You may be familiar with the MVP. Not the best player on a sport’s team, the other one. The Minimum Viable Product. The most basic proof of concept a startup builds to validate their business idea. What most entrepreneurs fail to realize is that the MVP is not a destination, it is a journey, and therefore, a process.
What is an MVP?
Lean Startup author Eric Ries gives a commonly accepted MVP definition:
“a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the least effort.”
The key ingredient to success in the digital marketplace is FOCUS. Companies often fail getting distracted by the shiny objects and features (‘scope creep’ as we like to call it) that by the time they’re ready to release their product into the wild, it’s not clear what the product is or who it’s for. The most successful companies, on the other hand, start with a very focused product vision and core target audience — an MVP.
How do you define an MVP?
My development company, King Tide, created a system of commonly used workshops to guide startup founders through the process of defining an MVP and getting to market quickly. Three workshops that answer the following questions:
- What is the problem?
- What is the solution?
- What is the minimum viable product to test the solution?
1. Define Business Vision — What is the problem?
In the first workshop, we get clarity about your company, objectives, value proposition, pain points and challenges, a more complete picture of your team member’s varying priorities, and a high-level overview of the product you want to create.
- Establish Roles & Responsibilities (RASCI Matrix)
- Vision Traction Organizer (Vision / Values / Mission)
- Problem Definition
- SWOT analysis
- Rolling Hypothesis
2. MVP Product Discovery — What is the solution?
The second workshop is where we start talking about actual requirements, features and use cases based on your User Stories, Personas, Flows, Inputs & Outputs. Most of the time 80% of product value is actually being provided by just 20% of the features, so we’ll help you prioritize what the core, high-value features that should be on your MVP.
- Personas Definition (User Types / System Users)
- User Stories
- Product Features Validation
- Revisit Hypotheses
3. MVP Product Definition — What is the minimum viable product?
We’ll look to finalize the MVP Hypothesis, the core requirements needed for the MVP Application so we can create the System Architecture, Project Plan and Product Roll Out Strategy.
- User Story Prioritization
- Metrics for Success
- MVP Hypothesis
The Minimum Viable Process
During these workshops, you can bet that we’ll whiteboard all sorts of different features, argue over which ones we believe are most important, and define the product we intend to build and test. The truth is, none of this really matters because we haven’t collected any feedback — it’s your word against mine or a story you tell yourself to validate your own beliefs.
Most founders come up with a “brilliant” idea, piece together a team, raise some funding, and spend the next 8–12 months building the first version of their product, what they call an MVP, and start marketing.
Let’s walk through an example:
You decide to build a product that gives nightclubs the ability to accept reservations for tables from a mobile device, and allows patrons to purchase bottles from their app.
You find a few friends in the hospitality industry to partner with, you raise $250K, and try to build all these features. If you have some experience, maybe you cut out 20% of them so you can launch your MVP in 9 months instead of 12. Chances are you will fail. Why? Well, let’s consider all the assumptions you made when starting the business that may have been wrong:
- You didn’t realize that nightclubs use promoters to book tables and they like filtering the crowd that comes in rather than allowing anyone to book online.
- Nightclubs want the bottle service girls to put on a show for their customers so they can upsell them on buying the $8,000 bottle of Remi Martin instead of the $150 bottle of Grey Goose.
- Or, most simply, you didn’t realize that nightclubs hate technology and accessibility and prefer to deal with cash and credit cards on the spot.
Waiting almost a year to discover these critical flaws will not only waste your money, but it could end your company and prolong your success.
Let’s try this using the Minimum Viable Process.
- What is the problem we’re trying to solve?
- How can we test this as simply as possible?
Our assumption is that nightclubs want to have a mobile app for them to accept reservations and bottle service orders.
Therefore, the MVP could be a survey or a mockup of an app you drew on the back of a napkin. Go around to nightclub owners and ask them for feedback. Do you have a software like this? Do you use mobile technology to manage your business? You might learn that they have existing software for table reservations with a blueprint of the club that would need to be integrated for them to sign on. Or they may tell you there is no chance they would ever use such a thing. Believe me, while that may be disheartening, it’s a lot better than finding this out 12 months and $250K later.
You’re not done. This is the beginning of an ongoing build-and-test MVP process that goes from a survey to a mockup to a proof of concept to an alpha version to a beta version to a private version to a public version. Where did the MVP stop and the real app begin? Answer: It didn’t, because the MVP is a process, not a product.