A minimum viable product (MVP) is the tech startup founder’s best friend. It allows you the ability to build “a company” without expending a ton of resources upfront. The faster a startup can validate core business assumptions the better off it will be. Below is my process to build a minimum viable product:
Phase 1: Build a Minimum Viable Sign-Up Page
Prior to even building an MVP I like to build a minimum viable sign-up page. The data from a minimum viable sign-up page can help guide the direction of a MVP. Launch Rock is a great tool to create a landing page in less than 30 minutes. Pair Launch Rock with Optimizely, an A/ B testing tool, and you have a minimum viable sign-up page.
Phase 2: Try and Get a Sign-Up Conversion Rate of 15%
I like to avoid sharing minimum viable sign-up pages with friends and family because they’ll sign-up to support me and the ideas I’m working on. While their support is great, and appreciated, it screws up my data. So I’ll drive traffic to the minimum viable sign-up page by throwing a few advertising dollars at it. Generally, Adwords is the first go to channel but I’ve played with other sources of traffic from Twitter and other social media platforms. If I can get a minimum sign-up conversion rate of 15%, and my data is statistically relevant, than I try and find a minimum viable audience.
Phase 3: Find an Minimum Viable Audience (but make sure there are a shitake ton of them)
To find a viable user base I build cohorts of ads and target them to the consumers of what I think might be competitive companies or companies that cater to my assumed target audience. The set of consumers that click through an ad and have the highest conversion to sign-up rate become my minimum viable audience. The caveat here is to make sure there are enough of these people to build a company (i.e. that there is a market). Unless I can get a minimum sign-up conversion rate of 30% or more from my minimum viable audience I won’t move on to Phase 4.
Phase 4: Scope a Minimum Viable Product
Scope, review the scope, and trim scope (and then trim some more).
MVP product roadmapping is hard. It’s easier to add features than to remove features. When scoping an MVP you want to get the leanest version of the product that provides value to the viable audience (i.e. consumer). I find that scoping/ building a product road map for a minimum viable product over a series of a few sittings is helpful. Stepping away from the idea and doing something else helps provide fresh perspective to trim off more fat.
Phase 5: Build a Minimum Viable Product and Do Customer Development
Once you’ve determined your MVP product roadmap build your MVP and get feedback on it.
At FashioningChange we built our minimum viable product and would go sit at a WholeFoods during the busy lunch hour and asked people who we thought were our target audience to go through it. We would watch them use the site and ask a set of customer development questions. We used that data to then iterate on the MVP and then we’d go back to WholeFoods for more customer feedback.
Phase 6: Release Your MVP Into the Wild and Validate Core Business Assumptions
After a few rounds of iteration we released the MVP on a industry blog, Ecouterre. The blog catered to our target demographic and was a way for us to get immediate feedback. We also released the MVP on BetaList. While users from BetaList were not our target audience the audience was technical/ startup savvy so they were able to help us catch bugs.
We had numerous cycles of collecting data, measuring feedback through customer feedback loops, and tweaking. By building and testing our minimum viable product we were able to validate the company’s value proposition, validate the acquisition of customers, and validate the activation of paying customers. Upon validation of our core business assumptions via the minimum viable product we launched FashioningChange.
Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 are the hardest. It’s really easy to want to jump into Phase 4. Phase 4 is where founders like to play, create, and imagine. Phase 4 can also be a founder’s worst nightmare if there is no baseline data to even warrant product scoping.
At the end of the day a minimum viable product will provide essential data to either validate or dump the startup company idea. If you have an idea for a startup give it a try. If your idea doesn’t turn into a huge success you’ll have learned a lot from the process and that knowledge is priceless.
Have any additional MVP process resources? Post them in the comments below.