As both an entrepreneur and designer, I understand the ways startup founders think. Most of them start a project with visions of a perfect product in their head. However, in reality, a well-performing product will likely look way different than an initial concept. Instead of seeking perfection from the outset, beginning with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the smartest route to success. An MVP is a crucial part of the product design process and allows businesses to validate their idea at the minimum expense and time.
But while a lot of startups already know that an MVP is essential, a majority of the startups that I have mentored over the years have categorically encountered the same problem across all sectors of their process: an MVPs time to market. It simply takes too long for an idea to get into the hands of a consumer.
Because the truth is, if an MVP testing process takes longer than two weeks, you’re probably doing something wrong. From my experience, most startup product designers make these three common mistakes that lead to longer MVP testing times:
- Using the wrong definition of a product value proposition;
- Underestimating the risks in a design hypothesis;
- Overloading the product with extra features.
Why are startups missing these important steps in the process? I believe there are some tendencies among startups to pursue goals that fundamentally and often accidentally create a blind spot for these common mistakes.
Measure And Lean Your MVP
In Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup, his definition of the MVP states:
“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
— Eric Ries
When approaching a new idea, a startup founder might feel compelled to build upon the complexities of the function as a way of seeing their vision come to life rather than compose enough of the fundamental core components to create a hypothesis that they can then test. Ries differentiates between these approaches in his book when he discusses the process of measuring and leaning.
One of the major benefits of an MVP is lean production. It allows entrepreneurs and companies to produce a product that helps them prove their value proposition while also cutting costs. The clearer the theory, the stronger the MVP, and the more valuable information collected throughout the MVP process.
An MVP is not only designed to determine the viability of a product’s value proposition but also to test the product’s technical elements and target audiences. Even a simple MVP or acceptance testing that inquires whether the intended audience is interested in using the product in the first place could be more helpful to the progress of a startup’s journey to success than establishing the perfect product right away.
The answers that an MVP can prove may be as simple as the MVP itself but highly valuable when continuing down a startup path that includes high-risk and particular investors. In the most general sense, a product is viable when it successfully fulfills a need in the market. And as easy as it seems, the most challenging part of this simple question is determining what exactly is necessary and what is not, as the features that you deem important to your product are, in fact, important.
Discernment and clarity are not as easy as it seems, and a large part of being concise when approaching your MVP is keeping the time to market low. This is why I find the importance of testing your MVP within two weeks or less to be a crucial factor in achieving successful results. The key to a highly effective MVP is defining the problem as clearly and specifically as possible.
Renters Rewards: A Case Study
Before we dive into some tips, let’s first take a look at a case study that features a mobile app startup. This app is designed to help people find a property to rent while also providing them with opportunities to earn cashback.
In this example, a startup saw an opportunity to develop a platform that lets people search for a rental, pay for the application, sign a lease, and continue to pay rent on the property indefinitely — all from one place. To take this product to the next level, we had an idea to offer people who pay on time a 1% cashback match if they pay before their rent due date.
We wanted to test this hypothesis, so first, we had to develop our problem; in doing this, we could determine the approach and figure out a plan of action to receive valuable results in a couple of weeks. We decided that using the overarching idea of trying to test whether users would pay the rent early if they were offered a 1% cashback was not only too risky but a tough sell to landlords who could find it too costly upfront.
Instead, we thought of a way to apply a slightly incremental change to the user’s digital experience that could provide us with preliminary information as to whether or not the users would be interested in this opportunity. We sent out emails to 100 app users stating that if they paid their rent before the end of the month, we would credit $20 to their accounts.
The test was simple, concise, and succinct enough to give us quick and valuable feedback on our hypothesis, which then could set the app up for a border change to the platform and infrastructure. Over 80% of the app users who received the email opted for the $20 cashback and paid their rent early, determining that if the app were to implement this in a more grand scope, their success would likely be very high. In short, the incentive worked, and it was a quick and low-cost MVP that proved it.
Five Effective Strategies For Testing Your MVP
Now that you understand the importance of a short MVP time to market, we can explore some useful tips that will help you put forth the most successful product for your startup.
1. Properly Formulate A Product Value Proposition
The first and most important tip for any startup looking to test an MVP is to determine the most effective value proposition for your product. In regards to the aforementioned case study, we talked about how the value proposition began — as a 1% rewards incentive for app users. After understanding how the value prop would be most effectively tested — solidifying a quick and concise testing procedure — we came up with an MVP that highlighted only the most necessary measurable metrics.
By determining that the same hypothesis could be discovered by providing 100 users with a $20 incentive as by giving 1% cashback to all users across the platform, we were able to concur that the value proposition for this case study filled a market need.
2. Identify The Vital MVP Features And Avoid Any Extra
You might be noticing a pattern that keeping your MVP simple, clear, and to the point is very important to not only getting the most viable results from testing your MVP but getting you that information quickly. How do you hone in on that particular specificity that will move your MVP to a truly professional level? Start broad and then simplify. Don’t stop until you find the nucleus of the hypothesis that will help you determine the vital features of your product.
