What Is a Minimum Viable Product? How an MVP Works

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When most people think of an MVP, they think of the most valuable player in sports: the individual athlete who contributed the most to their team’s success in a given season. But a minimum viable product—the MVP of the tech and business world—can be just as valuable to a company’s success. 

Creating and testing a minimum viable product (MVP) helps companies explore new products and features with real users, iterating based on customer feedback. A good MVP helps businesses figure out what works and what doesn’t about a business idea before scaling it to be available to all users. 

What is a minimum viable product (MVP)?

A minimum viable product is a basic version of a product (or service) with just enough features for customers to use and interact with, while still feeling complete. An MVP allows you to observe how real users interact with your product, so you can adapt and improve it before launch. 

An MVP effectively allows businesses to learn whether the product is likely to be a success or not. It’s a more reliable method of collecting customer information than simply asking for their opinion of a hypothetical product, and it has become a commonly used tool for startups today. 

Entrepreneur Eric Ries popularized the concept in his book The Lean Startup. Ries described an MVP as a “version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.” An MPV is a core part of the lean startup methodology, and companies such as Airbnb and Buffer validated their ideas using MVPs before they decided to launch. 

For tech and software, a minimum viable product is often the version of the product that meets the fewest necessary requirements for use and serves as a usability benchmark. It is distinct from a prototype, which tests design and technical functionality. It’s also different from a minimum marketable product, which tests the minimum quantity of features necessary to market a product to users.

Types of minimum viable products

A minimum viable product evaluates the appeal of a product to real users. Consider a few different varieties of MVP that may be useful for studying your business’s products: 

Low-fidelity MVPs

Some MVPs require little more than a basic website. These low-fidelity MVPs still require polish, focused audience research, and high levels of execution, but don’t actually need a functioning product to be in the hands of users. Some types of low-fidelity MVPs include: 

Landing page MVP

If you know your product, target market, and value proposition, you can create a landing page or website to describe the product and its features without actually building the product. This lets you gauge interest, attract social followers, and collect email sign-ups, helping to validate demand and create a bank of warm leads (or trial users) for when a usable product is ready. 

Explainer video MVP

This is similar to a landing page MVP, but in video form. It’s exactly how Dropbox got started: creating a short video to explain the product’s concept and benefits. Potential users can weigh in with interest, feedback, and concerns before product development begins.

Smoke test MVP

Smoke test MVPs create a little smoke to see if a fire will catch: running marketing campaigns to a landing page with a Buy Now button for a product that doesn’t exist yet (it usually leads to a waitlist or an email sign-up instead). The number of people who click to purchase helps indicate demand. Additionally, if you’re using paid marketing efforts for your campaign, performance metrics can validate or enrich your understanding of user demographics. 

Crowdfunding MVP

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter provide another way to gauge interest in a product, securing funding and a loyal following along the way. For example, Pebble Time launched its first smartwatch fundraising campaign in 2015, promising a new display and UI. It blew past its $500,000 goal to raise $20 million in funding, proving the founders had tapped into something with broad appeal.

High-fidelity MVPs

A high-fidelity MVP requires building an actual product that’s usable by real people. High-fidelity MVPs can help companies with novel business ideas gauge public interest and test behind-the-scenes feasibility before scaling the product or service out more widely. 

Single-feature MVP

A single-feature MVP tests how one key feature or functionality of the product resonates with users. Before Facebook became a juggernaut, for example, it was a simple way to keep track of friends. Once this functionality proved popular, other features were added over time. 

Wizard of Oz MVP

Just as the Wizard of Oz proved to be a regular person pulling levers behind a curtain, this type of MVP gives the impression of task automation when, in reality, everything is being done manually. A pet-food delivery app could actually just be the owner running to a store and dropping deliveries to users’ houses. Once demand is proven, the owner could build out the app to automatically match orders with drivers, hire staff, and rent warehouses to fulfill orders at scale. 

Concierge MVP

Similar to a Wizard of Oz MVP, the concierge MVP involves manually performing services that seem automated, but its intention is to deliver a personalized experience. Imagine a meal-delivery app that caters menus to individual client tastes. If a personal chef did this manually for early customers, that would be an example of a concierge MVP, with the personalization eventually scaled via automation. 

Benefits of creating a minimum viable product

Both high-and-low-fidelity MVPs involve releasing a core product idea to gain real-world insights into how the market responds. There are numerous benefits to this approach, including: 

  • Cost-efficiency. By testing a product before building it out, companies can allocate resources to ideas that advance business objectives. Alternately, MVPs give companies insights into which ideas aren’t worth pursuing. 
  • Faster time to market. MVPs let you get your product in front of real users quickly, potentially establishing a competitive edge.
  • Iterative, user-centric design. Great companies solve problems for real people. The MVP process centers users’ needs and preferences, creating products and services built around them. 
  • Scalability. Most entrepreneurs have a large vision for their company. MVPs help define a path from point A (startup) to point B (big dreams), methodically figuring out which features, products, or services to build first as part of its product strategy
  • Data-driven thinking. Hunches can go a long way, but MVPs validate rough ideas and consumer insights with hard numbers about how things play out in the market.

How to develop a minimum viable product

  1. Identify your product and audience
  2. Select core features and products
  3. Create the basic product
  4. Launch and collect user feedback
  5. Iterate and enhance

The process of developing a minimum viable product varies widely depending on the complexity of the product, the maturity of the business, and what the competitive ecosystem looks like. However, a few phases are standard across all MVPs, and following them can ensure a purposeful project:

1. Identify your product and audience

You likely already have a specific product or niche you’re working within. What elements will you need to create an MVP? Think about who the target audience of the product is likely to be, as well as their needs, pain points, and preferences.

2. Select core features and products

Figure out which products or services align most closely with your niche and target audience’s needs. What are the essential elements of your product to credibly gauge audience enthusiasm? 

3. Create the basic product

In software, this may be an app with a single feature or a few basic features. In ecommerce, this may be a bare-bones website with a highly refined product offering. Or perhaps this is a Wizard of Oz scenario, where each order is fulfilled manually, with automation coming after proof of concept has been established. 

4. Launch and collect user feedback

Launch your product to a small group of early adopters to get user feedback. When you’ve worked out the kinks, go a step further and launch your product or campaign to the public. Get as much feedback as you can from the product’s initial users about what they like and don’t like. Of course, successful orders are the most useful feedback you can get, but page traffic, social media response, and even external press can help validate the concept. 

5. Iterate and enhance

Refine your MVP based on the audience response. In ecommerce, this may mean refining product descriptions, offerings, and site design. From there, you can roll out new products, eliminate duds, or reposition to new audiences based on learnings. 

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Minimum viable product FAQ

What does MVP mean in agile?

In agile development MVP stands for minimum viable product, which is the least sophisticated version of a product that delivers value to customers while still facilitating iterative development.

What is an example of a minimum viable product?

An example of a minimum viable product is an ecommerce store selling a small selection of products in a specific niche with essential shopping cart functionality, but without advanced features like user reviews, custom designs, or algorithmic recommendations.

What are the main features of an MVP?

MVPs should include a core set of functionalities to address a specific problem or need for the target audience, typically with minimal design and complexity, to gather user feedback and validate the product concept.