What is a Minimum Viable Product

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You have an amazing idea! Now, all you need to do now is turn it into a reality and customers will be lining up. Right? Well…if you plan to spend months developing and perfecting, what happens when the “final” product is built, and no one is in the queue?

To prevent loss of time, money and expectation, a Minimum Viable Product can help you find your sweet spot. So, what exactly is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

The term, popularized by entrepreneur Eric Ries in his bestselling book, Lean StartUp, is a strategy for gaining critical feedback in the early and most crucial stages of product development.

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Fueled founder Rameet Chawla says an MVP is particularly useful because it allows products to grow and evolve by challenging teams to test and rework their ideas.

“First time entrepreneurs are stuck on the idea of perfection,” he says. “They will spend months building and perfecting their vision. But, as soon as a product is tested in the real world, I guarantee that vision changes. You’re not building your product for yourself, you’re building it for others. An MVP allows you to observe how people react to the product and if it works the way you want it to work. While the core idea will remain the same, testing a raw product gives you the power of information to improve it.”

Decide exactly what your unique selling point is, present it clearly to your customer and see how they respond. Rather than building a company first around a product that may or may not flop, putting out an MVP in early development buys you time to gather data and gauge relevant consumer interest.

Many companies, large and small, have utilized MVPs in different ways.

Rent the Runway

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The online dress rental company, Rent the Runway, tested its model in person before building the original concept online by providing an in-person dress rental for female college students. Anyone could try on dresses in person before renting them and 34% of the women walked away with dresses, validating Rent the Runway’s MVP.

Groupon

In an excerpt from Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup, Andrew Mason, the Founder of Groupon shared the company’s MVP, which was essentially a WordPress blog and hundreds of PDF coupons.

“All we did was we took a WordPress Blog and we skimmed it to say Groupon and then every day we would do a new post with the points embedded. It was totally ghetto. We would sell t-shirts on the first version of Groupon. We’d say in the write up, ‘This t-shirt will come in the color red, size large. If you want a different color or size, email that to us.’ We didn’t have a form to add that stuff. We were just, it was so cobbled together. It was enough to prove the concept and show that it was something that people really liked. The actual coupon generation that we were doing was all FileMaker. We would run a script that would email the coupon PDF to people. It got to the point where we’d sell 500 sushi coupons in a day and we’d send 500 PDFs to people with Apple Mail at the same time. Really the first, until July of the first year was just a scrambling to grab the tiger by the tail. It was trying to catch up and reasonable piece together a product.”

5 years since its November launch in 2008, Groupon is now a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ and is now actually trying to give away $100 million in Groupon credits this week for BlackFriday.

Can’t think of a way to get your MVP into the market? Here are 4 creative ways to see if your product vision has wings.

1) Use Tumblr

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Before you even start coding, bring your idea online using an easy platform like a Tumblr page. Of a Kind, an online shopping site for exclusive clothing and accessories from young designers, was the first store to be built on Tumblr. From offering two products a week when it started in 2010, it now offers entire collections from thousands of designers in the U.S.A. Its humble beginnings on Tumblr allowed the founding team to gain a loyal following and the support it needed to move to a more substantial website and serve a larger market.

2) Utilize A Landing Page

The more visits a site receives, the more you can be sure there is an interest in your product. On the landing page, ask for an email addresses and respond, “Thanks, we will let you know when it’s ready.” You can even encourage sharing and potential virality by using products like LaunchRock‘s “coming soon” page. Give yourself some time to see if demand exists before jumping in head first.

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Bear CSS’s landing page has a very short and concise explanation of what the product does:

“Helping you build a solid stylesheet foundation based on your markup.”

A tagline like Bear CSS’s is an important element; it helps people “get it” quickly and it will become synonymous with your product, similar to its name and logo. TinyLetter is another great example. It’s appealing, uncluttered and accessible. The engaging tagline:

“Email for people with something to say”

is in the center of the page, bolded. The site has three bullet points that explain how the email platform works in under 100 words and the sign-up button sits prominently at the top of the page no matter how far down the page you scroll. The page also features a video explaining the product is and how to use it, which brings us to number three on our list.

3) Launch a Product Video

Believe it or not, a product video counts as an MVP. An explanatory product video allows you to tell your audience about your product and show them how to use it. Think of it as a short tutorial or a crash course.

In its infancy, Dropbox used a short animation video with no frills to introduce its first MVP. With the help of some paper cut-outs, a hand and a commentator, the animation begins with a common problem, how Dropbox solves it, then how to use it. That video, along with some sweet viral marketing tactics (free storage space for you!), helped Dropbox grow to 100 million users in five years.

The Los Angeles based startup DollarShaveClub.com used a different approach with its video. It’s still short and sweet, but also incredibly entertaining. The founder (who was an actor and comedian before turning to startup entrepreneurship) walks through a warehouse explaining the benefits of his business, which mails razors to you monthly. While he is informative, the background boasts a toddler shaving a man’s head, a bear suit, a leaf blower and a machete. No reason your video can’t be comical and there is a good chance it will be more viral if it is.

4) Try Kickstarter

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Kickstarter is a great test of your product’s potential. If people are willing to fund your efforts, you can feel confident in moving forward and will have the cash to do so.

Foldio, a foldable studio that allows you to take high quality photos with your smartphone, created a Kickstarter campaign on November 18, 2013 and raised $24,190 in three days, quickly surpassing its goal of $10,000. That kind of positive response is an obvious sign that you are headed in the right direction!

SHADOW, a soon to launch alarm clock app that’s building a worldwide dream database, launched a campaign earlier this fall with spectacular results. The campaign closed November 2nd with over $80,000 raised and over 3,000 worldwide contributors. The app brings users steadily out of sleep through silent alarms with the hope that they will better remember, and immediately record their dreams. The immense support of the greater Kickstarter community proved the enthusiastic interest in a community of dreamers.

Defining Your MVP

Paul Choi, CEO of Worry Free Labs, a mobile UX, design and development firm based in New York City says that, “While the term “MVP” is thrown around quite a bit in our industry, we consider an MVP to be when a product is good enough point to be released and gain traction in the market, so that it can build a user base.”

A successful Minimum Viable Product will tell you what features are best, what must be changed, or whether your product has market potential at all. If your MVP does not find success that does not mean failure. At the very start of your product development, you have enormous flexibility, so you are able to continue tweaking until you receive the ideal response. Think of an MVP as bait: you will not be able to attract any customers without something essential at the end of your hook.

With time, and perhaps even with multiple MVPS, you will gain insight and observation. “It’s okay if your app doesn’t land in the app store and immediately gain half a million users,” says Fueled’s Rameet Chawla. “Test and then retest. Don’t be afraid to pivot and launch as many versions as it takes for you and your users to be satisfied with the product. It will only get better.”