Sure the end goal is to have a wide range of features — all the bells and whistles — that give your product the star power to rise above its competitors. But in the MVP, those extra features are unnecessary and could hinder your goals if you left them in when establishing the MVP for your product.
For example, landing pages can be a great MVP when looking for information about a potential product. If a user finds their way to your site because the product is relevant to them, a landing page offers a simple breakdown of the product offers and goals, as well as a sign-up field where the inquirer can add their email to learn more. This can help you determine your target audience without having to invest in a spectrum of functional features. It can also clue you what kinds of buyers are interested in your product and provide information about needs and interests that you didn’t even consider.
Instead of throwing up a landing page that reads “website coming soon” or an overly detailed investigation of your potential product, consider using it as a tool to link the vital features of your product with your target audience. It’s a simple way to collect customer feedback and start a killer email list.
3. Detect The Risks In Your Assumption
There are many typical startup risks, and a lot of those flow down into the process of testing an MVP. Yet these risks are very important to take into consideration because if not, they could negatively impact the outcome of your MVP and cost you time and money. Here are a few that we have highlighted as the most significant risks to consider when testing your MVP:
- Users might not recognize a product’s value
For example, if you have added a crypto trading option to your product, your users might not recognise the value in the product because they are already committed to third-party platforms like Coinbase and Revolut.
- Hard to acquire users
If you don’t take into consideration the scope and breadth of your direct competition or inherently the market that you are pushing a product through, it is likely that you might not realise if your target audience is available or hard to acquire. Take, for instance, an app in Europe that helps you find a healthcare provider in your area. But it turns out that most major cities have one of their own, and they have more advanced knowledge and access to the target audience than you do. This means while your idea might be good, you will have an incredibly hard time converting users to your platform. But using these risks to help you determine your hypothesis and strengthen your MVP is the key to unlocking your product’s potential.
- Difficult to scale the product
When conceptualizing your product, while you want to narrow in on an MVP that uses minimal product but provides maximum learning, the same isn’t so for understanding the scope of your product idea. Suppose you are setting up a moving company, and once your app receives over 100 requests, it cannot handle any more inquiries. In that case, you have a major salability issue that will never allow your product to meet its full potential.
- Revenue-generation problem
This is a tough risk to understand while you are in the testing phases of your MVP and your startup. All projects of this nature are inherently risky and don’t often produce early financial results that put you in the green. But when you are looking at the cost-benefit analysis and going over P&L statements from the first waves of use of your product, there should be a lot of green flags that point to profit. If your product P&L sees nothing but red, it might be time to reevaluate your goals.
4. Pick The One Risk You’re Most Likely To Face And Work It Out
Pick the one risk that is most likely to align with your MVP and take the time to work through it. Consider it alongside your value proposition and develop a product increment that will take you from hypothesis to MVP in a concise and effective way. Apply the lean approach to ensure you are not over-focusing on unnecessary features and push your MVP into the hands of customers quickly.
As in the renters rewards example, it didn’t make sense to take the time to update the app with a new interface or add extra features. Instead, the test was as simple and quick as setting up an email system, and the highest identified risk was easily mitigated by eliminating the need for extra costs or unavailable users. The results were simple but extremely viable, and the MVP time to market was less than two weeks.
5. Test Product Branding
Testing is awesome and essential! But testing features isn’t the only way to effectively test your product and receive useful information. Branding is becoming increasingly important, as most consumers like to be emotionally tied to a product. That emotional element can often be the determining factor of success against a product’s competitors. If your startup is interested in rebranding or gaining more perspective on how their audience connects with their brand storytelling, using MVP testing is a great way to discover valuable data that can inform new and impactful brand strategies.
When it comes to branding, we want to assess the user-feedback-related risk of a negative perception of the brand. You could easily drive new branding with limited updates to the logo, landing page, and app images, while it is probably best to hold off on any hard investments like merch, billboards, and deck templates until the new strategy is proven.
Two things come into play when determining what types of branding elements to test:
- Is it easy to produce/costly?
- Is it crucial?
User experience is becoming the number one factor in branding that determines a wide range of benefits for the product. Pay attention to colors, tone of voice, icons, illustrations, and landings — these are 99% of the things your users will see all the time. These are easy to create and are a touchpoint during every client experience. It is safe to say that these key branding elements play a decisive part in your update.
How Best To Test Your MVP: The Bottomline
There is any number of combinations of techniques and strategies that will work best for you and your startup based on the type of MVP you have and the best ways for you to test it. Deciding which ways are best for you, my advice is to start small and grow. It is easier to manage the testing of a hypothesis on a simple email blast or landing page brief than with a whole app features update that affects thousands of users.
The only thing that matters is that you should approach the MVP test as a way of providing you verifiable insights on whether your final product will have a fair, if not successful, share of the market after it finally launches.