Building a software product is difficult. There are a series of challenges in the beginning that seem intractable – like how to build a team, create a product, or get the funds you need to get off the ground.
The days of investing millions into a big product and big launch are gone. Instead, today products are built with the iterative software development methodology. We are here to describe the benefits of building an MVP first, and then expanding from there.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) refers to a product that has the necessary features to solve a user’s need and nothing more. Each letter in the acronym is important.
Minimum means that you should only include what you absolutely need to. You are not trying to build a fully featured and customizable product. You are not going after multiple products or customer types. The question is… “What is the minimum that I need to get my first paying customers or my first round of investment?” Until you answer that, nothing else matters.
Viable means that you need to solve a single problem beginning to end. There are several viable ways for traveling one mile. You could walk, ride a bike, use a skateboard, drive a car, and more. But each of them is viable in that they are a complete, freestanding solution. When you build an MVP, you do not want to build half of a car as that is not a viable mechanism.
Product generally refers to a software solution. That said, the product could be hardware, an Internet of Things sensor, or an ecommerce store. Again, you can expand in the future once you have more resources but you want to distill everything down to a single product for now.
The MVP of Facebook was launching a specific service for Harvard. To sign up, you needed a Harvard .edu email address and have people verify you were a student. Talk about limiting your initial target market!
The MVP of Amazon was a simple online store that only sold books. Jeff Bezos knew that if they had a larger selection and better pricing than local bookstores, people would be interested in their service. The early orders from Amazon came from Jeff’s friends, family, and colleagues.
The MVP of Uber was a black car service only worked via text message for residents of San Francisco. They essentially created a better taxi dispatch service at first, and as demand increased, they added more drivers to the platform.
You need to be creative and optimistic in order to start a company. But that energy can also get in your way, as you want to overbuild the first version of your product or perfect the concept.
An MVP is something that solves a specific need for a specific audience. For cash strapped entrepreneurs it provides the opportunity to turn a concept into something scalable and investable. For larger companies, it is a great way to prove a concept or ensure market fit before making a major investment.