Entrepreneurship

How to Plan, Launch and Use an MVP? Your FAQs Answered.

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In lay terms, an MVP proves that an idea has legs and would hit the ground running without substantial investment or effort put into it yet. In business terms, an MVP is a version of a product that helps a founder collect validated learning about the problem they want to solve and the customer they want to serve. The goal of the MVP is to test fundamental business hypotheses or assumptions and help a startup founder learn about the next right step as quickly as possible.

One of the most fundamental benefits of an MVP is that it saves money down the road for startup founders.

In this video, Paul Howe, Founder and CEO of NeedFeed, talks about how $40 saved them nine months of work and approximately $2 million. By user testing an idea for a social purchase-sharing app through a $40 browser script that added purchase-related posts to the Facebook page on the browser, the team saved 2 million dollars it would’ve taken to build the entire feature in their app. They found that users had powerfully harsh opinions about the purchase-sharing feature and never built it. Instead, the founder pivoted and found success elsewhere, while two other purchase-sharing apps went all in and regretted it later.

Related: Step-by-Step Roadmap to Developing an MVP

The Goals of a Pre-Launch Startup

Before taking a look at planning and launching an MVP, let’s refine our perspective of the goals of a startup in the pre-launch phase.

  • Launch something bad quickly– Pre-launch startups must have a laser focus on launching something workable, bad, and quick. Too often, early startups get caught up in the whirlwind of perfecting their product or service before they let anyone use it. This beats the purpose of an MVP, which is to test an idea as early and inexpensively as possible.
  • Get initial customers– At this stage, a startup needs almost anyone to interact with your product or take you up on your service so you can see how it helps them in real-time. These initial customers/users can provide early and valuable feedback about the problem as well as the solution. Insights obtained here feed the next iteration. 
  • Talk to users and listen– It’s critical to actually listen to what your users say about your MVP. Most founders have an idea living in their mind of what they want to build, which carries some assumptions about the problem, the user and the solution. So, it’s important to break the bubble and present the idea to users it’s intended for, switch off the biases in your brain and listen to what they have to say.
  • Keep it flexible– Founders often fixate on building their product and feel like they can’t present an imperfect version to users. The reality is that the idea still needs to be flexible at this stage rather than something you’re already married to. As you start showing it to intended users, you may realize it’s different from what your customers want at all. Experts suggest holding the problem you want to solve tightly, holding the customer base you want to serve tightly, but the solution loosely so that you can iterate when the need arises.
  • Iterate– Iterating is not the same as pivoting. When you hold the problem and customers closely, you make your idea pivot-proof. Iterating means working on the solution if user feedback is negative. As a founder, you must hold a special passion for solving a particular problem for a specific user so that you avoid falling into the trap of pivoting every time a solution doesn’t work, which is a risk entrepreneurs run. So, don’t run around with the product finding another problem or set of customers it can help. Instead, continue improving the solution until it solves the problem.

Related: Early Startup? Don’t Make These Mistakes Navigating Your First Recession

What is the Purpose of an MVP?

MVPs are experiments to test and validate an idea without investing a lot into it and with just enough features to do that. The purpose of an MVP is to allow a startup to test and experiment with a solution, iterate it, and repeat the process. 

Since an MVP doesn’t demand a substantial investment, it can respond to changes easily, so the eventual product is functional and tailored to the customer’s needs. MVPs also help balance what a business can offer and what a market needs. 

Most importantly, an MVP saves startup resources, which might go to waste once a product is built but not wanted by its intended market.

How to Plan an MVP

Here are the specific steps to planning an MVP and setting it up for maximum success-

  • The first step is to define your MVP business model, requirements and assumptions. The more time you spend on this step, the more valuable insights you get and the less likely you will be surprised later in the process.
  • Test out the big and risky assumptions you’ve made about the solution and the target market.
  • Set the goals you want to achieve with the MVP. What are the key performance indicators? What defines success for the MVP?
  • Now, create a hypothesis you want to test through the process.
  • Now, outline how you can test the hypothesis in the cheapest and quickest way possible. This is your first MVP.
  • Eliminate any bugs or hiccups from the MVP that might hinder the testing process, but ensure you don’t overthink it.
  • Launch the MVP, get feedback, iterate and repeat the process.

