If you’re gonna build a hot dog stand, what are the few key things you need to focus on?
The weiner will probably be first…then the bun…then some mustard and then a stand or cart, right?
If those four items weren’t satisfactory, your hot dog stand would be in big trouble.
Surprisingly, most businesses don’t take that same sensible approach.
Note: thanks to the 37Signals guys who wrote the entrepreneurial-focused Rework book for that hot dog stand analogy!
My definition of minimum viable product is the minimum amount of functions needed to provide speedy feedback to determine the viability of a product.
Let’s break down these words:
There is usually just one or two core problems that excellent products are trying to solve.
An iPod lets you store a bunch of your music and play it on the go; Facebook lets you find friends and share information with them; eBay lets you sell used stuff or buy used stuff; and Google lets you find information on the Web.
What makes a product viable?
There are typically two things:
And just to be clear, when the word “Product” is used in Minimum Viable Product, we are referring to any creation such as:
My favorite example of an MVP is of Cars Direct from this Bill Gross Interview (about 1 hour & 20 minutes into it!).
Gross explains that back in 1998 when Cars Direct — perhaps the first site online to test selling cars — was launching, there was really just one thing that they wanted to test about their idea:
“Would a consumer pay for a car online with their credit card?”
Keep in mind that this was 1998 and people (including me) were nervous about putting a credit card online for more than just a book from Amazon or CD from CDNow.
After launching one night, the Cars Direct team woke up the next day to 4 cars being purchased!
Gross explains that because the single most important questions to ask was: “Will consumers pay for a car online?,” the rest of the Cars Direct feature set (at launch) could be minimal:
Here are some additional minimum viable product approaches used by other companies at their dawn of their creation:
They started their airlines with just one Boeing 747 flying between Gatwick and Newark.
They could have started with multiple planes and routes but stuck to one plane, one route.
Groupon reportedly started out as just a WordPress blog with coupons available in PDF form.
Yahoo began as nothing more than a page of links off to other Web sites.
They didn’t even have a search engine out of the gate!
Business-To-Consumer SaaS (using just PhotoShop and a Letter of Intent)
An anonymous B2c SaaS platform idea with nothing more than a few screenshots which they showed to a few potential customers who signed a letter of intent to try the product for free and then pay X for it at Y date if it met certain expectations (source: Lean Startup).
Even Apple — known for elegant products and a perfectionist CEO — applies the minimum viable product philosophy:
When the iPhone launched in 2008, it left out Cut-And-Paste and searchability of contacts, two features that many felt were important.
While Apple fans complained, these two features weren’t really core to the product’s viability. What was core to the iPhone’s viabiility was: 1) It could be used as a phone; 2) It could access the Web and 3) It could take pictures.
Step 1: Create The Vision — The minimum viable starts with you picking your overall vision for a product.
For example, let’s say we want to build an online zoo (I just visited the San Francisco Zoo and believe we can do a better job of connecting humans with wild animals than that!).
So, my vision for a new zoo is that we make it an online zoo in which we anyone with a Web connection to see wild animals close up and in their own environment (not cages!). I believe this is possible through tiny web-cams that we can install in the wild (near the animals) or on the animals themselves!
Step 2: Is It Viable? — Now we have to ask ourselves:
“What do we need to test to prove that this is a viable idea?”
I suggest the following are a few of the most important features/functionality of such a service:
Step 3: Craft The Prototypes — Now you should brainstorm the best minimal viable product prototypes.
Here’s one example of a prototype:
That sounds like a lot of work, so you may choose to get even more minimal about the prototypes. Examples:
Step 4: Test The Prototypes
Finally, you have to pick one of your minimum viable product prototypes, launch it and quickly gather feedback.
Then, if you’re like most new creators, your product won’t be a runaway success.
Step 5: Iterate — You’ll have learned a bunch and you’ll go back to the drawing board to iterate.
That means you’ll select an even better next minimum viable product to test out (i.e. walk through the four steps once again).
And keep on iterating!
Other good articles on how to build a minimum viable product include:
Ash Maurya’s “How I Built My Minimum Viable Product” (about photo-sharing).
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