Building a startup is hard. You have to come up with a great idea, bootstrap to make the product, beta test it and invest in marketing to deliver the product to the market. This is the classic startup strategy.
However, experienced entrepreneurs might object and say that building a full fledged product isn’t the first step. Infact, I’m going to put it out there, and say that every great startup you have heard of, first launched with a Minimum Viable Product.
Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of the book The Lean Startup, famously defined a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as a version of a new product which allows you to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
By capturing the essence of your product idea in it’s very basic form, a MVP acts as mini-experiments which help you measure usage metrics and customer feedback to further pivot and improve your build until you achieve market validation. Instead of building a ton of features and functionality, and hoping they align with customer needs, you’re building a single feature, testing it, and using that feedback to determine your next steps.
Developing an MVP is best explained through this 6-step process
1. Define the problem you’re trying to solve
2. Find the simplest way to solve the problem
3. Prioritize your features in the MoSCoW method
4. Let go of your need to be perfect
5. Build, Measure, Learn and Repeat
6. Pivot or Persevere based on validated learings
Depending on your product idea, one of the following MVP approaches can be taken –
Rapid prototypes are fully designed interactive click-through demos which look and feel exactly as your final product would. It’s main purpose is to visualize your idea and demonstrate how the end product should function. Rapid prototyping not only helps you identify gaps in your solution, but can also be re-purposed for during the product development stage. Prototypes are also a great tool for early stage investor demonstrations if you’re looking at getting some seed funding, and is possibly the most popular approach for most startups today.
2. Explainer Video
Another quick and cost effective method, which proved highly successful for Dropbox, are explainer videos. As the name suggests, it a short video (typically 90 seconds long) which clearly explains what your product does, and why people should buy it. This can be served through an animation video, or even your own recording of why your product should excite people. Coupled with a landing page and opt-in form, explainer videos act as a lead funnel for getting you pre-orders and committed customers even before you start building your product.
3. Piecemeal MVP
The idea of a piecemeal MVP is to use existing tools and solutions; typically off-the-shelf ones, to deliver a product or service. A piecemeal MVP literally consists of components from multiple sources which are plugged in together to create the foundation for your product. It may not be the most efficient or scalable technology, pr even the tech you want to continue building upon, but is intended to be the faster way to take an idea to market.
4. Wizard of Oz MVP
Also known as the Flintstone MVP, this strategy aims at creating a MVP that gives the illusion of a fully functional product, but behind the scenes relies on manpower to deliver the solution. Much like Fred Flinstone’s car which was not powered by pulleys and wheels, but worked on pure man power.
The Wizard of Oz MVP works best to test a startup that provides services of any kind. On the front end of your product, you deliver the impression of a fully automated and completed product, but on the back end, you would be involved in manually executing and fulfilling all orders.
Here’s a look at some now-large corporates which started as humble MVPs using some of the very strategies described in this article
Today Yahoo is a search engine, email, news, answers, and a lot more. But back in 1998 when Yang and Filo first launched Yahoo it was nothing more than a landing page with links to external sites.
In it’s early days, before Facebook looked so good, had integrated apps, company pages and timelines, it was leaner system which just allowed people to connect to others they knew and create groups. Those simple features were enough to turn a small project into one of the largest public tech companies in history.
Before Dropbox became a $10 billion behemoth, it existed as a 3-minute explainer video that spurred an explosion of interest. Instead of investing money and resources into creating a functional version of the software for users to try, founder Drew Houston created a simple video, explaining how the software was intended to work. Interestingly, the video asset was retained on their landing page long after Dropbox went live, because of how effective it was for ushering in sign ups.
The Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn followed the Wizard of Oz strategy by taking pictures of shoes at brick-and-mortar stores and posted them on the internet to figure out if people wanted to buy shoes without trying them on. Today, Zappos is a globally-recognized company with a billion dollars in yearly revenue, and was acquired by Amazon for $880 million.
Groupon started as a WordPress blog skinned with the Groupon logo and colours and each day, founders Andrew Mason and Eric Lefkofsky would create a new post with the points embedded. The very first version of Groupon only sold t-shirts in one size and colour. Through a combination of Piecemeal and Wizard of Oz strategies, the founders would manually fulfill any varying size and colour requirement based on orders placed by customers.
The 30 second breakdown of this article is:
Don’t burn your time and money on building a full fledged product no one will want to use. Investors do not look kindly upon products that were built on a huge budget but have received zero market validation.
Instead, select an MVP strategy that will work for you. Strip down to basics and deliver upon the core capability of your product which will set you apart. Go through multiple Build – Measure – Learn cycles each time improving and increasing on your product capabilities.
Remember, your success is not defined by the first product you take to market. Building an MVP takes minimal investment, hedges against losses, and most importantly lets you build your product in incremental steps to achieve validated learning which will ensure your final product addresses a real pain-point.
Chairman,3E IT Solutions
Original Article available at Linkedin