Why do a minimum viable product (MVP)?

Any start-up founder will agree: bringing your idea to its target audience for the first time is one of the most memorable milestone moments on the journey from conception to launch

For most, this will take place through a minimum viable product (MVP). MVPs have numerous varying definitions and will mean something slightly different to each start-up: they can fulfil different functions and purposes on the development side, and assess form, finance and audience interest from the perspective of product design. 

For the purposes of explaining the value of an MVP, then, we should strip the concept down to its bare bones. What all MVPs share is being the earliest version of a tech product which is released to users to gather feedback and consumer data to help set the tone and objectives for ongoing development. 

These forms of stripped-down releases have become de rigeur in the tech world in recent decades, owing largely to the success of many unicorns – from AirBnB to Meta – having got their start as an MVP.  

A historic volume of tech start-ups are launching today, meaning competition is rife. Founders should pay careful consideration to how they launch, just as much as what they launch. MVPs can often provide start-ups with a safe environment to build use cases and troubleshoot issues without risking the slowed momentum and reputational harm a failed full launch can invite. 

The bare essentials 

Working towards an MVP should be second nature to most tech start-ups. In many ways, it is the quintessential example of the lean methodology, with the product spending the least possible time in development before it reaches consumers. This means greater organisational focus, and fewer time and financial resources spent on unnecessary or untested tertiary concepts, while the core functionality is tested, and future development driven, by user feedback. 

MVPs can take many forms, and founders should look to steer their organisation towards an MVP which will best serve the development of a full and final product – with user data being the critical focus.  

The most common type of MVP that reaches market is a functional model of the product, released with only its fundamental components. This affords start-ups the opportunity to demonstrate the value of their concept to its intended audience. At an early stage, this can provide crucial feedback – if the market proves lukewarm to the idea, there is time to adjust the purpose of the product, or pivot altogether. Generally speaking, more user feedback and testing at the early stages will lead to a more effective and targeted end output. 

In the case of higher-spec tech products, developing this type of MVP may expend the vast majority of resources needed to oversee a full launch. These start-ups may choose to go even more minimal with their MVP, to welcome user feedback before their product is fully functional.  

Dropbox is a notable example of such a launch, using a narrated demo video to communicate their product’s function and potential, testing the waters for potential interest. At a substantively lower cost than full development, they drew thousands of registrations, providing valuable proof of concept and – naturally – generating some hype around the product. 

Failure is a stepping stone 

Sadly, it is never as simple as putting a product in users’ hands and waiting for the praise to roll in – founders must establish precisely what value they can glean from user engagement, and how they intend to measure it.  

All MVPs should be accompanied with a robust set of pre-launch actions the product is intended to fulfil, and measurables on the user side that indicate success or areas for refinement. It appears strange to suggest to a lean start-up to aim for and embrace failure, but at the point of breaking out of the internal development cycle and into the hands of users, negative learnings can be as valuable as encouraging ones. If measured and actioned appropriately, all information is valuable in understanding how user journeys play out, which aspects of the product most chime with consumers, and where pain points compromise its function. 

There are many discrete analytics which can provide value to start-ups; from pre-registration and survey feedback to hard numbers on user journey mapping and retention. While MVPs lack the amenities and fineries of a finished product, which may include more sophisticated marketing, CRM and design elements, a failure to launch a ‘sticky’ MVP should not be taken as a conclusive failure – instead, the feedback will largely validate or discourage the direction of travel. 

The key to a successful and rewarding MVP launch is to do so purposefully; these launches are among the clearest distillations of the build-measure-learn methodology which is innate to most start-ups. In my experience, it is crucial to never lose sight of the value of measuring and learning – as numerous successful tech brands have proven, there really is no ‘minimum’ for what an MVP can be, if the start-ups behind them are agile to the lessons they provide. 

About the Author

Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.

Featured image: ©Golden Sikorka