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What’s an MVP?

An M.V.P or Minimum Viable Product is a product with just enough features to test your concept/hypothesis in a given market. And then, to use feedback from those tests to further improve the product.

The strategic weight of the MVP lies in its minimalist approach to learning whether or not you have a viable business ahead of you. That doesn’t just mean getting people to tell you they like your product, it means finding and successfully marketing to a group of people who are actually willing to pay for it. This is contrary to older, more conventional methods of releasing products, where a team invests tons of money and months to years of hard work on products that had a very low chance of success to begin with.

Using an MVP, we remove a lot of uncertainty by building something very simple and of low initial investment. The goal of testing your MVP in the market is to get feedback from potential customers. This feedback will be the wisdom that your start-up draws all of its key product development decisions from. By focusing on consumer feedback, you make the chances that you’re building something no one wants as low as possible.

Measuring Success

The early start-up journey can be grueling. And in the beginning, there may be some successes that seem like they are of importance. But ultimately, they lack all substance if you have no customers. Not unlike a mirage in a desert.

Let’s say your paid advertisements are performing better. Or maybe someone you really respect has told you they like your idea or mission. Perhaps your website seems to be getting a lot more views lately. None of it matters until a stranger understands your product, needs it and then buys it.

I stress this importance because there are many, many start-ups that have raised up to hundreds of millions of dollars to only discover that despite all the hype and the metrics they boast to raise their funding, they had not achieved product-market fit. And of course, they have to shut down. (Check out this list if you don’t believe me:

Understanding this fundamental start-up law can help you start companies before you’ve even written code.

In fact, many B2B software companies (i,e companies that sell products to businesses) begin by founders reaching out to potential customers, conveying to them how their new product will add value to their business and then offering them a discount if they pay for it now, even though it hasn’t yet been built.

The money is used as the company’s initial investment and this new paying prospect has early access to a competitive edge. And they know for sure that they have a viable business.

Deciding What To Build

It is important that you keep to the substantial. Every action forward needs to be based on information that comes from either a potential consumer or from some reliable and relevant data. It’s very easy to become invested in concepts that are based on your own opinion. Even if they are backed by very little or no truth.

Build your product using a hypothesis that’s based on what you know currently.

Then you can give it to a relevant tribe for feedback and make improvements based on that feedback. Repeat this process until that tribe can’t see themselves without your new product and are forced to buy.

If you are patient and relentless enough to continually build and test, you will inevitably find a value proposition that your target market loves. This is what’s called Product-Market Fit and once you’ve reached this stage, you can begin to scale your development and outreach.

Keep in mind the stronger your value proposition is, the cheaper and easier it will be to acquire customers.

The Guaranteed Threefold Path To Building A Successful MVP

There are some fundamental laws I advise an entrepreneur to keep in mind when deciding which hypothesis to build and test.

Here are the 3 most important ones that should get your MVP to the proper start:

  1. Your MVP must leverage an existing consumer behavior. It must not seek to create new behavior.
  2. Your MVP must be lean only in it’s functionality. But it should be excessive in both quality and in it’s look and feel.
  3. Your MVP should aim to give the user exponentially more value than he/she perceives to have invested for it.

If any one of these is not in place, building a business out of your product becomes exponentially more expensive in both time and effort. And it’s easy to explain why.

If you aren’t leveraging existing consumer behavior and hope to educate customers to create new ones, you’ll now have to pay for the cost (in both time and money) to educate your target market.

If your product is lean in functionality but lacking in quality and/or presentation, you make it difficult to build a lasting brand relationship with your users/customers.

If your product doesn’t give the user more value than they perceive to invest, they are forced to use whatever alternative solution they were using before.

Follow these rules and the path, while still difficult, is simple.

Product Development Process And Budget

Your budget and how you control it is important to developing your MVP.

After you’ve decided what hypothesis your MVP will test, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Design the product’s look and feel by creating images that outline every facet of the product. (Typically done by a UX/UI designer)
  2. Bring the product to life by actually writing/coding software based on those images. (Done by a software engineer)

There is a common misconception that software engineers also design the product’s look and feel. But that is usually not the case.

While there are definitely some software engineers who are very creative, to both write code and make decisions on the design and flow of a product is actually very cumbersome. (And ultimately takes much more time than just doing them separately. )

Usually a designer makes graphics/images of how the product will look and feel. Then an engineer comes along to bring it to life by writing code.

It’s best to make as many product development decisions in the design phase as possible. That way, software engineers can move as fast as possible with little confusion on what they’re building. (Keep in mind, revisions are costly in both time and money).

When considering how much money to spend on your MVP, you should ask yourself how long it will take to develop your MVP and then how long it will take for you iterate into product market fit. And then consider what resources you have in front of you.

If you have a lot of resources, it’s best to contract out the initial build and then find a technical partner for the long run. If you can afford to pay for the MVP’s development on your own, it will be done sooner and with less risk. You’ll be able to pass the liability of the product’s development to a trusted third party who has the adequate experience.

And the sooner you build and get to market for feedback, the better.

If you don’t have many resources, it’s best to consider whether you’d like to raise liquid funds from a third party or recruit people who will build the MVP for an equity stake. The latter method is how a lot of great companies get started.

The problem is that while you may not be paying in cash, you will be paying in the time it inevitably takes to both hire and manage this new team to create the product.

Do not underestimate the task of actually building the MVP. It is the beginning of the many trials of patience and relentless focus you will need to manifest on your brave new journey.

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