You're almost across the finish line! If you've tuned into the previous installments of our “Yea or Nay” series, we have discussed strategies surrounding vetting your idea and building your initial team. Now it's time for the final step: building your minimum viable product.
The idea of an MVP was introduced to the world by Eric Ries, a Silicone Valley entrepreneur and Yale graduate, around 2008. As its name would indicate, the idea is simple. In his blog Startup Lessons Learned, Ries explains the idea of MVP as this,
“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.”
In other words, the minimum viable product is another crucial step in what I believe is the most vital key to business success: extracting as much customer feedback as possible. As N. Taylor Thompson of the Harvard Business review writes,
“In creating a minimum viable product, entrepreneurs choose between experiements that can validate or invalidate their assumptions about a business model. If your MVP is a worse product than your imagined final version, success validates your idea; failure, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily invalidate it. If your MVP offers a better experience, then failure invalidates your business model; success doesn’t necessarily validate it.”
If you're racing to the finish line of startup success, here are some simple steps for building your MVP and determining whether or not your startup approach is valid.
1. Refine and Define the Process
While it may be tempting to daydream about the grandest visions of the product you're building, you'll generally want to start with the most basic, main process that your product will use. Begin by narrowing your vision instead of expanding it.
The idea here is to think less about the overall function of what you're building and more along the lines of the individual tasks you want your product to perform. Clearly outline the main process or actions that your customers will perform while using the initial version of your product. Once you have this use defined, we can beginning further dissecting this main process and dividing it into sub-processes to make every aspect of your MVP clearly mapped.
2. Determine Worthwhile Features
Now, it's time to put ourselves in the customer's shoes. For each process you've defined in step one, ask yourself:
- What features can I create at each stage to ensure the best possible user experience?
- Are these features feasible for my business at this point?
This is the time to brainstorm and list all the possible features that could support your processes. At this point, try not to throw any ideas out based upon feasibility. Only once you've exhausted your brainstorming options should you begin to vet the viability of these ideas.
3. Prioritize and Build
Now you're ready to prioritize and build! First, let's return all of our features to determine which ones are necessary for minimum viable product initial launch, the operative word being minimum. Your initial offering should simply contain the lowest amount of features that allow you to gain the necessary feedback from your customers.
There are many ways to build a minimum viable product in an inexpensive and simple way. There are numerous web platforms and services that can allow you to build a functional product without necessarily having to invest in building a product from the ground up. Google Apps, Facebook, Square are among many useful Software-as-a-Service products that have been used to build MVPs in the past.
4. Listen and Measure!
Once, you've built your MVP, you're ready to test. Now, it's all about listening and learning. Despite how much you may love what you have built, in the end only our customers' opinions truly matter. Listening to the feedback you receive from your beta testers will help you prove minimum viability. There will need to be tweaks and changes at virtually every step along the way, but a good response from these initial testers coupled with an open, willing attitude can turn your “minimal” product into something very special.
The Starting Line to Success
Startups are exciting, stressful, exhilarating, and terrifying. In my experience mentoring startup companies, I've seen all types of founders in all types of emotional states. What I've noticed, however, is that the best of these founders have always gone into the experience with the idea that they were going to learn as much as possible at all stages of the experience. Whether it was listening to their team members, their users, or the feedback of mentors, startup founders that took the time to learn before jumping in always seemed to have the most success and the healthiest mindset around the experience. To those of you that will be embracing the fresh start of 2016 by building something new, I wish you more than luck!
Have you built an MVP before? What was your process like? Share your story with us by tweeting @EidsonPartners!