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Are you getting the MVP right?


Since the emergence of the Lean Startup, the Minimum Viable Product or MVP has been one of the most widely spread notions in startup land. So widely spread in fact that it’s made its way into the mainstream with both enterprise and Government.

The MVP is defined by Eric Reis as the version of a new product, which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.

So essentially, what can you build or deliver that enables you to learn what you need to in order to take the next step.

In both theory and practice, this has a lot of merit. But, at times we tend to swing the pendulum too far and focus on building stuff really quickly, rather than spending time building the product for and with customers.

Bill Autlet, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, puts this nicely in his TechCrunch piece here, and also points to some very interesting points such as the “IKEA effect.”

So really, the early days of a startup are a balancing act between defining what you need to build or learn, and how you’re actually going to build a business model with real paying customers (which is often the hardest part).

Guy Kawasaki also put some perspective on this recently whilst he was in Australia and discussed the two missing V’s in the MVP: Valuable and Validating.

“It’s a higher test, and the ‘v’ for validation is because the startup could ship something that is viable, but what you want is validation that your vision is correct.’’

This point of value and validation is highly important and is back by the likes of Steve Blank and his theory of Customer Development, which focuses on searching for and validating customers around a product, and ultimately building a business model off the back of that.

There’s even a Udacity course for this here, which is basically a step-by-step guide on how to build a startup.

All theory’s aside, the thoughts of Reis, Blank, Kawasaki and many others for that matter are aligned. They understand that eliminating as much of the guesswork from your startup as possible gives you a better opportunity to succeed in the market, and a better opportunity to build a sustainable business model with real customer flow.

The MVP is merely a ‘tool’ that helps you to learn your way to that business model.

With that in mind, I’d like to highlight a tool that I believe has a lot of merit for ideation phase startups, QuickMVP.

QuickMVP is a simple web platform that enables you test the validity of ideas. It doesn’t actually enable you to build a product and watch the pupils of prospective customers dilate whilst they use it. But it does provide a means to see if your ‘concept’ has merit.

And for an ideation phase startup, this is pretty darn important.

On top of that if you’re a non-technical founder, this may provide the means for you to garner some interest, collect some data and use that to more effectively find a suitable technical co-founder.

Drew Houston from Dropbox didn’t quite use just a landing page, but a simple video that showed the flow of his proposed product gave him serious early validation and enabled him to learn his way to the next step.

This was his way of employing Lean Startup tactics and learning his way to a seriously valuable product, with a business model built around it.

For Houston, it looks like this worked pretty well.

Coming up with big ideas can be tricky, but actually validating and eventually executing a business model around them is gruesomely difficult.

Be conscious of the balancing act you will play and always keep in mind that the MVP is merely a stepping stone along what is hopefully a long and illustrious startup journey.