What is the Bare Minimum in Minimal Viable Products?

You do not want to spend several hardworking months of your life developing a “perfect product” that people will never use or pay for. Who does? That is every entrepreneur’s worst nightmare. Therefore, the first thing you have to do is get out of the office and go explore your potential customers. But how do you do that?

Should you just walk down the street and ask people if they think your idea is awesome? Can you trust what they say? There is a big difference between what consumers say they like, and what they actually end up paying for.

For many startups, this is where the Minimal Viable Product (MPV) concept comes into play. With this increasingly popular approach, you release a bare-bone product of your idea, and show it to your potential audience to see what they like and do not like about it. In an ideal world, you get feedback from your MVP and use it to create a derivable, useful, and valuable final product with minimum investment.

The key word is minimum. When you are starting, your time and budget are limited. You want something that will get you the maximum knowledge about your idea for the minimal effort spent. However, determining what the bare minimum should be is not always easy.

If your MVP turns out to be worse than your final product, then success is what validates your idea. Failure, contrary to popular belief, does not necessarily invalidate it. For example, if you MVP is geared towards offering customers a better experience, then failure merely invalidates your current business model. An MVP is more than a prototype, it is part of a strategy to help you measure, learn and analyse your idea.

In simply terms, it is a very basic version of your idea, which you can market to an audience in order to test your assumptions about your business model. It should have the core features needed for the product to work and nothing more. However, those core features can range depending on your specific idea.

When the founders of Dropbox first came up with their idea, way before loading up servers, designing a marketing plan, hiring staff, and opening offices, they used a 90 seconds animation as their MVP. The clip was enough to give potential users a clear idea of what the product was about. A few days after the video came out, more than 75,000 people subscribed via email and got placed on a waiting list. Today, Dropbox has 50 million users and makes $250 million in revenue.

Zappos is one of the biggest online retailers today. Their annual sales exceed $1 billion. However, it was not always that successful, in fact, it started out as an MVP. The founder set up a simple ecommerce site, took pictures of shoes at nearby retail stores, and posted them online. Once an order was placed, he would drive to the store, buy the pair of shoes, ship them, and handle payment and returns – all on his own. The experiment helped answer one very important question – will a new online shoe store work? It did, very well.

The main lesson that we can take from these examples is that an MVP is not meant to burn through your money. You should create an MVP strategy that is right for you, and come up with a simple plan to execute it. How minimal it should be depends on your specific purpose. You should look at it not as a minimal product, but as the minimal viable experiment that could get your ideas closer to that marketing step.