How Do I Build an MVP?

There’s your idea — loaded up with one hundred different bells and whistles, each one more interactive and engaging than the last. “The benefits are endless,” you tell people, “there’s nothing you can’t do with it”.

Settle down there; can it really do one million different things? Scratch that — should it really do one million things?

What if all customers care about is Product Benefit #1? Your job just got a lot easier, and your product just got much quicker to develop.

You shouldn’t build what isn’t absolutely necessary.

What is an MVP?

It stands for Minimum Viable Product, and essentially it’s the minimum set of features that a customer is willing to pay for. To give an example, such as shampoo, some people simply need it to clean their hair. That’s it; nothing more. Sure it may be nice if the shampoo smells like spearmint, feels soft and silky, and makes your hair glow afterwards, but for some these benefits don’t matter. All they need is clean hair.

The same concept holds true for your idea. In your head right now, you’re picturing a long list of super cool features that make your product amazing. But, it’s very likely that the people who will buy your product don’t find value in all of them, or at least not to the level you think.

It’s your job to go out and find which of your many product features are the most important; to identify the absolute least set of features that your customers will pay for; to discover the core value your product provides; to build your MVP.

How do you build your MVP?

It’s simple: Build your product, but don’t add all of your bells and whistles. Instead, combine the features that you believe provide the greatest value — the biggest reasons for why someone would want to buy — into one cohesive offering.

And please, please, please, do not worry about making this first prototype aesthetically pleasing or “perfect” by any means — focus on functionality. You want your MVP to be a bare bones version of the future product you’ve envisioned in your head.

Then it’s time to take it to your customers. You want to show it to them and listen intently to their feedback. Ideally, you want to see their eyes light up — yes, it accomplishes their biggest problems, but it could be fixed by adding this feature there, or getting rid of that because it’s not important, or making it this color for this reason.

Your MVP is the gateway to a perfect final product. Your customers will immediately see the vision (the perfectly finished product) and help guide you there. They’ll provide you feedback along the whole way, constantly advising you on how to tweak each and every little thing to push your product closer towards perfection.

So take a deep breath, now another, and

Let go of the idea that your product or service has to be absolutely perfect out of the gate. Instead, focus on the few key features and benefits of your idea — the ones that people specifically will pay you for — and work on those first. Put them together into one rough prototype (your MVP), without worrying much about how it looks, but rather ensuring that it achieves its functional objective — solving the most important problem the customer has.

Then, go out into the real world and show your MVP to your customers and diligently observe their reactions. Ask them questions like: What feature do you like the most? What’s missing? How could it better solve your problems? If you could wave a magic wand and could change anything, what would it be?

After ten conversations with your first MVP, you’ll have developed a clear distinction between the product necessities, the nice-to-haves, and the don’t-need-at-alls. This is the time to create a second version of your MVP and go talk to ten more customers, ask them the same questions, and dig deeper. Continue this until your customers wouldn’t change a thing.

After this entire process, take yet another deep breath. You’ve done it. Through trial and error, proven evidence from real customers, and fine attention to detail, you’ve built a product that solves your customers’ biggest problems.

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