minimum viable product

Defining Your Minimum Viable Product

The minimum viable product approach to taking digital products to market presents a conundrum for anyone whether within an organisation or as an entrepreneur. The balance is between delight, a good enough product and the biggest one of them all – budget. Once you have pitched for a rough funding figure only to find that it was half of what you need, you are faced with three questions: go to market with a shoddy product, go to market late once you receive that extra funding, or don’t go to market at all. After all, we don’t usually launch products for charity’s sake. I’ve been there – we’ve all been there.

But there is another way, and it’s about conceiving the minimum viable product to take to market, but before we explore that, let’s take a step back and look at product. How do you conceive a product in the first place? There are 3 core ways:

  1. Find a problem – If you can wedge yourself into someone’s life by solving a problem that they always have, you will be well on the way to creating a real need for your product. Facebook did this by remembering birthdays for you and Dropbox solved the eternal problem of the missing USB.
  2. Solve a problem- If you can understand the problem that is apparent for a particular niche and state the solution by means of a cool bit of tech, then customers will flock very quickly. Instagram’s rise was all to do with the sharing and upload of photos easily. It saved everyone time and made life easy.
  3. Create delight- All the successful games create delight (and some addition!) amongst users. Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are the best of the new breed in this genre, but there are also games that live off the delight that other create, such as words with friends or whole new worlds such as Grand Theft Auto.

That’s perhaps a simplistic approach, but there is usually more that you need to consider – such as does the benefits of solving the problem outweigh the obstacle and others such as:

  • Is the barrier to entry low enough – will you be able to woo new users?
  • Discovery – how will your product be found in the first place – and how will you make them take the conversion jump?
  • How immediate and frequent is the need?
  • Competition – what’s everyone else doing to solved the problem? And how can you garner local placement on the screen of the user?

These are all important questions but what must you do with regards to take to market. In my opinion, the best possible approach is one that is focused on the minimum viable product. A minimum viable product, when talking in digital terms is a strategy for deploying a product with the minimal amount of features.

The main reason to use a minimal viable product approach is to get feedback. If you use a feedback approach from real users, then the benefit is threefold: one, you are building a product users actually want; two; you have a user base of dedicated users who feel part of the product; three, by trusting a select group, you have created an underground maven marketing team of users who will want to push your product for you. On the flip side, utlising a minimum viable product strategy allows a minimum cost fail strategy. Perhaps the product is completely unviable and the product may only be of benefit to a small selection of people – or maybe it’s too early or too late to market. If you launch with a minimum viable product, you can fail at low cost and move on to your next great product and learn from the lessons of this one.

Using a minimum viable product strategy, you are essentially going forward with ongoing loop approach: test – refine – test – refine. Others use the build-measure-learn loop – it all depends on what kind of product you have. Eric Ries popularised the concept of minimal viable product in his book the Lean Startup – and in it he says:

“The minimum viable product lacks many features that may prove essential later on. However, in some ways, creating a MVP requires extra work: we must be able to measure its impact. For example, it is inadequate to build a prototype that is evaluated solely for internal quality by engineers and designers. We also need to get it in front of potential customers to gauge their reactions. We may even need to try selling them the prototype.”

It’s an important point. There is more work using MVP as an approach – but the chances of success are higher because the process of learning is happens as quickly as possible. Asking a potential target market that consists of friends and associate a select number of questions on survey monkey gives some viability but it simply doesn’t compare to the experience of a live product.

Ultimately, MVP is all about the consumer. Creating an MVP strategy is creating a consumer driven strategy. If you can create a ‘deep well’ of users as Paul Graham calls it, it’s likely that those users will become your market. This strategy of focusing a product on a small number of people who need a product a lot of the time rather than a large number of users who need the product a little bit of the time garners excellent and rich feedback data.

What are the extremes of an MVP? Imagine that you need funding for your product – but the concept is too difficult or too expensive to even get to prototype phase. You are left with a few choices: the explanation approach – use a video or some great marketing material to explain what you (will) do. This costs between $1000 and $10,000; the eluding approach – just create a promise of what you hope to achieve and get feedback on the concept; or go manual – trial the whole process without using technology – find customers and ask them what they want and deliver the process using a manual approach. These all seem obvious approaches, but the MVP doesn’t always work as a build, learn and grow strategy. And sometime it’s worth being traditional and spending excessive time upfront to research, plan and predict. That doesn’t mean the going with a minimal viable product removes this process, it just means there is less of a focus on this and more down a Steve Blank approach to customer acquisition.Using a minimum viable approach is a deeply strategic approach to new products. It is pre-planned with rules and guidelines and is prepared to become the best in its niche. It’s good for bootstrappers, for entrepreneurs and for product developers within large corporates – and ultimately works because it’s all about creating a problem solving product that consumers actually want. And that’s what your MVP is your MVP – your minimum viable product is your most valuable person, your secret strategy for product success.

Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on Rahim’s personal blog medeleon.

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Rahim Hirji is a London based strategy professional, business executive and entrepreneur. He has a particular speciality in helping individuals and organisations overcome the dramatic shifts in digital affecting industry today. With significant experience across the education and media sectors, Rahim has advised a diverse range of corporate and start-up clients on strategy, digital and change. A technology and management graduate by training, Rahim has been working with CEOs, entrepreneurs and business heads around the world for more than 15 years. Rahim is currently CEO at Maths Doctor, a disruptive educational start-up, focused on live online tuition and incubated by Macmillan Digital Education. Rahim lives in London, England, with his wife and two daughters.