What is your product?

Every day, entrepreneurs across the globe are busy trying to develop, build, and ultimately, market and sell new products and services that they believe consumers and businesses need and want. One of the premier challenges, and one which does not receive nearly enough attention by many entrepreneurs, is what exactly the product is: What exactly does it do? What exact features does it have? What is that minimum product that is going to be marketable? In short, what is the minimum viable product?

The minimum viable product

A good, simple definition for Minimum Viable Product or MVP is provided by Wikipedia: “A minimum viable product (MVP) is a version of a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product development.” The MVP is a version of the product which has enough features to get feedback on what the market will want or to get enough early adopters – or customers – to (1) prove that there is a market and (2) to obtain feedback on future product development for a broader customer base. The final product – as much as any product can be called final – is released at a later time with the benefit of the feedback from the MVP.

Defining the MVP is not as simple as it may at first appear. In fact, it is one of the more challenging hurdles that faces startups or frankly, any group responsible for putting out a new product. Many entrepreneurs misunderstand or completely skip the MVP concept, instead, getting bogged down in developing the perfect product or an MVP with too many features and frills. This can cause them to burn through capital, frustrate future capital sources, and ultimately fail in producing any product at all.

Three main features

All MVPs share three common characteristics:

  1. It has to have enough value that some portion of the market is willing to buy it and use it;
  2. It demonstrates enough future value to retain these early customers or adopters; and
  3. It is robust enough that it provides a reliable feedback loop for future development.

The concept is to get to a launch version of a product as efficiently as possible by developing the most pared down version. The success with the early adopters and the feedback will not only allow the development team to build a better product in future iterations, but will also provide confidence among investors and funders by providing a proof of concept and a roadmap to support future financial projections.

This development technique is based on the concept that it is much more reliable and direct to learn from users of the product than to hypothesize based on surveys and questionnaires. However, for this technique to work, it is crucial that the product in question is sufficiently viable.

The MVP accomplishes a number of key objectives. Among them,

  1. It allows the company to release at least a version of the product in the market in the shortest amount of time;
  2. It significantly cuts down on development and implementation costs;
  3. It minimizes the potential for capital losses associated with product failures. In fact, it allows funds to be used much more efficiently to avoid complete failure;
  4. It allows feedback directly from the proverbial “horse’s mouth” – the customer;
  5. It allows the company to test the demand for the product before investing larger sums in developing a more robust or “final” product;
  6. It provides for the opportunity to create buzz around the product and gather an initial customer base, which among other things, will help drive a larger market; and
  7. The company will be able to better understand how the product will fit into the company’s overall success strategy.

Even with a focused approach, getting to the MVP is not an easy task. It requires that the company go through a process to decide what exactly those needed minimum features are. Just because the goal is to release a relatively pared down version of the product does not mean that the company should randomly choose those features or to include only the features that are easiest to implement. To the contrary, the team needs to be very purposeful in deciding the features that will make up a viable product and which will allow the customer to conduct a robust journey achieving their goals in using the product.

Regardless, without knowing exactly what product it will be releasing, a company runs the risk of failure in a number of different ways. The MVP must be defined and locked down with as much detail as possible. This is one of the key steps many ventures must follow in order to maximize the chances of success.