What is a minimum viable product and how is it built?

Ewa Rutczyńska-Jamróz
10 March 2022
10 min read

If there is one crucial factor most successful start-ups have in common - including Amazon, Airbnb and Dropbox - it is that they all began their ventures with a minimum viable product (or 'MVP').

At a time when numerous digital products are being released on a daily basis, most fail in finding a proper market fit.

And yet the reality is that with a minimum viable product a business can very much increase its chances of survival and even those of its market success.

But before we address questions such as:

  • What is an MVP?

  • Why is it important, and...

  • How is it built?

Let's briefly explain our topic's particular relevance.

Again, it is a fact that a great number of start-ups fail - they are high-risk ventures, after all. But does it really have to be this way? CB Insights reveals The Top 12 Reasons Startups Fail, a list citing the top 3 reasons as:

  • running out of cash

  • no market need

  • outcompete

This is why we devote this blog post to the topic of the MVP as we're convinced that herein lies the solution to those challenges.

What is an MVP?

According to Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup methodology, "A minimum viable product is [a] version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort". At Startup Development House, we believe it's the beginning of the journey to a great final product.

It should be noted that an MVP differs from a prototype, despite these two terms being routinely interchanged. They are not to be confused with one another.

 

An MVP is an initial version of a product having only those features which are necessary to begin testing. Its aim is to quickly gain feedback from the target audience so as to validate a solution, then build the final product based on what is learned in the testing process.

A prototype, however, is something different. Although it is also used to test a business idea, in practice it only imitates functionalities whereas an MVP is like a fully functioning product. While a prototype is used internally, an MVP is released to the market.

 

The question is often asked: what is MVP in Agile? Agile is a methodology based on iterations. And so it is in the MVP development process. Iterations go in circles: build a minimum viable product, measure the success based on the received feedback, then improve it.

Through this new version of the product, the same steps are followed. With each iteration, the product is improved in terms of what real users need and want. As an iterative process, it is therefore fundamental to Agile development.

With this in mind, let's now dive into the benefits of building an MVP.

The benefits of MVP

The main advantage of building an MVP is that it significantly increases a start-up's chances of success by making the product development process quicker, cheaper, and more effective.

Market fit

An MVP will help you to check if there is a demand for your solution. Needless to say, there is no point in creating a product that lacks market demand.

 

An MVP provides a unique opportunity to understand more intimately your target audience and at the early stage of the business idea development. With this clearer understanding, you are thus better equipped to verify whether or not the proposition is worth pursuing.

If you receive positive feedback, you have confirmation that investing time and money in this venture is sensible. If you receive negative feedback, better to back off now.

Define target audience

The minimum viable product development process necessitates at an early stage the activities aimed at market validation. If you want to start testing an MVP, you must first define your target audience.

Building a relationship with potential users is a crucial part of the go-to-market strategy. When done successfully, it affords valuable user feedback which will enable the building of a product more precisely matched to market needs. It also generates loyal support for that product idea. 

Focus on main functionalities

It is essential that you begin testing with this target audience as soon as possible.

Therefore, you should focus only on your product's crucial functionalities, i.e. only those which facilitate a learning curve of user experience.

This will help keep your budget in check and allocate its next tranches to those features that are really needed.

Time to market

Another benefit of an MVP is its faster time to market.

 

Following up on target audience feedback will enable your developers to introduce sensible changes and improvements.

Your team no longer needs to wonder about client needs since it now has first-hand information for supporting further product development. And in the context of what is fierce market competition, this is crucial.

Resource optimization

An MVP has the power to greatly economize your efforts. This is the most effective way to launch a new product.

It gives you an opportunity to spend less time and money on the product cycle; not only on the MVP development process but also on creating the final version of the product.

This approach allows you to focus only on what resonates with the real user, meaning you don't waste resources on features nobody needs.

And it's not just a matter of time and money but also the motivation and engagement of the developers. They will be more devoted to building features that enjoy positive market feedback whereas for them to develop functionalities with no value-added will have a demotivating effect.

Engage investors

Although there are numerous start-ups that build their ventures by bootstrapping, the vast majority look for funding among private investors.

Uncertainty as to how the market will react to the product is one of the greatest risk factors in the process of funding acquisition.

But you can mitigate this risk by building an MVP. It will support your pitch to investors and differentiate you from the crowd of start-ups having no traction.

Your MVP will be proof to investors that the idea was challenged with real users and that there is a market fit for the product.

It will also be perceived as a reasonable attitude towards the allocation of funds in the product development stage - especially since their money will now be at stake.

How to build a minimum viable product

 

Step 1: Define the problem

The process of building an MVP is traditional in its approach.

The first step is to define what problem your product is about to address. Though this may seem trivial, it's actually crucial.

The clearer the problem is, the easier it will be to communicate the idea to numerous stakeholders (developers, real users, investors) as well as build an MVP.

Step 2: Perform market research

Once you have an idea of what problem you're going to solve, you then need to confront it with the market.

The aim of this step is to confirm whether the problem is real or not, and therefore whether the target audience needs a product for solving it.

If so, then you must proceed with market validation:

  • calculate market size

  • define personas

  • learn more about the competition 

Step 3: Prioritize functionalities

At this point, you should have confirmed both that there is a problem to be solved and that you have its solution.

You should also use all the things you've learned about the target audience so as to focus solely on those features that are important to them.

It may be tempting to add to this list any other function you happen to like; however, the idea of an MVP is to prevent you from doing this.

It is instead an opportunity for you to define and prioritize. Only in this way you can increase your chances of success.

Of course, it doesn't mean you discard those features which are not present priorities; rather, it's a better idea to put them in a backlog for future consideration.

Step 4: Build an MVP

Once you've defined and confirmed the scope of work, it's time to build a minimum viable product MVP.

An MVP is not a lesser-quality product. If you're concerned with gaining high-calibre feedback, an MVP must meet customers' needs.

Nor is it a final product. Above all, an MVP must be easy to use.

So, before you make it available for real user testing, you should prepare an MVP prototype and have it tested internally.

Then, with feedback thereby collected, you can develop a final version of the minimum viable product that will be subject to market tests.

Step 5: Iterate

As already stated, building an MVP is an iterative process. Once an MVP is made available to real users for testing, it's time to prepare the team for the next steps: collecting feedback, implementing improvements and measuring the success of the subsequent version.

It may take several iterations to prepare a final version of a solution. The key target for this step is to maximize learning.

It's also very important to be ready for a pivot. According to Eric Reis, "a pivot is a special type of change designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, business model, and engine of growth."

 

So, what comes after MVP? Either a product with the potential to win a customer's heart or the conclusion that the project is best left abandoned.

This may not seem the case at first, but both possibilities can be viewed in terms of success. With the latter, it's better to withdraw before the budget is burned.

Whatever the outcome, the experience gained in developing a minimum available product will be invaluable when embarking on the next venture.

Develop a minimum viable product internally or externally?

An MVP is the first real contact the product has with real users. Therefore, it is good practice to directly involve its founders in the process.

To do this right, both technical and business skills are required. With a sufficient level in hand, a start-up should be able to build an MVP on its own. 

When those skills are lacking, however, it's a good idea to seek support. We've clarified that although an MVP is not yet a final product, it must still be delivered professionally and represent an adequate level of quality.

At Startup Development House we comprehensively support start-ups on their way to a great MVP.

It's a process that starts with your idea; an idea for which we use our business-oriented approach to define persona and product lifecycle. Once completed, our developers work on designing an MVP and implementing changes.

Do you have an idea for an application or other digital product? Contact us and we'll talk about how to transform your idea into a successful MVP.

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