How to Build an MVP for Your Startup

MVP! No, we're not talking about Steph Curry, we're talking about Minimal Viable Products. Businesses and especially startups need to be as efficient as possible, you don’t want to spend precious time , money and resources  building a product just to find out that no one event wants it! Here's how you can make an MVP and get solid validation to make sure you're building the right product.


What is an MVP?

For anyone unfamiliar with the phrase, a minimum viable product is “that product which has just those features and no more that allows you to ship a product that early adopters see and, at least some of whom resonate with, pay you money for, and start to give you feedback on”.

Basically, it's an incredibly basic and initial version of what you're making that works enough for customers to use, but is in early enough stages that you can make substantial tweaks as you go without costing you a gold brick or damaging your brand.

So why is it so minimal? Wouldn’t you want to add all the features you think they’d like? NO. That’s the point. You don’t know exactly what your customers want, you just know what you think they’d want, so don’t waste time and money on an assumption. It’s better to tailor it completely around the customer. Your resources are severely limited, so you want the biggest bang for your buck: maximum learning with minimal effort.

Sometimes this doesn't even require a functioning product, it can even be a great concept, a well designed prototype and a landing page. Local startup Neighbour Flavour has had over 17,000 pre-registrations and a successful seed round, and they haven't even got the live product yet. 

Using MVPs for funding.

You have an idea. You have just enough money to make an initial product. Now you need more cash. MVPs are a great way to prove that you have something worth funding which you can take to investors.  (Note: not every startup needs funding - but it's something on a lot of people's minds!).

It's important to know what to prioritise so you can get a better shot at raising money, and this all comes down to customer feedback. This is the entire point of an MVP - to show people what you're doing, see what they like, what they don't like, what's missing, what colours they prefer, you're literally making the entire thing around what these potential customers want.

Investors want to see a proof of concept, and they want to see traction. This means they need to see not only the clear problem that you're solving, they need to see people are actually willing to either buy or use it, even in it's early stages.

Put your investor hat on for a moment - if someone came to you and asked you for a stack of your cash, you would want to see that there's a product getting a lot of attention, and if you put your money in one end, it's going to spit out even more at the other.

In literal terms, this means that based on the initial proof from the MVP, if this product is properly developed, it can create serious revenue. Prove that with hard facts and feedback to an investor and you've got good chances of raising.

Examples of MVPs.

Explainer Video

An explained video is a short clip that explains what your product does and why people should use or buy it. It doesn’t need to be long - usually around 90 seconds of animation. Dropbox made a 3 minute screencast showing how easy it was (and sneakily naming all the files funny names) that got featured on Hacker news, and in one day their waiting list of emails went from 5000 to 75,000! 

Wizard of Oz

A “Wizard of Oz” MVP is when you put up a front that looks like a real working product, but you manually carry out product functions. It’s also known as “Flinstoning”. This is what Zappos did - the Founder would take photos of shoes from local stores and put them online. Once orders came in he'd go buy them and handle the shipping, payments, returns...everything...all my by himself. Obviously not scalable at all, but it proved there was sufficient demand for his service and it validated most of his assumptions for very little investment. Zappos went on to make a multi billion dollar company.

Concierge MVP

Instead of providing a product, you start with a manual service, but this service is exactly the same as the steps customers would go through if they were to use your product. 

This is what Food on the Table did, who provide weekly recipes and grocery lists based on sales at your local store. This obviously requires a lot of work, so the founders started by interviewing shoppers at their local stores until they found one interested in their service. They would see her every week with a shopping list and selected recipes carefully chosen around her preferences, and the promotions in the store. The list was updated right then and there based on what she wanted. For all of this, the CEO would pick up a chick for $9.95. Again, spectacularly unscalable. But each week they would learn more about what it would take to make the product a success. Once the concept was proved they built the software and eventually grew to a nationwide business.

Crowdfunding

This is when you raise funds from customers in advance. Launch a campaign on platforms like Kickstarter, IndieGogo and RockHub. This is not only a method of validation to see if people would buy it, you’ll also raise money. Although if you win in a successful campaign you don’t just get validation and investment, you have a crowd of early adopters and raving fans. 

This doesn’t work for any type of product. Most products on these platforms seem to have a strong consumer focus, and a value that is easy to communicate. Do some research into the most successful crowdfunding stories to see if it could work for you.

Launch One Feature

This one is simple: bring out one feature of your product and see what they think. Many successful applications say that their first mistake was making too many features. I have also fallen victim to this. Like I said in the beginning, you need to make what your customers actually want, now what you think they want. You can’t be everything to everybody. 

"You may not be solving exactly the same problem but that’s alright. Solving 80% of the original problem for 20% of the effort is a major win. The original problem is almost never so bad that it’s worth five times the effort to solve it.”

Tools for making an MVP.

InVision

Upload your design files and add animations, gestures, and transitions to transform your static screens into clickable, interactive prototypes.

Squarespace

Whether you need simple pages, striking galleries, a professional blog, or an online store, it's all included with your Squarespace website. Best of all, everything is mobile-ready right from the start.

Wideo

Use professional quality, animated videos to make a great first impression with clients and investors. Cost effective and fast.

KICKSTARTER

The world's largest funding platform for creative projects. A home for film, music, art, theater, games, comics, design, photography, and more.

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Now that you know more about MVPs as well as some real life examples, you can think about how you will make yours. The goal is to avoid burning money on a product that nobody wants. Really think about what is the most basic thing you can do now to make sure that doesn’t happen. Once you’ve launched that and you’ve learned more, you then bring out more MVPs, more features, until you get the product just right.

MITCH HILLS

Snapchat & Twitter: mitchills


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