The first Internet start-up I was part of was in 2000. I had just finished a post-graduate in Web Development & Design (think Flash. Only Flash!) and a friend, who worked in fashion as a buyer, came to me with an idea to digitise wholesale fashion buyers catalogues. Knowing nothing about fashion (my tastes were quite questionable at the time), business, and despite a new diploma, little about web development and design; I thought the idea sounded great and jumped in! Quickly, it all started to fall apart before we could even realise the potential, all because excitement and inexperience stopped us from embracing a straightforward process: the MVP.
Building a business is risky. It doesn't matter if it's a gym, a skincare product, or a mobile app. Knowing that you're solving a problem and, more importantly, if that problem is worth solving is critical to your success.
So, how do you figure this out?
Depending on what's been done to validate your idea, be it an entirely new business or an added feature to an existing product, you might consider a Proof-of-Concept (POC), a Prototype, or an MVP.
A POC is where you'll start to test your assumptions and vision. This is the Go/No-Go phase to see if your idea is even feasible. As an example, my 4-year-old has been tossing around the idea of building a time machine. However, at the POC, he determined, with nearly uncontrollable frustration, that it's just not possible, at least not this year. Is it too early to talk about Einstein's theory of General Relativity? The POC is about whether your concept can be developed.
If you're happy with your POC, consider how your idea will look and start to visualise how it can be built. At this stage, you might draw out how it all comes together - user journeys; functionality planning; layouts and so on—an excellent tool for this invisionapp.com. Once you have your prototype, you now have something tangible. And, that can be really beneficial if you're looking for angel or pre-seed investment.
Now, you're ready to get down to work and start building something for your users. Does it make sense to throw all your eggs into one basket and launch with all the bells and whistles? No, of course not. I've made that mistake. It's a huge cost and time risk—a risk you don't want nor need.
Instead, you want to launch with a product that has the minimum amount of features you need to satisfy your users. This ensures you spend the least amount of time and cost developing your product while maximising your learning about your user and their needs and wants. This product is called your Minimum Viable Product or MVP. And if you're new to the start-up or product scene, it's a term you'll hear of a lot.
When you've built and launched your MVP, you're going to have one of two likely outcomes: it's going to succeed, or it's going to fail. While success is what you're after so you can move ahead with your plans, failure isn't something to ignore. If your MVP fails, there's a positive side: you haven't invested a lot of time and money in a fully functional product, and you can come back and look at why it failed and what can be done to fix things.
Hopefully, you're convinced to the value and importance of an MVP. Here are 4 steps to remember:
- Understand your target audience, and the problems you're solving
- Figure out the must-haves in your solution/ product/ app/ service
- Don't ignore the design of the MVP
- Boring designs don't get noticed.
- An attractive product will get you noticed and get people using your product and providing the feedback you need.
- How a user engages and interacts with your MVP are as crucial as the final product.
- Analyse your product. Consider the feedback from users. Understand the metrics. These will tell you if you need to change course or if you're heading in the right direction.
- Your MVP is so dependent on user feedback. Listen to what's coming back. Don't take it personally!
- Try putting your MVP on sites like Product Hunt and Kickstarter.
- Create surveys and circulate them on LinkedIn or other social media platforms. I've found that people are really receptive to helping and providing constructive feedback when asked. So, don't be afraid to ask for their support.
- Users are going to have questions. If you have a mobile or web app, spend some time putting together a solid landing page that answers questions you think they may have, while building a solid sales proposition. And do not forget to include a Call-to-Action to get them to buy or use your product. If you don't ask, you won't know.
- To the last point of 'if you don't ask, you won't know'- make sure you have some analytic tools in place. Knowing how users interact with your product; when they drop off, how much time they spend looking at the functionality or benefits, will tell you a lot about how to evolve your MVP.
Finally, and this is really important to remember; the MVP isn't just about creating a product. It's about teamwork and learning how, individually or collectively, you work. It demonstrates to you and potential investors that you're able to build something successfully, even if it's not the final product. You can learn a lot about understanding and evolving your business, roles and responsibilities, and culture. Learn from it because it's going to set your foundations for the future.
If you have questions about an MVP or looking for support in realising your idea, feel free to drop me a note. Spark helps start-ups and entrepreneurs realise their vision from research and development, through product development, and mentoring, from some of the best technologists and strategists around.