What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

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Scott D. Clary
Scott D. Clary
10 min readJun 20, 2024

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The MVP Misconception

Let’s talk about Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).

If you’re like most ambitious entrepreneurs, you’ve probably heard this term thrown around a lot.

But I’m willing to bet you’ve got a few misconceptions about what an MVP really is.

Here’s the thing: an MVP isn’t about cutting corners or releasing a half-baked product.

It’s not about being cheap.

It’s a strategic weapon in your arsenal, designed to validate your ideas before you invest significant time and resources.

The MVP mindset is about speed, learning, and iteration.

It’s about getting your idea in front of real people, gathering feedback, and using that feedback to refine your product.

This approach is far more valuable than spending months perfecting something in a vacuum.

The Golden Rule: The best MVP is the one that teaches you the most with the least amount of effort.

The MVP Mindset

Building a great MVP isn’t just about the product itself.

It’s about adopting a certain mindset:

  • Ruthless Prioritization: What are the absolute essential features that your product needs to deliver its core value proposition? Focus on those and cut everything else.
  • Embrace Imperfection: Your MVP doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to work well enough to test your assumptions.
  • Be a Feedback Sponge: Actively seek out feedback from your early users. Listen to their pain points, their suggestions, and their desires. This is gold.
  • Iterate Relentlessly: Use the feedback you gather to refine your MVP. Make changes, test again, and repeat until you’ve nailed it.

Remember, the goal of an MVP isn’t to build the final product.

It’s to learn as much as you can about your target market and what they truly want.

MVP Tactics That Work

There are countless ways to build an MVP, and the best approach for you will depend on your specific product and market.

Here are a few tactics that have proven effective time and time again:

  • The Landing Page Test: Create a simple landing page that explains your product and its benefits. Drive traffic to the page and measure the conversion rate. This can help you gauge interest and validate your messaging.
  • The Concierge MVP: Manually deliver the core value of your product to a small group of users. This can be time-consuming, but it allows you to gather incredibly valuable insights and build relationships with early adopters.
  • The Wizard of Oz MVP: Create a facade of a fully functional product, even if some of the backend processes are done manually. This can help you test user flows and gather feedback on the overall experience.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your MVP.

The most important thing is to find a way to get your idea in front of real people and start learning.

The MVP is Just the Beginning

Remember, building an MVP is just the first step in a much longer journey.

The real work begins once you’ve validated your idea and started gathering feedback.

Use that feedback to iterate, improve, and ultimately build a product that people love.

MVPs: Your Secret Weapon for Outsmarting the Competition (and a Few Cautionary Tales)

Now, let’s explore why MVPs are such a potent weapon for entrepreneurs, especially in today’s fast-paced business landscape.

Here’s the deal: markets are more competitive than ever.

The window for launching a successful product is shrinking.

If you’re not moving quickly, someone else will beat you to it.

MVPs are your secret weapon for outsmarting the competition.

By rapidly validating your ideas and iterating on your product, you can gain a significant edge over slower-moving rivals.

You can capture market share early, build a loyal customer base, and establish yourself as a leader in your industry.

The MVP Advantage:

  • Speed: MVPs allow you to get to market faster than traditional product development cycles. This means you can start generating revenue and gathering feedback sooner.
  • Flexibility: Because MVPs are designed to be iterative, you can easily pivot and adapt to changing market conditions. This gives you a huge advantage over companies with rigid product roadmaps.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: By validating your ideas early on, you can avoid wasting resources on products that don’t resonate with your target market. This can save you a significant amount of money in the long run.

The MVP as a Learning Engine

One of the most powerful aspects of MVPs is their ability to accelerate learning.

By getting your product in front of real people, you can gather invaluable insights that you would never get from market research or focus groups.

Here’s what you can learn from an MVP:

  • Product-Market Fit: Does your product solve a real problem for your target market? Are people willing to pay for it?
  • User Behavior: How do people interact with your product? What features do they use most? What features do they ignore?
  • Pricing: What are people willing to pay for your product? Is your pricing model sustainable?
  • Marketing: What marketing channels are most effective at reaching your target audience? What messaging resonates most with them?