Related: Is Your Technology Stack Resilient?

Real Business Examples of Lean MVPs

Most startups can do with a lean MVP developed and launched within weeks. Often, startups can condense the initial user needs by targeting a specific set of users, even if they’d eventually widen their market.

To do this, founders must focus on the highest-order problems they are attempting to solve and ignore all the bells and whistles until later in the development process. This set of highest-order problems would create the base for the subsequent iterations of the product.

It also helps to think of the MVP as a cheap experiment, not a special milestone in the product development process, to keep room for innovation and trials. Let’s see how big businesses came about as a result of lean MVPs.

Amazon started as an online bookshop in the early 1990s and only became an everything marketplace through subsequent iterations.

Airbnb was first called AirBed&Breakfast and had a basic website to provide accommodation to people coming to San Francisco for a design workshop. The site even lacked payment integration, so money had to be exchanged in person with the host. After testing the idea on three paying guests during the conference, founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia evolved it into the giant it is today.

Dropbox is another example. Instead of creating the entire product, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston built a working MVP and an explainer video and pretended that the real product existed. The video drew hundreds of thousands of people to their website. The beta waiting list for Dropbox went from 5,000 to 75,000 sign-ups overnight.

Twitch, on day one, was an online reality TV show called justin.tv that followed his life around in low-resolution.

Stripe was called /dev/payments in its early days and had no bank deals and only a few features. In fact, if you wanted to integrate Stripe into your website, the founders would come to your office and integrate it for you. 

All these companies that started with lean MVPs saw massive success.

When Do You Need a Heavy MVP?

Few startups would need a complex or heavy MVP, such as those in significantly regulated industries like insurance or banking. Startups in these industries can take more work to launch. For instance, if you’re building a rocket, working in biotech, or creating a medicine, you would need significant proof of your product to be viable. In all other cases, MVP can start with a simple site that explains what you do.

How to Launch an MVP?

Launching an MVP shouldn’t be considered the huge event it often is. Founders must do away with fantastical ideas about launches and their results or their importance. The only priority of an MVP launch is to get the first set of users or testers.

So, any launch where you get intended customers is a success. This could be friends and family launch where you only take your MVP to a known group of people or a press launch where you get all the buzz and attention from strangers. It’s easier to learn from your customers if they have something to use.

So, research and planning are all good, and a pitch deck can be useful, but it’s critical to place a product in front of your users to kickstart the process of MVP. Often, founders overthink this step. The basic idea is to take something to users- anything that can prove or disprove your central hypothesis and help build momentum for growth or iteration.

Related: Technical Due Diligence: Everything You Need To Know

Hacks to Build an MVP Quickly

It’s no news that it’s in your best interest to quickly build and launch an MVP. But this is easier said than done. Here are a few practical steps you can take to ensure a quick MVP rollout-

  • Time box– Restrict the time you put into developing your MVP. Let’s say three weeks is a sufficient window to launch your MVP. Now, prioritize the features of your product that are most critical to users, and that can be built or tested within the time box.
  • Write your MVP spec– Writing down MVP specifications is critical. Otherwise, it’s easy to change gears and go astray from what you’re working on without being aware of it. Write down the critical specs of your MVP, so you don’t change it without knowing.
  • Trim your spec– It’s common for founders to realize a week into their three-week sprint that they may not be able to meet the deadline. Now, it’s time to trim down the specs your MVP will have. It’s critical to stay true to the deadline. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of perfecting the MVP, which defeats its purpose. The goal is to get anything out in the world for you to get the early momentum, without which it’s easy to keep delaying in the name of perfection and progress.
  • Don’t fall in love with your MVP– You may need to kill your darlings, so it’s good to keep them at a distance. Your MVP might start a certain way and end up somewhere altogether different. Know that an MVP is a means to an end, not the end product. It’s only an experiment and the first step in building your business.

Related: 5 Ways to Develop Rapid Digital Prototypes for Your Startup

Even the most skilled startup founders sometimes need help rolling out an MVP quickly and inexpensively. The idea is to avoid attaching undue importance to this iteration of your product and trust the process to land you where you need to be.

If you’re unsure of the process or need support and assistance, contact us at KiwiTech for a consultation around your startup MVP.


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