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  • Writer's pictureSylvester

How Minimum is Viable for an MVP?

When a startup or small business is developing the first version of a new product, one of the biggest challenges is deciding which features will make the cut. There’s enormous pressure to get it right because of how many new products fail: a CB Insights analysis of 101 startup post mortems found that 42% of startups fail due to lack of product-market fit. Some companies anxiously attempt to solve for this before they launch their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) by adding more and more features. Yet when they launch, they still struggle because they’ve overbuilt and still haven’t managed to solve a core problem for the user, and the user is distracted by features that aren’t part of the core product value. These companies run out of capital before they can achieve product-market fit, and then it’s game over. 

Building something small for less money–even if it’s not elegant or loveable–provides teams with more time to learn and iterate to reach that product-market fit before their capital runs out.

So in this post, we’re going to get back to the basics and give you a framework for answering the question: How minimum is viable for an MVP? With this framework, you’ll be able to determine the minimum set of features that belong in V1 of your product to gain optimal information about your users and your market to keep iterating.

What Are You Trying to Learn from Your MVP? 

Many business leaders operate on the misguided assumption that an MVP is the easiest and most effortless version of a product that can solve a problem in the market. But there are a couple of things missing with this approach: customer centricity and a learning mindset. The product has to deliver a real solution to the target customer, rather than what the company believes will be just good enough for the consumer. It doesn’t have to be elegant or even complete—perhaps it solves one small part of one workflow in a user’s experience, but it has to solve that problem well. The challenge is that you might not be 100% sure exactly what your customer needs, and that’s why a learning mindset is also essential to the minimum viability of your MVP.

Eric Reis, entrepreneur and author of the The Lean Startup and The Startup Way, offered a helpful framework for MVP development at the Lean Startup Circle: “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.”

He went on to explain further: “MVP, despite the name, is not about creating minimal products. If your goal is simply to scratch a clear itch or build something for a quick flip, you really don’t need the MVP. In fact, MVP is quite annoying, because it imposes extra overhead. We have to manage to learn something from our first product iteration. In a lot of cases, this requires a lot of energy invested in talking to customers or metrics and analytics.”

So, let’s back up a bit: before you build your MVP, it’s important to invest time learning about your customers and their needs so that you understand which features will provide the most value (and the most learning opportunities) for the leanest effort. Thankfully, there’s a framework that can help your team do just that: the RAT. 

RAT Before You MVP: How to Validate Your Ideas Prior to Launch

If you want to avoid joining the 42% of startups that fail due to lack of product-market fit, you might want to start with a Riskiest Assumptions Test (RAT). In his article, “Why Your RAT (Riskiest Assumptions Test) is the Real MVP,” Reuben Hall outlines the risky assumptions startups often make (but usually don’t test for), like, “This is a problem the market has, and is willing to pay [our fee] for [our specific solution] to solve it.”  A Riskiest Assumptions Test gives teams a framework for testing that assumption with low-lift methods like interviews and surveys and a minimum criterion for success, e.g., “For our product to succeed, we need [x% of respondents] to respond with [x, y, z] on our survey.” As Reuben states, “If the experiment passes, then your product team starts building. If the experiment fails, then it’s back to the drawing board.”

While the RAT doesn’t replace an MVP, it can be a helpful method for getting the data validation your team needs to guide MVP development with the most valuable features, not the easiest ones. In other words, the RAT helps answer the question “how minimum is viable” before you even build. When you launch your MVP, you’ll be able to leverage user data to learn how to refine your product, rather than scrapping features and starting over (and potentially running out of capital before you can achieve product-market fit.)

While many clients come to us having already done this work, it’s just as common for clients to need guidance on defining viability for their product. Our team of experts at Mile Marker can help identify the core features that will satisfy your customers and ensure that your product has an optimal chance at success. Reach out today to start a conversation. 

About Mile Marker

Mile Marker is your strategic partner for agile software development. Created for founders, by founders, we offer strategic software at startup speed. We specialize in aligning your technical work with your business goals through collaborative planning, offering a multidisciplinary development team, and ensuring ongoing support for your software. If you’re searching for a software development company or need a technical partner, start the conversation with an introductory call.


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