How testing ideas strategically through a minimum viable product will save you money, time and stress, by Yan Katcharovski
Even as entrepreneurs churn out new and innovative digital product ideas every day and startups are seemingly popping up on every corner, success numbers remain grim: 90% of startups will fail, and 20% of them will do so in their first year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As an entrepreneur likely aware of these daunting figures, you’ve no doubt grasped the advantages of testing a prototype often and quickly, and learned the importance of having an MVP (minimum viable product). Having one that supports and validates your value proposition will help get that product to market quickly, and cut down on potentially sky-high product development costs. These considerations should be foremost in your mind as you build a startup and prepare to launch.
What is an MVP?
A minimum viable product is just what that phrase suggests: the simplest form a product can take to validate your value proposition. It should allow you to soft launch, and collect valuable data from customers on what works and what needs to be taken back to the drawing board. Your MVP, if it’s well-designed, will give you invaluable insight into whether your target market is ready and willing to adopt a product, service or application.
As lean startups increasingly gain traction due to their low-risk methodology, MVPs allow entrepreneurs to send prototypes and beta versions out into the ether to figure out how to “trim the fat” (take out features that are under-utilized), fix bugs that interfere with user experience and remove or redevelop anything that isn’t adding value. It is the first client-facing version of a product, sent out on a fact-finding mission, so to speak. This allows version 2.0 to be better, faster, stronger and potentially more profitable.
The response your MVP gets from a target market can make or break a venture; if it goes well, you’ll have some concrete and actionable data to use when setting your value proposition for potential investors and crowdfunding efforts. If it tanks, you’ll walk away with nothing to show in terms of value proposition, but with valuable intel that you can use to start over.
Some tips to help make your MVP successful:
1. Proof of concept
Before building an MVP, it’s a good idea to create a proof-of-concept (PoC) prototype to validate your ideas. A working PoC is a powerful motivational tool to create belief and confidence among your key players: investors, stakeholders and your team.
2. Know your market and define your business goals
Products don’t succeed based on luck: They thrive because they meet a clear and well-defined need. They fix a real problem. So, a “product design sprint” in the early stages can be very helpful in setting goals and identifying a target user base. Next, you’ll need to invest time and money into some extensive market research. Talk to specific people you are looking to reach — investors, experts in the field, ideal users and so forth. There is no doubt that similar products are out there, and that’s ok: The goal is to find what’s missing in existing solutions and figure out your “secret sauce” that improves on them. One great avenue to explore is serving a specific niche, which will give you a competitive edge over rivals and help you focus a product and target market even further.
3. Flesh out the features
As your MVP takes shape, take a minute to triage its features into the “must haves,” the “nice to haves” and the “add-ons.” Decide which add the most value for your consumer base, and make sure they contribute to a positive user experience (UX). This is also the stage where you define your unique selling proposition (USP): what it is about your product that makes it better or unique among competitors. Once you’ve fleshed out features and classified them in importance, you’ll have a better idea of which ones to build out first.
4. Have a success plan, as well as indicators
How will you know if your MVP is successful unless you set some goals and parameters? When it comes to product development, you’ll need to set key performance indicators (KPIs) which will guide you as you build. Based on the results, you’ll be able to make smart, informed decisions about what to develop further and how your time and resources are best spent.
As you finally begin coding and building your product, you’ll learn a lot. As product development and the MVP progress, use this time wisely; highlight your product as much as you can to users, showcase it to investors and gain that valuable traction you need for a launch. Use your KPIs to measure progress. Test, test and test again to ensure maximum performance, and that the product will be received positively by your target market.
5. Don’t cut corners, or get bogged down in details
While this is your minimum viable product, it shouldn’t be sloppy and choppy. Its essential features should be rock-solid and compelling for the users you are targeting. Even in its most basic and fledgling form, an offering should clearly and capably solve a problem.
That said, remember too that this is your MVP, not a final version, so don’t delay a launch in order to throw in some last-minute, over-the-top and non-essential features. There will be lots of time after this initial testing phase for adding bells and whistles
About Yan Katcharovski
Yan Katcharovski (@yankatch) is a venture capitalist, serial entrepreneur, tech geek and marketing visionary. He is a partner at Virtus Ventures, a Toronto-based venture-capital firm. He writes about startups, technology, marketing, psychology and entrepreneurship.