What is a Minimum Viable Product? And Do I Need One?

To be honest, I’m probably the last person on this team that should be writing this post. However, when you own the content for the blog – you also own the responsibility for people to write in it. Funny how that works. So – here we are and we can learn this together, what is a minimum viable product? No joke, for my first two months I literally thought the team was talking about Most Valuable Player/Person. I had no idea what they were talking about. And now you’re laughing, right? I mean, we really shouldn’t use the same acronym for two different things. That’s just confusing.

So a Minimum Viable Product is what exactly?

Like I mentioned above – not an expert on the topic but I’ve learned a little bit in the 11+ months I’ve been working here. An MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. Let’s say it again, folks – MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT. Please don’t confuse it with Most Valuable Person because that is not what we’re discussing right now.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a super fancy way to say that you’re creating a really basic form of what you really want so you can get your idea out into the world. Getting ideas out into the world quickly is important – you want to beat any competitors that may have the same idea.

An MVP takes that little idea that’s cooking around in your brain and turns it into a prototype, a WordPress site, a craigslist ad or even a handy-dandy Excel spreadsheet.

One of my teammates wrote about creating an MVP a while back which is the inspiration for this post, but he also gave a super good example of how Airbnb used an MVP to get started. Now Airbnb is a gigantor company and they do all sorts of cool stuff – however they started SMALL by posting on Craigslist. Craigslist, folks – the site you’re using to sell your old couch. Airbnb used it to rent out space. Genius right? It was a low-risk way for them to validate their concept and once they knew it was viable – they could spend money investing in software. So let’s get into why in the actual heck you need an MVP.

Why Do You Need an MVP?

I got carried away earlier talking about Airbnb and kind of gave the answer away here. But you need an MVP to VALIDATE your awesome idea. To make sure it has product-market fit, that consumers will use it and love it. No one wants to spend a zillion dollars on software development if, in the end, no one will use it. (Josh talks about learning that lesson the hard way over here).

The MVP concept is derived from Lean Startup which we’ll be exploring on this blog time and again – but you can read a little more about that this way.

I’m going to simplify things here because I didn’t even know what an MVP was until 5 minutes ago (Kidding!). Essentially, it is an easy way for you to garner feedback from an audience that you assume will like your product. You’ve heard the joke about assuming anything, right? Don’t assume. ASK prospective customers if they’re interested in what you’re creating. Would it solve a problem for them? Could they use it in their business? And the big one, will it save them time, money or both? How is what you’re building useful to the world?

Now is when you build the MVP – test out your idea, build a prototype of that app that has been floating around in there or simply try your idea by posting it to Craigslist a la Airbnb. Or create a video of the prototype of your product like Dropbox. Any way you do it provides valuable feedback for you to iterate and try again. Truth, not everyone is going to like your product – however, understanding what and why they don’t like it is important.

I think I want one, how do I get one?

You have an idea? Fantastic. I want to hear all about it. I really do. Hearing people talk about what they’re passionate about really just makes me so happy. It’s my favorite.

Some software development companies will go through this process with you (hint: ours is one of them!!). They will help you sort through customer discovery, journey mapping, story mapping and then figuring out what the heck you need to build. They will build you a Minimum Viable Product – in our case, we prototype. We build something that is close to what you want – it gives you basic, but functional features. Essentially a “good enough” version. It will work and act as a true version of your website, app, etc – however, it’s simple enough to allow us to iterate quickly and most importantly, cheaply.

The MVP process is most relevant for smaller companies looking to develop their first website or app. However, it can also be pertinent for enterprise companies looking to do something quickly to see if their idea actually works.

As a side note: I just read an article that debates the relevance of the MVP, especially in enterprise environments. So if you want to read the antithesis to everything I just wrote – please read Rand Fishkin’s article – it’s a really interesting point of view.

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