These insights are absolutely critical for building a successful business.

Without them, you’re essentially flying blind.

MVP Cautionary Tales

While MVPs are incredibly powerful, they’re not without their risks.

Here are a few cautionary tales to keep in mind:

  • The Feature Creep Trap: It’s easy to get caught up in adding more and more features to your MVP. Resist this temptation! Focus on the essential features that deliver your core value proposition.
  • The Perfectionist Paradox: Don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of launching your MVP. Remember, it’s better to launch an imperfect product and learn from it than to never launch at all.
  • The Ignoring Feedback Fiasco: Your early users are your most valuable asset. Listen to their feedback and use it to improve your product. Ignoring feedback is a recipe for disaster.

These are just a few of the pitfalls to avoid when building an MVP.

By being aware of these risks, you can increase your chances of success.

Your MVP Journey

Building an MVP is a journey of discovery.

It’s about testing your assumptions, learning from your mistakes, and iterating your way to success.

Embrace the process and enjoy the ride.

Remember, the goal of an MVP isn’t to build the perfect product.

It’s to validate your idea, gather feedback, and build a solid foundation for your business.

MVPs: Beyond the Basics — Advanced Strategies and the Power of the Pivot

By now, you’re likely well-versed in the fundamentals of MVPs.

You understand their power, their purpose, and the common pitfalls to avoid.

But for entrepreneurs who have already launched and scaled businesses, the MVP game takes on a new dimension.

For you, MVPs aren’t just about validating an initial idea.

They’re a tool for continuous innovation, for expanding into new markets, and for staying ahead of the curve.

They’re about experimenting, pushing boundaries, and taking calculated risks.

In this segment, we’ll dive into some advanced MVP strategies that can help you unlock new levels of growth and maintain your competitive edge.

MVP 2.0: The Evolution of Validation

As you gain experience, your MVPs can become more sophisticated.

Instead of simple landing pages or rudimentary prototypes, you can experiment with:

  • Feature Flags: Roll out new features to a subset of users to test their impact before releasing them to your entire user base. This allows you to gather data and make informed decisions about which features to keep and which to discard.
  • A/B Testing: Test different versions of your product, marketing messages, or pricing models to see which ones perform best. This data-driven approach can help you optimize your product and maximize your results.
  • Beta Programs: Invite a select group of users to test your product before it’s officially launched. This gives you valuable feedback and helps you identify any potential issues before they become widespread.

These advanced MVP techniques allow you to iterate more rapidly, make more informed decisions, and ultimately build better products.

The Power of the Pivot

One of the most powerful benefits of MVPs is their ability to facilitate pivots.

A pivot is a strategic change in direction, often based on feedback from your MVP or changing market conditions.

Pivots aren’t a sign of failure.

In fact, they’re often essential for success.

Many of the most successful companies in the world started with one idea and ended up with something completely different.

Examples of Famous Pivots:

  • Instagram: Started as a location-based check-in app called Burbn. Pivoted to focus on photo-sharing.
  • YouTube: Started as a video dating site. Pivoted to become a general-purpose video-sharing platform.
  • Slack: Started as an internal tool for a gaming company. Pivoted to become a team communication platform.

These companies all had the courage to pivot when their initial ideas didn’t pan out.

As a result, they were able to unlock massive growth and achieve incredible success.

MVPs as a Growth Engine

MVPs aren’t just for startups.

They can be a powerful growth engine for established businesses as well.

By continuously experimenting with new ideas and features, you can keep your product fresh, attract new customers, and retain existing ones.

Here are a few ways to use MVPs for growth:

  • New Product Development: Before investing heavily in a new product, test the waters with an MVP. This can help you gauge market interest and validate your assumptions.
  • Market Expansion: If you’re looking to expand into new markets, use MVPs to test your product with different audiences and adapt it to their specific needs.
  • Customer Retention: Keep your existing customers engaged by regularly introducing new features and improvements. Use MVPs to test these changes and ensure they’re well-received.

