AUGUST 28, 2023
12 min read
You have probably heard about the minimum viable product and its benefits to startups. However, some people still claim that not every project needs it. Misconceptions shroud the MVP development process, prohibiting most people from seeing the gist of it; it is most likely that you have subconsciously thought of launching an MVP.
Why? Because it’s hard to grasp the vital difference between an MVP, a proof of concept, a prototype, and the product’s first version. In this article, I will focus on the differences and similarities of these concepts and state why every startup needs an MVP to succeed.
What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the simplest version of a product. It can do only the most essential functions your product bears and has no excess features or complex interface solutions. However, MVP is fully ready to use by customers, can produce effective results, and even be rated by your audience.
Think of it like this: the very first mobile phones are a minimum viable product for smartphones. They have the essential functionality we use smartphones for – calling and connecting people over large distances.
However, with smartphones, we have access to the Internet, many applications, and user interfaces pumped with gamification to keep us from getting bored. This is the final product, the ultimate dream mobile phone creators had. A small computer with a sensor screen in your hand that has its roots in those strange devices full of buttons and antennas.
What is Proof of Concept of a Business Idea
Proof of Concept (PoC) demonstrates the capabilities of a business idea and is created to prove the project’s feasibility and viability. It’s not as easy to use as MVP; it can have no interface and can’t be shown to the general public. Usually, PoC would be used to test if your concept can be implemented or to show its feasibility to the investors.
What is Prototype
A prototype is a simplified version of your product that only showcases the design and functionality but doesn’t perform any tasks.
There are all kinds of prototypes, and anything can act as one. Some people go as far as to create their prototype on paper; others start with experiments to test business hypotheses, such as the Wizard of Oz.
Prototypes vary by their functionality and fullness of product representation:
- Low-fidelity prototype is a representation of a design concept with minimal detail and visual polish. It outlines basic layout, structure, and flow, often with rough sketches or simple digital tools.
- The wireframe prototype is more refined, offering a skeletal user interface framework. It focuses on layout, placement of elements, and navigation with little emphasis on visual design.
- Interactive prototype adds interactivity to wireframes, allowing users to navigate and interact with the interface without the final design aesthetics. It provides a dynamic representation of user interactions and workflows.
- A functional prototype goes a step further by simulating the actual functionality and behavior of the final product. It may have a partial visual polish but offers realistic interactions and responses.
- A high-fidelity prototype is the closest representation to the final product. It features detailed visual design refined interactions, often mimicking the end product’s actual look and feel, providing a comprehensive user experience preview.
Prototypes might be functional but lack back-end functionality to turn them into fully functioning MVPs.
How does MVP differ from the full-fledged solution if it is fully functional? There are several differences between an MVP and a released product.
The most important among them is that a full-fledged solution would usually be smoother. It has different features to improve customer experience.
The second difference is being more thought through; as MVP is the basic version, it can allow mistakes when a customer performs an unexpected action. The full-fledged solution would be better tested and handle more rare corner cases.
The third key point is that a full-fledged project can have excess functionality created entirely for visual and design improvements. For example, it could feature animated elements.
Why is MVP Important?
Generally, creating an MVP is an excellent way to start your project faster and earn more significant funding. Although the MVP brings many benefits to the business, it is still surrounded by doubts.
However, an MVP is a 100% justified investment. It will affect the efficiency of your resource spending, time-to-market, and general success. Let’s take a more detailed look at it.
- Faster Time to Market: MVP focuses on delivering essential features swiftly, providing an early market entry. Since you only focus on what’s necessary, the MVP development takes several weeks to three months, allowing you to launch incrementally faster.
- Validation of Ideas: It enables the assessment of a product’s viability and demand before extensive development efforts are undertaken. Hence, it saves your resources and allows you to pivot in the early stages if necessary.
- Risk Reduction: MVP helps to identify potential flaws or market challenges early on, mitigating risks associated with larger-scale launches.
- Resource Efficiency: With MVP development, you can maximize efficiency by concentrating on core functionalities and optimizing resource allocation. You can recalibrate resources and pump up your MVP with new ideas when your efforts pay off.
- Iterative Development: MVP is the first step you should undertake on your startup’s journey. It will influence further development with market conditions, user feedback, and other information gathered from an MVP launch.
- Early User Engagement: It ensures user preferences are integrated from the outset, enhancing user satisfaction.
