopular product. An MVP focuses on iteration and response to feedback, over offering a finished product.

Think of an MVP as a hypothesis: Users will want this product or service. An MVP can take many forms to test if that theory is correct. Famously, Dropbox’s MVP was a video of how the file sharing service would work, and Groupon initially launched using WordPress. The vital purpose an MVP serves is to demonstrate if users respond to your idea. As Ramli John, a lean startup advocate writes on Medium, “the MVP is just a vehicle for you and your team to validate or invalidate your risky assumptions. It helps you answer critical questions.”

So is an MVP just a low-quality version of a product?

Don’t be misled by the use of the word “minimum” in the acronym — minimum doesn’t mean that companies should provide a shoddy product, but rather, that they should strip down their idea to its core function. What does Twitter provide to users? At launch, Twitter allowed users to post short SMS-like messages to friends. Now, of course, the idea of using Twitter to chat solely with friends and via text seems so limiting, but this launch allowed Twitter to find out if users were interested in character-constricted communications. The app-based interface came later, along with features like a RT button, which was in response to user behavior.

For the MVP testing phase, how the products look and their more high-level features are less important than user response to the idea behind the product. Knowing that users are interested in the product is a tip-off that further investment and development makes sense.

Think of some of the products and devices you use today and strip them down to their essential function: Amazon Prime provides you “free” deliveries in return for a year-long subscription; Dropbox allows you to download large files from friends, family, and coworkers; the original iPhone did not have apps, or even a basic feature like copy-and-paste, but that didn’t prevent users from understanding that a phone-computer hybrid was a desirable product.

How to launch an MVP:

The launch strategy you choose for your MVP should reflect both your product and your audience. Here are a few options:

  • Video: Famously, Dropbox launched with a Easter-egg laden video that showed how the file-sharing app would work; the video was created before the product was available, and the number of people who signed up for the waiting list for Dropbox after the video signaled that the product was wanted and needed by users.
  • A landing page or dummy site: Buffer’s MVP was a simple two-page site that laid out what services Buffer would supply, and provided a sign-up button if users were interested in more information.
  • Very Scaled-Down Product: Twitter is a great example of releasing the simplest possible version of your product to a group of early adopters for testing and response.

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