A deep dive into MVP development: what it is, why it works, and how to use it to push your software product to market
For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear or think of the acronym “MVP” is sports. Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky… all greats in their own right, and are well deserved of the honor of Most Valuable Player in their respective fields.
That’s not what we are talking about here, though. When it comes to software development, MVP brings on an entirely new meaning.
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. Originally defined by Eric Ries, an MVP is “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.” In the software development world, this means developing an application that is confirmed as viable for market and has the minimum set of features and functions required in order for the users to perceive value.
The primary point of an MVP is to create a minimal product with core functionality that users will find practical use for while minimizing initial investment and utilizing the user feedback to continue developing and improving upon the initial premise. This is ideal especially for startups, as it’s a way to get a product release in a cost effective manner that you can then use to build interest from customers and investors while creating a monetization vehicle for a growing business.
There are a lot of examples of MVPs that grew into powerhouse businesses and applications, and several of them many people don’t realize began as an MVP.
Founder Nick Swinmurn developed the powerhouse shoe company by first going to stores and taking photos of shoes he found and then listing them on his website to see if users would be willing to purchase them prior to trying them on. When a customer submitted an order, Swinmurn went and bought the shoes at the store and then shipped them directly to the purchaser. The data he received by doing this led to one of, if not the biggest online shoe store in the world.
This company is one of the most popular places to find hot deals on products and services, both online and in each user’s local area. When they first launched, though, they operated on a basic WordPress blog to list the offers they had available. When someone purchased that offer, they shipped out or emailed that user whatever they purchased. This proved to be a popular concept, and eventually led to Groupon’s development of their own content system where offers could be purchased and received directly through their website.
AirBNB got its start extremely close to home for its founders; right inside it, in fact. That’s right, the first official AirBNB listing was right in Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia’s apartment. In late 2007, there was a conference in San Francisco and all hotel rooms were booked. Chesky and Gebbia were struggling to pay their rent, so they came up with the idea to rent their apartment for money by purchasing three air mattresses and offering a stay at their place as an “Airbed and Breakfast”. They booked three guests the first night, and we all know where things grew from there.
A lot of people know that Amazon started as an online bookstore and grew into the largest online commerce site the world has ever seen. What they may not know, however, is that Jeff Bezos started his online bookstore in a very similar way that Zappos got their start. Bezos would purchase books directly from distributors and then ship them out every time an order was placed. Realizing the potential and value of the service he was providing, he began utilizing his growth to purchase warehouses. He’s since ascended to the stratosphere in more ways than one, becoming the richest man in the world and embarking on a space flight through his company Blue Origin.
There are many benefits to building an MVP.
Before investing a lot of time, effort, and resources into developing an idea, it’s important to ask yourself some basic discovery questions to ensure you’re heading in the right direction. A lot of folks completely skip over these questions and instead focus on features and functions of their idea. While those are important, answering these questions are critical to the planning and development of an MVP, and should be answered first before diving into the meat and potatoes of the product.
Identifying what problem you’re trying to solve should be your starting point. Being able to articulate a problem is the first step to gaining buy-in from users on how you’re going to solve the problem and make their lives easier.
While some problems are absolutely worth solving, some of them aren’t. It could be too costly, there could be too many barriers, or it could be a problem that users may not believe is that big of an issue. Whatever the reason, realizing whether or not the problem is worth the investment is an important question to ask.
It’s equally important to identify interest with users in that they agree with the identified problem and would appreciate a solution. The last thing you want to do is invest limited resources into solving a problem that your users don’t see as critical as you do. There are a number of ways to identify this interest. You could create a landing page with some clearly laid out information and include a call to action for site visitors to indicate intrigue. You could email blast existing users with a survey they can quickly provide feedback on, showing which features or functions they would find immediately useful. Utilizing paid advertising through digital means like social media and search engines is another way to gauge interest with limited initial investment. Whichever strategy you choose, user feedback should be a primary focus.
Once the problem has been identified and it’s been determined that it’s worth solving, the next question is “How is this solved in the easiest way possible?”. Finding a solution that only introduces other problems isn’t a smart strategy, so realizing the easiest and most direct path to success will not only improve the MVP but will make the overall user experience that much better.
Opinions on exact stages of development may vary depending on who you’re asking, but in general, this is a solid guideline that can lead you from ideation to development to execution.
It’s important to not put the cart before the horse. Before focusing on functions and features, realizing the purpose of why you are developing a solution in the first place and where you want to eventually see it grow is an important first step. Equally important is ensuring there is a market gap that you can fill. Research is important here, as you don’t want to start investing into a solution only to find that someone else has already beaten you to the punch and you don’t have any comparative value that would elevate you over the competition.
Without the user, there’s nobody to utilize your MVP and all will be for not!
Perhaps you own a lumber company and you want to build an app so your customers are able to submit orders to be ready for pickup before they arrive so you can speed up the customer experience and get them in and out in a more timely manner. Maybe you’re a local mechanic and you want a notification service that is able to automate ways to alert your customers when their vehicle is ready or when it’s time for an oil change. Regardless of the business, you should have a clear goal in mind.
Next, lay out what steps the users will need to take in order to arrive at the end goal. For the lumber company, their customers will need to create a profile and tie that profile with their in-house account, have an easy way to view live inventory counts and select the materials they need, select a time when they will need the materials ready for them to come pick up, and be able to process their order with their in-house account or another form of payment. In this case, you’ve identified the actions necessary for the user in the italics above. As you determine these necessities, you will identify how this product map will need to be developed.
Once this has all been completed, it’s important to analyze each of the steps required, identify what processes or headaches users will need to go through in order to utilize the solution, and then be able to clearly define why those processes or headaches are necessary in order to come to the value solution you’ve developed. Being able to clearly articulate that these steps in the process are worth the time and effort to the end user are critical to achieving the proper buy-in.
Now that the user, end goal, road map, and user benefits have all been realized, it’s time to decide what features will need to be built out in order for the user to execute the required actions to arrive at the end goal. Going back to the lumber company, there is a clear need for user profiles, a way to connect the app and internal systems to properly assign orders to the right accounts, an active inventory list that updates available quantities in real time, a shopping cart where users can edit and review their order before purchasing, a scheduling option during check out to identify when they will arrive to pick up their order, and a way to process payment before they arrive.
Taking all of the above into consideration, you should be able to break down the details and fully map out all of the bare minimum features and functions required to fully develop your MVP.
Here are some helpful tips as you work through the iteration of your MVP!
Do you have an MVP you’ve been working on for development or have a great idea but aren’t sure how to get started? Reach out to CODE/+/TRUST today to set up a free consultation and learn about how we can help bring your ideas to reality!
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