- Learning from Failure: As I mentioned before, MVP allows you to pivot in the early stages. So, even if you fail, you don’t lose as much as you would by launching a failed full-fledged product. And it gives you an excellent opportunity to pivot your product in time.
- Market Testing: It gathers empirical data to refine strategies and align product-market fit.
- Investor and Stakeholder Confidence: Functioning MVP fosters investors’ confidence by demonstrating tangible progress and potential for future growth. It will allow you to fundraise more efficiently.
An MVP allows you to validate, learn, and iterate before committing extensive resources to a fully developed product. This approach enhances the likelihood of creating a successful and market-ready solution while mitigating risks and maximizing resource efficiency.
Core Principles Behind MVP Development
Developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is guided by core principles that ensure its effectiveness and success.
- Focus on Core Value: Prioritize the essential features that deliver the product’s core value to users, avoiding unnecessary complexities. Don’t put your focus everywhere at once. Allocate resources to concentrate only on the most essential functionality. Remember that analogy with mobile phones I set in the beginning? If you were the creator of a mobile phone, you should’ve focused on its ability to make calls, not the screen quality or the feel of a button.
- Rapid Development: Aim for quick development cycles to bring the MVP to market as soon as possible and start gathering feedback. This is imperative for an MVP, as its primary purpose is to gather user feedback and attract attention to your product. If you have different features in your mind – choose the ones that are the fastest to develop. Users flock to whatever comes out first when the product hits the market, especially a young one. So, being early is the only thing that will win you that competitive advantage.
- Iterative Improvement: Continuously refine and enhance the MVP based on user feedback and changing market conditions. And if you see that users aren’t happy with certain elements you were planning to make your product’s core, don’t be afraid to pivot. Many products have done it, which was precisely the solution that led them to be what they are today.
- Experimentation and Validation: Test hypotheses and ideas through real-world experiments to validate assumptions and gather insights.
- Early User Engagement: Involve users to ensure their needs are addressed from the beginning. This will help your MVP be more customer-centric and influence how users see your product. You can create pre-registration for the beta-version of your product and improve it with feedback from the most loyal users.
- Adaptability and Flexibility: Be ready to adapt to changing circumstances and feedback, allowing the MVP to evolve as needed. Pivot if you deem it necessary, add more features, or scratch that and restart; MVP development is fast and affordable enough for you to do just that.
- Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis: Use quantitative data and qualitative user feedback to make informed decisions. Don’t focus on the individual’s opinion, and be warned that what you think might be unique and crucial might be seen differently by your users.
- Risk Mitigation: Identify and address potential risks early on to reduce uncertainties and increase the chances of success. MVP’s core benefit is the vigilance it provides you with. The MVP allows you to see the market from the inside and mitigate the risk in a way that doesn’t affect you.
- Avoid Feature Creep: Resist the temptation to add excessive features beyond the MVP’s scope, maintaining focus on the core value. Adding more functionality to the MVP can be alluring as it starts progressing, but imagine it as your product’s draft. There is no need to improve it instantaneously – be iterative, and if needed, redo your MVP into a new, full-fledged solution later.
- Learn from User Feedback: Continuously gather user feedback to learn about their needs, pain points, and preferences, driving ongoing improvements. Focus on the feedback analysis and make it your top priority. As MVP’s essence is in understanding the users’ needs and pains, you should maximize this opportunity.
14 Steps to Launch the MVP for Your Startup
Now, let’s get closer to the point that might interest you the most. How does one start an MVP development? What should you do before, and how to manage this complicated process?
Worry not – I’ve gathered the most practical tips I use each time a new customer starts their journey with a minimum viable product.
- Conduct market & competitor research. This is your first step when starting a business, right? Check the market conditions, assess your competitors, and find what separates you.
- Identify the target audience. Understand your audience and their pains. If you struggle to do this, ask yourself: “What am I solving with my product?” Gather information about them, such as age, sex, geographical location, etc.
- Defining the pain points or problems your startup aims to solve. Make a list of under three to five points.
- Establish a clear problem statement that the MVP will address. Ideally, you need to be able to fit your solution’s idea into just one sentence. Keep it as simple as possible.
- Define key features. Prioritize features based on their impact, feasibility, and the problem you aim to solve. Try to limit yourself to the simplest feature list possible. For example, if we get back to the mobile phone example. Imagine you have a solution that enables people to call each other. For such an app, key features would be as follows: \
- User profile to identify the user. \
- Functionality to transfer the voice from one user to another.\
- Start the call feature.\
- Mute feature. \
- Drop the call feature. \
- Volume increase.
