Validating Your Ideas Through Minimal Viable Products — Tips and Advice You Need to Know

Part of validating your idea for product-market fit is running your idea through a minimum viable product (MVP). What is a minimum viable product? How do you build one? What can you expect? 

This article outlines the top questions we hear about MVPs and tips on how to ensure that your idea gets to product-market fit.

Quick note: If you haven’t put your idea through a minimal viable test (MVT) first, STOP. You’ll want to make sure you read this blog to learn how to do that first.

What is a minimum viable product (MVP)?

According to Eric Ries, founder of the Lean Startup methodology, “an MVP is the version of a new product that allows the team to gather the maximum amount of proven customer knowledge with the least amount of effort.”

However, when people hear “new product,” they often revert to thinking it needs to be a completely engineered solution. In reality, an MVP should be considered a minimum viable set of functionality required to solve your customer’s problem. Ideally, your MVP should be created using off-the-shelf solutions and minimal-to-no engineering.

Airbnb and Groupon used MVPs, You Can Too

When creating your MVP, it may be helpful to understand how a few other prominent companies got started. Believe it or not, Airbnb and Groupon both started as MVPs. 

Before Airbnb was a fully-fleshed travel booking app and website, they originally started on Craigslist. When you think about it, staying in a stranger’s home or inviting them into yours could be a bit daunting. So, the founders tested their “product” by listing their own apartment on Craigslist, tracking messages in a spreadsheet, and iterating their idea throughout the way until they could determine if their idea was a good product-market fit.

Groupon, on the other hand, started as a WordPress blog, originally focusing its energy on promoting restaurant deals. First, they would reach out to multiple restaurants asking if they would like to advertise a limited-time deal on their blog. Then they would post a blog about the discount. Subscribers would print out the article and take it to the restaurant. Lastly, the founders would evaluate if the discount blog would drive traffic to the restaurant’s establishment. Today, Groupon has pumped $25 billion into local businesses and saved North American consumers over $35 billion. But they didn’t start with a fully-engineered eCommerce application — they started by developing a simple MVP.

How do I start building my MVP?

When building your MVP, the most important thing to remember is the term “bootstrap.” This means pulling together resources you already have or can easily access to soft-launch an idea. The more technologically savvy you are, the more options you have to do it yourself.

So, what are some of the tools you can get started with? Here are a few examples:

  • WordPress (and all of the free plugins available)
  • Google G-Suite (Doc, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Mail, etc.)
  • Survey Monkey
  • Air Table
  • Text messages
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • CraigsList

Anything that can be cobbled together as a no/low-code solution to solve your customers’ problems is the way to go.

For example, we’ve worked with an AI-based startup company that wanted to produce meaningful dashboards based on their customer’s data. Instead of engineering their idea right away, we had prospects upload their data on a landing page. Employees of the AI startup would manually run the data calculations, create dashboards, and offer recommendations. Once that was complete, an email would be sent to the company stating that their dashboard was available to view. 

Keep in mind, that method doesn’t scale, but it helped the client understand if that’s what the market wanted before building their official solution. 

How long should an MVP take to build?

Ideally, building an MVP should only take one to two months before getting it to market. If you can do it in less time, that’s even better. Remember, in this stage, we’re utilizing low-code/no-code, off-the-shelf software like the ones listed in the section above. You are not engineering anything.

What is the objective of creating an MVP?

Creating an MVP is all about testing your product idea and iterating based on the market’s response. Your main objective should be to learn as much about your customer as possible. 

By using low-code/no-code solutions, you are often faced with doing things manually — but that’s a positive thing for this stage. Doing things manually puts you in front of your customer. It allows you to easily change and iterate your idea based on their direct feedback.

How much money does an MVP cost? 

Again, “bootstrapping” with low-code/no-code solutions is key. That means using the least amount of money possible to test your product idea.

Instead of thinking in “mortgage-level” dollar amounts, you should be thinking in “used-car-level” dollar amounts. What can you cobble together with low-code/no-code solutions?

Does an MVP have to be perfect to launch?

The enemy of progress is perfection. Your MVP does not have to be perfect to launch. You should be focusing on testing your product idea, iterating based on feedback, and learning as much about your customers as possible. 

How long should I test my MVP?

We encourage people to test their MVP for at least six to twelve months. That will allow you to run tests like finding your customers, knowing what your customers are asking for, understanding the off-the-shelf software to use, and how to improve your current MVP. 

By the time you near the end of your MVP stage, you should have enough customers to prove that your idea is worth investing more time and money into. 

How do I scale my MVP?

Too many people think about scaling their MVP first. Rather than thinking about what you’re going to do when you hit 10 million users, focus on your first 10 customers — then, 100 customers. Then, (and only then) after you have tested what they like, you can start thinking about scaling.

When you’re ready to scale into a minimal marketable product (MMP), you’ll know. For example, one of our customers was earning $40,000 a month just by running their MVP manually through a spreadsheet. That’s incredible! This is where we sat down with them and started to think about some level of automation that could replace their manual system.

What are the most common mistakes when running an MVP?

  1. Engineering your idea first. Remember to test your idea first and iterate on customer feedback, before spending big bucks to engineer it. 
  2. Thinking too big. Always be sure to use low-code/no-code solutions to build your MVP and focus on your first hundred users. 
  3. Making your MVP perfect before launch. Your MVP doesn’t need to be perfect for you to start gathering customer feedback.
  4. Outsourcing entrepreneurship. The value of doing an MVP is learning where your customers are and what they want. You won’t be able to learn and iterate if you are detached from the work and the customer. Yes, you can use an outsourced team, but nobody else can be the founder.

Start Validating Your Idea

Now that you know what an MVP is, how to build one, and the most common mistakes to avoid, it’s time to get out there and start putting your MVP to the test. 

Once you’re done with this stage, read this blog to go through the final stage of developing your minimal marketable product (MMP).

Need help validating your venture? Click here to reach out and we’d be happy to chat.

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