Modern day major tech companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, and Snapchat, to name a few, all started as an idea. However, what sets their ideas apart from start-ups like Electroloom, is that the founders first launched their idea with a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.
A minimum viable product is the the most basic version of a product that can still be released. The idea is that you spend minimal development time and resources getting an initial working version of your product, and from there you make improvements based on customer feedback.
Look at Dropbox, for example. Before becoming a pioneer in website based cloud storage, Dropbox used an explainer video as a form of an MVP. This was a 3 minute long screencast published on Hacker news, which gave early watchers a hint of the product and its user experience. It also gave the developers a chance to gain feedback at the base level of the product they were working on. By doing this, they were able to show off what they were creating early, and set up an initial user base before the product was released. Dropbox is now a well known product and company, and owes much of its success to its MVP.
Alright, so how does it work?
An MVP allows you to gather reliable data about what your customers want from your product. There is no danger of over-developing or wasting valuable time and money, and you can be confident that you are only building features your customers will use.
Every successful MVP follows the same basic process:
- Gets to the market fast: Your initial product should be very basic. This allows you to release it to the public quickly, and will give you a chance to make more valuable improvements over time. Just like Dropbox with it's video, the more basic your initial product is the more flexibility you have to improve it based on feedback. Basic does not however, mean poor quality. It must have enough appeal that people will want to use it initially, so it can gain a customer base. This is vital because your early customers are the key influencers for your next development steps.
- Provides feedback: A key aspect to an MVP is feedback. This can be received by directly asking your users for feedback, or by observing user behaviors and trends. By gathering this information, you can see what improvements your customers want, and how to best invest your time and resources for the next phase of development.
- Continues improving: By making changes based on customer feedback, your product can build on itself and evolve over time. As the feedback cycle continues, every change you make is something that people will use, thus ensuring that your final product is exactly right for the market.
Now that we've seen how it works, lets take a look at why it works.
Why an MVP is better
As we've seen, an MVP is much more flexible and user-oriented than other product development methods. It is also a much more cautious way to launch a new idea or product.
Take Zappos for example. Before becoming the largest online shoe retailer, the Zappos founder used a “Wizard of Oz” MVP. This means that while he appeared to have a working product (the online store interface), the product functions were carried out manually: Instead of stocking up big amounts of shoes and investing in an e-commerce backend, he went to local shoe shops, bought the shoes, and shipped them out to customers himself. This way he was able to ensure that selling shoes online would be profitable before he invested in everything necessary to carry out what Zappos is today. Zappos and many other companies became successful because MVPs offer some distinct advantages:
- Lower cost of development: Because you are developing only what the user wants, there is no wasted time or money in developing an MVP.
- Hits the market faster: By beginning with a very basic basic product, you are able to gain a competitive advantage by getting in the market quickly.
- Better overall product: Because you build your MVP based on customer feedback, you know that you are creating exactly what people want. This leads to a higher quality product and greater customer satisfaction.
So, while having a great idea is important for creating a great product, being smart with your idea is even more vital. Don't burn your time and money developing a product no one is going to use, instead get creative and think about what the MVP of your idea could be.
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