What is a MVP? And how to get yours to market
What is an MVP?
AirBnb started off as three inflatable mattresses on the floor of a loft apartment in San Francisco. A light-bulb moment fleshed-out and tested in the market, then scaled-up once they had their proof of concept. That was their MVP: their ‘Minimum Viable Product’.
A light-weight, early version of a product (or service) with just enough features to be usable by early customers, but whose primary purpose is to provide feedback for future product development.
“Ah, you mean, like a prototype?”
A prototype (or pre-MVP) demonstrates the concept: the core feature and how it solves the problem. These can be as basic as a few sketches or some clickable screens with no functionality.
In essence, a prototype is the foundation of what will become the MVP.
What’s expected from an MVP is an investment, not clients. It is built to test with early adopters and then attract the investment needed to progress it to the next stage along the development path.
“The Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”- Eric Reis
So what happens then?
The Path to Market
- The basic idea
- Backed by personal or ‘angel’ investment (usually £20,000+) to become…
- Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
- Tested by early customers
- If successful, attracts bigger investors ie venture capitalists (£200,000-400,000+)
- Using the money raised you: start building the sales pipeline, gathering more information and more users, getting insights and planning new features (this typically takes about a year). While developing your…
- Minimum Marketable Product (MMP)
- Then if this gains traction, a second round of investment (£500,000+) gets you your…
- Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)
It’s not cheap and it’s not easy but it is what works. And it works because everything scales-up organically, when it’s ready; from concept, to execution, to perfection.
Try to skip a step or skimp and you will join the 90% of start-ups that fail every year. Which leads me nicely to…
Why most start-ups fail
- They are NOT DRIVEN BY REAL NEED. Without establishing a real need you have nothing. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? No market = no viable product. But too many start-ups have all the conviction and not enough of the research to back it up. Married to their own ideas, they compound their mistake by not listening to outside advice or the ideas that really matter: those of the customer. The lesson always sinks in eventually. Painfully. Expensively.
- NOT ENOUGH MONEY. Starting up prematurely with some money and a bright idea, not realising the financial reality of fully-realising that bright idea. Then burning through that cash in the wrong places before they get anywhere the position where substantial outside investment would be interested.
- NOT EXPERIENCED ENOUGH. Which is a bit of a Catch 22 as, of course, you need a chance to get that experience. But this is why previous failures are not a turn-off for venture capitalists- in fact, it shows you know the processes, what it is required, and the bumps in the road before you get there. Precious knowledge that informs future success.
- Following on from the previous two, inexperienced or under-funded start-ups are ripe for CHOOSING THE WRONG TECH PARTNERS. Seduced by prices that seem almost too good to be true and finding out- the expensive way- they were right to be wary. The old maxim ‘buy cheap and pay twice’ has never been more true, from costs creeping up when it’s too late to back-out and the associated issues with the language barrier, I’ve seen so many potentially successful start-ups make this fatal mistake.
- LACK OF CLARITY/PROPER DOCUMENTATION. Fuzzy ideas, not mapped out clearly enough to ensure everyone is on the same pages; removing ambiguity so everyone knows exactly what they should be doing and when. Clarity of process and accountability. It’s weak preparation, weak management, and nothing scares investors off more.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”- George Santayana
I have collaborated with dozens of successful start-ups and the same fundamentals were in-place and evident time and time again.
Best Practice For Start-Ups
(And I don’t mind repeating myself here!): Their INNOVATION solved a REAL NEED
Without a real need you have nothing.
They focussed on one main feature, with a maximum of two extra
They didn’t dilute their efforts and distract the customer. It’s not about how many features, it’s not even about the design. The user experience needs to be a simple, intuitive solving of the problem that hurts the most.
They chose the right team
Compensating for any lack of experience by choosing mentors and collaborators who had navigated the choppy waters of business start-ups time and time again.
And they followed the well-trodden path I included above. Moving through the stages as planned and only when they were ready.
Nothing is guaranteed, in business or in life, but if you heed these lessons you can at least set yourself up for the best chance of success.
You can’t win the race at the start, but you can lose it there.