- Set product goals. Make them measurable, including deadlines, and set desired results. Define the criteria for success – several users, a desired level of profit, an attraction of investors, etc.
- Design. It’s important to ask yourself questions right away and analyze the answers. Analise users’ feedback, and don’t go for complex design solutions with your MVP. Prioritize the comfort of users over maximal perfection.
- Create simple and concise wireframes or mockups.
- Gather user feedback and analyze it.
- Incorporating user feedback into your design.
- Choose a technology stack. There is a long and short way to take here. So, your main objective is to decide whether you want to redo your full-fledged solution completely and only treat MVP as a starting point or you want to iterate and change an MVP further on.
- If you know that you will rebuild the product entirely in the future, you can choose the fastest way. Choose a technology stack your team is familiar with and will create the solution faster. We had a client’s case exactly like this. Downing first created a platform without considering their need for scalability, and when they were an established company with a large customer base, it took a lot of work for Downing to break the ceiling. This is how they ended up cooperating with DashDevs, asking us to help them redo the solution considering the further growth.
- If not, consider future growth and ask a technical provider to choose the most scalable technologies to help you integrate with vendors and evolve further. This will take more time and resources, but you will get a solution enabling you to scale and modernize.
- Development. In this step, you create a functional prototype with all core features. Pay attention to architecture if you want to scale your product further. Only high-quality software architecture can ensure your further movement up in the market, as it is the foundation of your software solution.
- Integrate analytics tools to track user engagement and behavior. This is important, as analytics will help you evaluate how far or how close you came to reaching your primary set goals.
- Conduct testing. Gather feedback from different resources, such as:
- Test with your team;
- Teat with stakeholders;
- Test with beta users & early adaptors;
- Incorporating user feedback. After you’ve got feedback on your hands, integrate the gathered information into the MVP, before you launch it.
- Prepare a marketing strategy for your MVP:
- Crafting a compelling value proposition for the MVP.
- Developing a launch strategy to create anticipation.
- Leveraging different marketing channels to reach your target audience.
- Launch your solution and marketing campaign simultaneously. If you launch MVP without a marketing campaign, there is a high probability that no one really sees your solution. Marketing has to be an essential part of the launch, taking up to 40% of your MVP’s budget.
- Gather feedback, study analytics & count unit economics.
Successful MVP Cases
Everything starts small, and the greatest products start from an idea. These MVP examples showcase that it is not just possible but needed to start an iterative development process from just a minimum viable product, capable only of the essential features the product has.
Starting as a limited platform exclusive to Harvard University, the initial version focused solely on connecting students and sharing profiles. This core value resonated strongly with its target audience.
As it gained traction, Facebook expanded to other universities, gradually incorporating new features based on user feedback. The iterative approach allowed the platform to evolve into the global social media giant it is today, with a comprehensive array of features, while always keeping its fundamental concept of connecting people intact.
Zappos, the renowned online shoe and clothing retailer, followed the MVP route. In its early days, the founder, Nick Swinmurn, tested the market by creating a website with pictures of shoes taken from local stores.
When customers placed orders, he purchased the shoes from the stores and shipped them to the buyers. This approach validated the demand for online shoe shopping and demonstrated the feasibility of the business model.
The successful reception encouraged further development and refinement, ultimately leading to the creation of the well-established Zappos platform, known for its exceptional customer service and extensive product range.
Facebook and Zappos highlight how an MVP approach enabled them to test their concepts, validate demand, and progressively expand their offerings, resulting in prominent positions within their respective industries.
So, let me give you some last-minute advice that may help you summarize everything told in this article.
For an MVP, marketing ensures a product’s value reaches its intended audience. However sad it might be, a good product with no promotion is a bad product.
A short time to market is also imperative, as it’s a strategy that propels your product into the hands of eager users swiftly, capitalizing on market trends. Embracing the notion that ideas should be validated before the coding journey begins underscores the importance of understanding your audience’s needs and preferences firsthand.
The age-old advice of keeping your MVP minimal acts as a compass, directing your focus toward the core features that resonate with users. If you keep it concise, it’s easier to pivot and iterate. And this is not a sign of failure but an emblem of resilience. It acknowledges that evolution is integral to success, responding to user feedback and changing market dynamics.
In the intricate dance of product development, these principles harmonize to compose a symphony of innovation, where each note is meticulously orchestrated to resonate with the hearts and minds of users.