Product thinking
5 min read

What is a minimum viable product (MVP)

By
Louise Hill
July 20, 2023
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A person is holding a mobile phone in their right hand and a mug in their left hand. On their screen shows "94% target temperature".

Overview

TLDR: An MVP (minimum viable product) is a concept which originates from the Lean Startup movement. It is a version of a new product or service which helps a team learn as much as possible about whether their concept provides value to potential customers or service users with the least amount of effort. The idea is that to a potential customer or service user, the product or service appears to be real, but processes may run manually behind the scenes.

What an MVP is not

  • An MVP isn’t a fully-featured product or service—an MVP will not satisfy all of its potential user’s needs. It’s a starting point that can be improved upon and quickly changed based on feedback
  • An MVP isn't a prototype—both are early versions of your product, but a prototype is mainly used for internal purposes (communicating ideas to your team, early concept testing, usability testing, clarity for engineers, etc.). An MVP is used for external purposes—it is launched so your target audience can use it and provide feedback in context

The key benefits of launching an MVP

  • Fewer wasted engineering hours
  • Product or service in the market as soon as possible
  • Early adopters provide key feedback
  • You can start building up your brand as early as possible

Big companies that used MVPs

Airbnb

The founders of Airbnb were two designers. A design conference was being held in their hometown of San Francisco and they needed some extra cash. They created a simple website for conference attendees, displayed photos of their loft space, and 3 people booked to stay on air mattresses in their home. This proved their hypothesis that people were prepared to pay to stay in a stranger's home. From here they tested out new ideas and features on their platform and their business continuously evolved into the industry giant it is today.

The original Airbnb site. It is a simple web page, the company logo reads "AirBed&Breakfast—idsa connecting '07";. The headline reads "Two designers create a new way to connect at this year's IDSA conference". The page shows information about the conference and an option to "List your airbed"
AirBnb’s first website - 2007

Dropbox

The founder of Dropbox created a video explaining how the product would work and posted it on Hacker News. You can watch the video here. Hacker News was the perfect place to connect with Dropbox’s initial target audience: engineers and developers. The video was incredibly popular, so the founder created a simple landing page with a signup form. The huge amount of interest received meant a bunch of keen early customers were ready to try out the product once it launched (70,000+ people overnight).

Dropbox video still from the original Dropbox demo. It reads "Dropbox—www.getdropbox.com. Drew Houston, beta@getdropbox.com".
Dropbox’s demo video on YouTube - 2008

Uber

Uber started out as a few cars and a simple app. It was an invitation-only service and it focused only on booking a ride. Customers could either send a text of their location or share it on the app and then the Uber team would send one of their cars. Through this they validated their idea and used feedback to iterate their service.

Two original screen from the Uber app. The left screen shows a map and the name "UberCab". There is an address in San Francisco and and a little character on the map showing the user's location. The right screen shows a map and the message says "Touch the screen to accept".
Uber’s first simple app - 2010

Get started building an MVP
  1. Identify your target audience
    Conduct customer and market research to ensure you are testing out your MVP with the right audience. Make sure you understand the needs and desires of this target group and build features which help them to achieve their goals.Have a solid launch plan—enable this target audience to find and use your MVP and provide feedback easily.
  2. Define what you believe the value proposition of your product or service isEnsure you have captured what you believe the value proposition for your product or service is, highlight any risky assumptions you may have, then turn both your value proposition and your riskiest assumptions into hypotheses to test through your MVP.
  3. Avoid packing your product with featuresKeep your MVP as simple as possible. Anything that is not essential to testing your core value proposition means extra complexity for your target audience and does not need to be built at this stage.
  4. Make sure your product or service has a good user experienceYou don’t want your target audience to give up on your MVP because they can’t actually use it. This could skew your findings and waste valuable learning time.
  5. Plan so your MVP can be easily scaledYou want to be able to move fast when you receive feedback, so design your MVP in a way which allows for this.
  6. Define what you want to learn and build tracking into the product or serviceEnsure you’ve discussed what metrics you want to capture and provide a way to measure these within your MVP. What does a validated value proposition look like for you?

Additionally, make sure you’ve designed a good feedback process. Can people provide you with honest, objective thoughts? Can you also observe people using your MVP directly, rather than just rely on their own words alone?

Effectively harnessing both qualitative and quantitative data will help you learn efficiently and provide you with a path of where to go, and what to test out and improve on next.

How can I help you create an MVP?

I believe MVPs are powerful business tools. Whether you're a founder with a business idea, or work in an existing business and want to test out a new product or service idea. I can work with you to research, design and build an MVP and help you with where to go next post launch.