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How to Build a Minimum Viable Product

Eric Ries, a consultant and writer on startups has popularized minimum viable product (MVP) as a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters.

The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users or persona.

Also, a minimum viable product (MVP) can also be the most pared down version of a product that can still be released.

It should be noted that an MVP has three key characteristics:

  • Is the product has enough value that people are willing to use it or buy it initially ?
  • Did it demonstrates enough future benefit to retain early adopters ?
  • Can it embrace a feedback loop to guide future development ?

An MVP is the smallest thing that can be built and delivered quickly to test one of your hypotheses and help you learn and evaluate your effort.

In Design Thinking, MVPs are closely aligned with a set of Hills. Teams often define their MVP statements and their Hills in parallel.

Speed bumps in building an MVP

Building an MVP is not without risks, both real and imagined. Both can derail a startup effort unless they are understood ahead of time.

The most common speed bumps are legal issues, fears about competitors, branding risks, and the impact on morale. For startups that rely on patent protection, there are special challenges with releasing an early product.

In some jurisdictions, the window for a patent begins when the product is released to the general public, and depending on the way the MVP is structured, releasing it may start this clock.

Even if your startup is not in one of those jurisdictions, you may want international patent protection and may wind up having to abide by these more stringent requirements.

In many industries, patents are used primarily for defensive purposes, as a deterrent to hold competitors at bay. In such cases, the patent risks of an MVP are minor compared with the learning benefits.

However, in industries in which a new scientific breakthrough is at the heart of a company’s competitive advantage, these risks need to be balanced more carefully.In all cases, entrepreneurs should seek legal counsel to ensure that they understand the risks fully.

Legal risks may be daunting, but you may be surprised to learn that the most common objection I have heard over the years to building an MVP is fear of competitors especially large established companies stealing a startup’s ideas. If only it were so easy to have a good idea stolen!

Part of the special challenge of being a startup is the near impossibility of having your idea, company, or product be noticed by anyone, let alone a competitor.

In fact, I  will suggest the following assignment to entrepreneurs who are fearful of this issue :

  • Take one of your ideas (one of your lesser insights, perhaps), and the name of the relevant product manager at an established company who has responsibility for that area, and try to get that company to steal your idea.
  • Call them up, write them a memo, send them a press release go ahead, try it.

The truth is that most managers in most companies are already overwhelmed with good ideas. Their challenge lies in prioritization and execution, and it is those challenges that give a startup hope of surviving. If a competitor can out execute a startup once the idea is known, the startup is doomed anyway.

The reason to build a new team to pursue an idea is that you believe you can accelerate through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop faster than anyone else can. If that is true, it makes no difference what the competition knows. If it is not true, a startup has much bigger problems.

Sooner or later, a successful startup will face competition from fast followers. A head start is rarely large enough to matter, and time spent in stealth mode away from customers is unlikely to provide a head start. The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.

Many startups plan to invest in building a great brand, and an MVP can seem like a dangerous branding risk.

Similarly, entrepreneurs in existing organizations often are constrained by the fear of damaging the parent company’s established brand. There is an easy solution:

  1. Launch the MVP under a different brand name.
  2. The catch to this development technique is that it assumes that early adopters can see the vision or promise of the final product and provide the valuable feedback needed to guide developers forward.

This suggests that technically orientated products used by technical users may be most appropriate for this type of  development technique.

Download a minimum viable product (MVP) video here.


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