For non-technical founders, commissioning the development of an application can be both intimidating and overwhelming. Whether you’ve got a groundbreaking concept you want to bring to life or the idea for a platform that can double your bottom line, there’s a lot to get your head around.
The good news: Neither you nor your development partner has to build your application in a single attempt. That’s the beauty of a minimum viable product (MVP). Creating a bare-bones version of your application first can help you understand what your customers want, navigate the complexity of building a successful software product and maximize your chance of success.
In this article, we’ll demystify the concept of MVPs, explain what they are, why they are so important and the best approach to creating one.
What Is a Minimum Viable Product?
A minimum viable product is a scaled-back version of your software. It includes only the most essential features needed to achieve its main purpose.
In other words, it’s not the whole enchilada, says Kingsmen Software CEO and partner Bill Clerici.
Eric Ries popularized the concept of MVPs in his book "The Lean Startup." MVP builds are now a staple of startups and tech companies everywhere. You can think of your MVP as the most basic version of your idea that still delivers value.
For an MVP to succeed, both parts of the product description must be true. That is, it should be both minimal and viable. Unfortunately, many teams focus on the minimum aspect and exclude the viable part, says Ken Knapton, CIO at Progrexion.
“An agile MVP is neither a product with only the easiest features completed, whatever was the fastest to get out the door, nor a low-quality first attempt of a new product idea,” he explains. “In an agile environment, the MVP should be functional, high quality, usable and have value. It should stand alone as a fully operational product, and it should accurately reflect the high-quality standards of your brand.”
In the past, MVPs could be incredibly minimalistic. File-sharing platform Dropbox didn’t even have a software product when it launched, notes Alex Birkett, cofounder of Omniscient Digital. It used an explainer video to validate the market, gather feedback and grow its waiting list from 5000 to 75000 people.
That’s not how MVPs work anymore, writes Carlos Gonzalez De Villaumbrosia, founder and CEO of Product School. There are two reasons why, he explains.
First, markets are too crowded unless you have a “truly unique, disruptive and innovative idea.” Competitors with established products will already be there, so your MVP needs to compare favorably.
Second, customers are so used to applications that simple solutions are no longer impressive. “If you're going to sell them something, it has to be at least on par with what these consumers could make themselves.”
Why Build an MVP First?
There is no shortage of reasons to create an MVP when launching a custom software product.
“The primary goal of the MVP is to always minimize time and effort wasted by testing how the market reacts to your idea before building the complete product,” says the team at Productboard.
An MVP lets you:
- Validate your idea.
- Deliver value to your first users.
- Collect feedback.
- Reduce time wasted on irrelevant features.
It also speeds up your time to market, says Dana Kachan, a strategic PR and digital marketing advisor. “MVP takes much less development time which means lower development costs and faster time to market. Once you launch MVP, you can collect user feedback and move forward in developing a full-fledged product ready for the market. All this speeds up the overall deployment of your product.”
Once you have an MVP, it becomes much easier to iterate and improve on your application, too. By releasing a basic version of your product and incorporating user feedback, you can make continuous improvements and address any issues that arise. This iterative process allows you to refine your product, ensuring that it remains relevant and valuable.
Ultimately, the question is whether you can afford not to create an MVP, says writer Suzanne Scacca at Smashing Magazine. “An app can be a risky investment for a business if it’s not approached with care. Even then, the most well-researched of app concepts can lead to disappointing user download and retention rates.”
Custom software development is not a process to be taken likely. By creating an MVP, you can see whether there truly is a market for your idea. If so, great. Your MVP will help developers create the best possible product for your customers.
Product Discovery Is Essential for an Effective MVP
You can’t create an MVP without undertaking product discovery sessions and building a product roadmap, says Bill Clerici. You need to understand the bigger picture before lasering in on the features that matter most.
In doing so, you will understand which features make it a truly viable product, how long it will take to build each one and which you want to prioritize. Otherwise, he says, you end up building features that don’t matter in a rush to get the product out the door. That can mean you have to rewrite, re-architect or completely throw away your code. It’s a huge waste.
At the same time, you need to think about your go-to-market approach. Whether you focus on time to revenue or time to market will also dictate how your MVP is built. If you have an innovative idea that you want to get out to users as quickly as possible, then a very stripped-down MVP may be the answer. But everyone needs to understand that in doing so you may need to redevelop the entire application.
If you are looking to reduce time to market, you may create what product management expert Roman Pilcher calls the minimal marketable product — i.e. “the product with the smallest possible feature set that addresses the needs of the initial users (innovators and early adopters), and can hence be marketed and/or sold,” he writes.
“The MMP is a tool to reduce time-to-market: It can be launched more quickly than a fat, feature-rich one.”
Alternatively, if you focus on time to revenue, your minimum viable product may look more like what Aron Solomon, head of strategy for Esquire Digital and editor of Today’s Esquire, calls an IVP — an initial viable product.
“It’s the first truly viable product you choose to launch. On the continuum of idea to completely finished product, the IVP is simply the release of a non-minimal product,” he explains.
“Your IVP should eliminate any conversation about whether the product you’ve released is indeed viable. If your IVP is your presentation of unbaked pepperoni pizza, your MVP is when you present a can of sauce, a package of cheese, a Slim Jim and a pencil sketch of an oven.”
Neither approach is better than the other. One is faster to get out than the other, but it will also require far more time spent on development in the future. It’s simply essential to decide on the route you take during discovery.
Build Your MVP With Kingsmen Software
Building a minimum viable product is just one part of our comprehensive approach to building software. We guide non-technical founders through the entire process, from in-depth discovery sessions to the creation of an MVP, testing, final development and beyond.
We can advise on how to best approach your MVP, whether you should prioritize time to revenue or time to market, and what features to include. Find out more about our entire process by booking an initial consultation today.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.