Getting To A Minimum Viable Product
Over recent weeks the question of how to get a minimum viable product has arisen both on a project with a long standing client of Untapped, as well as with the AllBright Academy, an organisation that helps support and fund female business founders, for whom we have created a webinar on the subject. We wanted to share some thoughts on the topic.
Let’s start with a definition. According to Wikipedia, A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development. Some experts suggest that in business to business transactions an MVP also means saleable: “it’s not an MVP until you sell it. Viable means you can sell it.
We believe that before you get to an MVP you can sell, you first need to work closely with your target consumer to co-create iterative versions of your prototype in their environment, so they can imagine / experience the prototype in use. We adopt a SKETCH IT – BUILD IT – SHARE IT mentality as you progress from your idea through to a working prototype and wanted to share some tips on iterative prototyping:
- The earlier you can get a target consumer to interact in some way with your prototype the better. Even if it’s just an early sketch or a partial model, that’s a great place to start. Rough is good, giving them permission to feedback without feeling the idea is too polished. Eric Ries’ Lean Start Up principles describe more on this BUILD – MEASURE – LEARN thinking.
- Good, in-depth qualitative research is essential. Observe how they interact with your prototype, what they notice and do (maybe they find different uses from what you expected?) Ask “why” a lot to understand the motivations behind their behaviours and needs. Probe for their emotional reactions, laddering functional benefits up to the “so what” for them in their lives.
- Try not to be too precious about your prototype. Remember feedback is a gift and the more open minded you are to this, the more you will learn and the stronger your prototype will become.
- Define your success criteria upfront, identifying key tensions and barriers to habit development. Design your iterative prototyping research to test out all these tensions against your success criteria. Recruit “torture test” consumers as well as early adopters to make sure all design features are optimised.
MVP – Transitioning from Sharing to Selling
The only way to really tell if you have a big idea is to see if someone will spend their hard earned money on your product or service. Asking intent to purchase for an early idea is rarely predictive since consumers find it hard to imagine the usage experience without trying it out and claimed behaviour is often not the same as actual behaviour.
However, if you wait until your product is fully built, you’ll likely have invested a lot and lost the opportunity to learn early if consumers will buy it. All too often we see internal debate / meeting culture to find the ‘perfect product’ as enemy number 1 of a ‘perfectly good’ MVP. You’ll need to be creative about simulating not yet finished features for the consumer, like Zappo did with their online shoe business (sourcing online shoe orders from regular shops). Untapped recently evaluated a smart product with consumers by manually replicating the technology before it was fully working, enabling them to experience and feedback on the benefits before the manufacturer invested in the technology.
Setting up a quick online or real-world pop up shop is a great test to learn if you can convince others to try and buy your offering. You can try out different price options and different MVP executions. Many successful products, especially within the technology sector, have started by selling (or having potential customers pay to be on a waitlist), learning from this, and injecting sales you make into round 2 of your MPV development.
Throughout the whole process of iterative prototyping and minimum viable product development, remember to remain focused on the business success criteria and keep your target consumer needs at the centre. If it’s only you who falls in love with the product, then your MVP will not succeed in market.