Building a Minimum Viable Product and Validating Your Plan with Customers
An “MVP” is now a common term thrown around in the startup world along with the likes of “Growth Hacking”, “Pivoting”, “Disrupting” and “Bootstrapping”.Despite the startup cliches, building an MVP and validating it with your early adopting customers is an extremely valuable exercise, and in most cases will not only be educationally invaluable to a founder, but will most likely save you countless hours of building a finished product that you think users want, only to have to adapt it later once you’ve received feedback. In fact, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of Paypal and founder of Linkedin says that “if you're not embarrassed by your first product that you released it too late”.
Building Your MVP
So you want to start building what you think your future customers want. So where do you start? Once you’ve discovered the problem you want to solve, you need to create a quick way to take this initial idea into a basic, but clear proposition to then validate. Some ways to do this are:
Explainer Video MVP- Dropbox is probably the most famous example of this method. Dropbox posted a 3-minute explainer video on Hacker News. This video gave future users a sample of how the product would work. And was it successful? The video drove such incredible traffic that on one particular day it drove 75,000 unique views. Before Dropbox’s first product was even released they already had over 5,000 subscribers all because of their video, but even more importantly, plenty of constructive feedback.
Landing Page MVP - A landing page is a very basic front page website and its job is to quickly convey the value of your proposition and have a call to action to the page visitor. Although some will define a landing page as a marketing tool, which of course it is, it is also an MVP, validating your value proposition, product market fit and pricing.
Wizard of Oz MVP - This style of MVP is what looks like a real working product, but behind it is when you carry out the functions manually. A famous example of this is of Zappos, now the largest online shoe retailer in the world. The founder Nick Swinmurn started by going to retailers that sold shoes and asking if he could take pictures of them posting and selling them online and then would personally go and buy them from the store and ship them to the customers.
Concierge MVP - This style of MVP is where you offer the whole service of your proposition, but you do the whole thing manually and personally. This can only really be done in small
batches, where you the founder, are with a group of customers end to end as they experience a manual version of your product.
Validating Your MVP with Customers
Building an MVP is all about validation and iteration until you get product market fit. So you have built the MVP, how do you go about getting validation? Unless you have a queue of people lining outside your door, you’ll need to find some early adopting users to test your product. So how do you do this?
Buying customers - You can quite easily buy traffic to your MVP, using Google Adwords, Facebook, Sponsored Tweets and other paid online marketing channels. This should result in traffic, and then converting customers. Once you’ve done this, make sure you are capturing some form of customer contact details and talk them. You’d be surprised how receptive people can be, and the attention they get may make them long time customers and brand ambassadors. Strategic use of customer interviews is key here. You need to gauge as much feedback as possible from them, record it, and then iterate your product based on what they want. You can also use Google Analytics to see what the users did when they landed on your site and using A/B testing with different versions.
Other ways of finding customers to validate your MVP - In the startup world, budgets are tight, and in many cases, non existent. If you have no customers to validate your MVP and no money to buy them, you need to get creative. Use friends and family, ask for referrals, post on social media, use direct emailing, basically be a one man (or woman) PR machine to test your product. The key thing here is to be unemotional and insist that they are brutally honest. And in the same way, record feedback, and iterate until you have product market fit.
Building MVPs and validating with customers can be crucial to success of your company so it's an important to get this process right, and don't be scared to launch and MVP that isn't what you believe is the perfect product. The important thing is to get it out there, and eventually you will get product market fit.
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