One of the buzzing jargon that is quite popular in the startup communities in software development is MVP(Minimum viable product). Like most other jargon in the software industry, everyone has their definitions of it. Some people and organizations manipulate it to their advantage.
Sadly, most non-tech founders fall into this trap of vagueness and losing their hard-earned money and time. Let me tell you some untold truths that most people aren't aware of.
Can you sell it?
The vagueness in the MVP jargon is rooted in the word "viable." Viable means "able to exist, perform as intended, or succeed." It talks about the ability to exist, perform, and succeed.
It misses the critical piece of the puzzle - the ability to sell. You can only run a business if you sell something.
What an early-stage business wants out of MVP is very straightforward.
What is the simplest product version you can sell to your customer?
You need to know the answer to this question to work on an MVP.
What is the simplest product version?
To answer this question, you must remove your founder hat and put your potential customer hat and ask yourself the following question.
Why a customer has to pay you to buy your product?
The answer reveals what your product should have. It forces you to think in terms of what is the value addition that your product offers to your customer to make their life easier and better.
In business terminology, it is called "Value Proposition". I strongly recommend reading this seminal article (PDF) from 1988 - A Business is a Value Delivery System to build your knowledge on this subject.
Only work on building the MVP after knowing the answer to this question.
How do you know my answer is correct?
It's straightforward. The market will tell you when you try to sell!
Jason Fried put it very nicely.
There's really only one real way to get as close to certain as possible. That's to build the actual thing and make it actually available for anyone to try, use, and buy. Real usage on real things on real days during the course of real work is the only way to validate anything. And even then, it's barely validation since there are so many other variables at play. Timing, marketing, pricing, messaging, etc.
Truth is, you don't know, you won't know, you'll never know until you know and reflect back on something real. And the best way to find out, is to believe in it, make it, and put it out there. You do your best, you promote it the best you can, you prepare yourself the best way you know how.
It's an iterative process.
- Define a value proposition.
- Build the simplest version of that product (which we call MVP).
- Try to sell.
- Get the feedback.
- Refine your value proposition.
- Update your product to reflect this newly refined value proposition.
- Start again from step 3.
The shorter this cycle, the faster you will know whether your answer is right or wrong.
Don't outsource any of these in the initial stages of your business, as knowing all this information firsthand is critical for your product's success.
Please note that numerous startups fail even when they accurately identify a genuine problem and create a product to resolve it. I strongly recommend reading this mindblowing article to save yourself from such scenarios.
How can I build the product?
If you come from a non-tech background, steps two and six ( building and updating the product) are challenging due to the learning curve and the time it will take.
There are a lot of advancements in the low-code tooling that you can leverage to do these steps by yourself.
The other options are
- Finding a co-founder who is good at tech and aligns with your vision.
- Outsourcing to a trusted third party (freelancer or development agency)
All of the choices have their pros and cons. Choosing between these choices is highly contextual and depends on multiple factors like what your product does, your vision, etc. So, you have to make a reasonable call here.
How long should it take to build the MVP?
Two to Six weeks. YES, you are reading it right.
If it takes more than that, your requirement's scope is enormous, or the development approach needs to be corrected.
There is one exception to this if you are building a Tech Product where the product itself is a technology like ChatGPT. These kinds of highly technical products take time due to their complexity.
But for the other classes of products, which typically solve a business problem, two to six weeks is just right.
How do we determine the features of the MVP?
The key to building the MVP within two to six weeks is being ruthless about your product's requirements.
You should say no to all the features outside the epicenter of the value proposition you identified earlier.
When starting something new, you can work on the stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. It's the stuff you have to do is where you should begin. To find that epicenter ask yourself, "if I took this one thing away, would what I'm selling still exist." - Start at the epicenter
Additional resources to help you in this journey
- How to Build an MVP
- How to Build an app in a week
- How to build a sustainable business
- Why you must fall in love with the problem, not the solution
- The Right way to talk to people about your business
- Getting Real - The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application