By incorporating MVPs into your growth strategy, you can create a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within your organization.

Some Minimum Viable Examples

Before we wrap this up, I thought a list of some MVP examples would help you to start thinking about how you can build an MVP in your industry or category.

1. Software/Tech

  • Dropbox: Started with an explainer video showcasing the concept before building the actual product.
  • Buffer: Launched with a simple landing page to gauge interest in social media scheduling before developing the full-featured app.

2. E-commerce

  • Zappos: Founder Nick Swinmurn famously tested the market for online shoe sales by posting pictures of shoes from local stores and fulfilling orders manually.
  • Warby Parker: Used a “Home Try-On” program as an MVP, allowing customers to order five frames to try on at home before purchasing.

3. Food/Beverage

  • Blue Bottle Coffee: Started as a small coffee cart at a farmers market to test their unique brewing methods and beans.
  • HelloFresh: Initially delivered pre-portioned ingredients and recipes to a small group of customers to validate the meal kit concept.

4. Healthcare

  • Babylon Health: Launched a basic chatbot to triage patient symptoms and connect them with doctors, later expanding to video consultations and AI-powered diagnoses.
  • Forward: Began as a concierge medical practice for a select group of members to test their high-tech, personalized healthcare model.

5. Education

  • Duolingo: Initially used human translations to validate their gamified language learning approach before developing their AI-powered engine.
  • MasterClass: Launched with a limited number of courses taught by high-profile celebrities to test the market for online education from experts.

6. Finance

  • Robinhood: Started with a waitlist and a simple stock trading interface to gauge interest in commission-free trading before building a full-featured platform.
  • Acorns: Began by rounding up spare change from purchases and investing it automatically, testing the concept of micro-investing.

7. Consulting

  • McKinsey: Started by offering basic accounting services to local businesses, later expanding into strategic consulting as they built their reputation.
  • IDEO: Initially focused on product design for a select group of clients, later broadening their scope to include design thinking and innovation consulting.

8. Consumer Goods

  • Glossier: Founder Emily Weiss started the brand as a beauty blog, Into The Gloss, using it to gather insights about consumer preferences before launching her own product line.
  • Casper: Pre-sold mattresses online before they had even manufactured them, using the pre-orders to validate demand and secure funding.

9. Real Estate

  • Airbnb: Founders rented out air mattresses in their living room to test the concept of peer-to-peer accommodation.
  • Zillow: Started as a basic online real estate database, later adding features like Zestimates and home valuations as they gained traction.

10. Transportation

  • Uber: Initially launched as a luxury black car service for a limited audience, later expanding to include various ride-sharing options.
  • Lime: Started with a small fleet of electric scooters in a few select cities to test the market for shared micro-mobility.

Less Obvious Industries:

  • Event Planning: Offer a limited package of services for a few small events to test your concept and refine your offerings.
  • Fashion Design: Create a small capsule collection to gauge interest and gather feedback before investing in a full line.
  • Personal Training: Offer a few free or discounted sessions to test your training methods and attract initial clients.
  • Music Production: Release a single or EP to test the waters before committing to a full album.
  • Art/Design: Create a limited edition print or product to assess demand and validate your artistic vision.

Remember, the key to a successful MVP is to focus on validating your core value proposition with the least amount of effort and resources.

Don’t be afraid to get creative, experiment, and learn from your mistakes.

The MVP is Your Compass

As an experienced entrepreneur, you know that the business landscape is constantly changing.

New technologies emerge, consumer preferences shift, and competitors rise and fall.

In this dynamic environment, MVPs are your compass, guiding you towards success.

By embracing the MVP mindset and continuously experimenting, you can stay ahead of the curve, adapt to change, and ultimately build a business that thrives.

Scott

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Scott D. Clary
Scott D. Clary

👋 scottdclary.com | Host @ Success Story Podcast 🎙️ | I write a newsletter to 321,000 people 👉 newsletter.scottdclary.com