The MVP: Why Your Minimum Viable Product is Your Most Valuable Player

By Sean Brown | January 8, 2018

Nobody wants to release something that isn’t perfect, so the idea of an MVP (minimum viable product) can be tough to comprehend.

Building a full-fledged digital product brings a ton of risk to the table — both in terms of resources and your pride. While it’s easy to get trapped in the perfection mindset, testing your value proposition using an MVP is one of the only ways to mitigate risk in the startup landscape.

According to Crunchbase Insights, the number one reason startups fail, accounting for 42% of cases, is because there’s simply no need for the product.

Eric Ries, New York Times bestseller and author of The Lean Startup, writes:

“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

Start Ridiculously Simple

Don’t confuse an MVP with an alpha version of your product. MVPs are designed to test your idea, and you should never build a multi-feature product without first validating the idea.

If you’re still thinking of ways to slim down your product idea, it’s not minimal enough.

Airbnb is a great example of how an MVP can (and should) be used to discover a massive demand in the market. When the $30 billion dollar company started, it wasn’t about revolutionizing the world of travel accommodations — it came out of the founders’ need to pay rent.

After moving to San Francisco to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams as product designers, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were struggling to keep up with their lease. They thought about filling up the extra space in their living room with a blowup mattress and charging people to stay with them.

Around the same time, they noticed the massive hotel booking crisis that would inevitably happen anytime a highly attended conference came to town. For event attendees, finding hotel rooms during the conference was both painful and expensive — perhaps just painful enough that the conference-goers would be willing to stay in a stranger’s home to cut costs and make the experience easier.

The first version of their product was a Craigslist posting. Not an app. Not a website. Literally a single post to validate an idea.

Take a Look Around

Competitor analysis can be extremely difficult when you’re emotionally invested in your product. As a founder, it’s easy to think your idea for a product is more unique than it actually is.

Unless you have a few hundred thousand dollars to waste, you can’t ignore your competitors just because you believe in your idea. Unfortunately, consumers don’t use products because just because the founders believe in it — they use products that they have a demand for.

If you’re solving a unique problem that a lot of people have, gaining credibility won’t be a problem. But if you’re going after a saturated industry (I.e. Uber of…), you’re going to have a hard time making a name for yourself and building something people would actually be willing to test out.

It’s relatively easy to get people to try something out if it solves a problem they didn’t previously have a solution for, but convincing users your product is more “effective” than what’s already out it is almost impossible.

If You Can’t Boil It Down to a Single Feature, It’s not an MVP

If you’re starting out with more than one feature, you’re building an alpha version of your product — not an MVP.

This is the key difference between a true MVP and early versions of your product. Each MVP should only test one feature. If you find a fit, you’re good to go. If you’re MVP doesn’t gain traction, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

You can’t conduct a meaningful test if you’re measuring multiple variables at the same time. If the problem you’re solving is important enough, it should catch like wildfire. Think of almost any product you use, from your smartphone to your toothbrush. They all started as a single feature.

Only build what’s strictly necessary and add features only when you notice a clear demand. The more complicated your product is, the less likely it is people are going to use it.

If you want to create a successful product, do one thing and do it really well.

Remember: Liking Your Product Is Different Than Actually Paying for It

Hearing that people like your product might be great for your ego, but it doesn’t actually mean anything for your business. At the end of the day, you’re trying to get people to become paying customers.

If your core idea is off, adding features isn’t going to fix anything. Creating an MVP allows you to test the value proposition of your idea without wasting a ton of time and resources building a complicated solution to a problem nobody cares about.

Test one feature at a time, and start with something that people are already willing to pay for. Monetization isn’t an afterthought.

Early Releases Are an Entrepreneurs Best Friend

It sounds simple, but few entrepreneurs realize it before going down the rabbit hole on the wrong project: what you want doesn’t really matter, whether or not a product is successful is based on what other peoples want.

Starting with one feature at a time and identifying which ones work is much faster than building a product with a ton of features only to find out nobody else needs your solution.

MVPs help you waste less time in the design phase by allowing you to iterate on what actual users want.

If you expunge all of your resources trying to build a complex app to fulfill all of your users’ needs, you won’t have anything left to iterate if people don’t resonate with your product.

Remember, creating a single feature that everyone uses will make you a lot more money than building 10 that nobody uses.