The Most Quoted MVP Image and Literature is Wrong
We have all seen this image. This image is wrong. And just like the image, you are probably doing it wrong too! If you're puzzled, lets understand what is MVP.
MVP - is a term infamous in startup circles. The funny thing is that it indicates an inverse meaning in startup circles compared to what it means in sports circles.
In Sports circles, MVP stands for Most Valuable Player - a title awarded to players that have made extra ordinary contributions to that sport in that year or during a certain period of time. It means that the player is at the best of his or her game, is highly evolved in his tactics, game play, play calling and is one of the masters of that game.
Ok. Enough of the sports lingo. What about MVP in startup lingo? MVP in startup lingo means Minimum Viable Product. A term made infamous by Eric Ries who is famous for his book - The Lean Startup which has today become somewhat of a buzzword, movement et al. A Minimum Viable Product is a version of your product - be it a technology product or a physical product that is the most basic version of your product that helps you test your hypothesis with your customers or users. Therefore, as we can see, in startup circles MVP is the opposite of what it stands for in Sports.
While MVP in sports is for a player who is the master of the game, MVP in startup lingo stands for the most basic version of the product. In other words, MVP equivalent in sports if used like in startup circles is an amateur player who is yet untested. We are using the sports analogy here only to understand MVP in depth so we don't make mistakes about understanding the concept.
Why is understanding the MVP important? Understanding the MVP concept is important so you don't throw good money after bad.
If you are like most people, you probably have a little bit of money to launch your idea or your startup. If you do MVP the right way, then this little bit of money will equip you to go the next stage. Also, even if you do have a lot of money, the MVP route probably represents the best way to build a product and test it in the market.
Lets dig in and understand a bit more about why you should take the MVP route:
1.Your potential users will not know what they need and whether they need your product until you show them the product.
Confused? Don't be. Henry Ford infamously said "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". To understand what Henry Ford is really saying, let's hear it from the master - Steve Jobs who said "Its really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
If you think of many things in life, it works this way. You probably don't know what sort of a girl you want until the right one shows up in front of you. And you know what you don't want when you see the wrong one. So, your potential users will not be able to tell you what they want until you show it to them. In case you're now wondering why people do focus groups etc., all we will say is that it is a cottage industry that exists for its own good most of the time.
2. You don't understand user behavior or their context in depth
You perhaps know a lot about the problem and what the product should look like. But no matter how much you know, you will never know in depth user behavior or their context. When you build a full product without building an MVP, you are making a lot of assumptions about how the user thinks or behaves and how you're solving for that. Further, the purpose of the MVP is not to figure out if users like the aesthetic or functionality. But to figure out the product. By this, we mean not fussing about where a user clicks, whats the next screen, what the colors should look like etc.,
We can understand this with a simple example. See, we are again using a visual example to understand things. Most of us know of the site - Meetup.com - a place for us to find interesting meetups in the city. When Meetup launched, their 1.0 version was nothing more than a spreadsheet that looked like the image below.
As we can see, it was not a fancy shining website or app like it is now (Meetup pre-dates the app era) with lots of clicks, amazing visuals etc., but a simple grid. The Meetup guys were trying to establish what sort of demand existed in the market for it. And what users wanted. They were testing the core idea and its need and not the functionality. Its easy to get confused between form vs. substance. In the startup world, we can use form to mean aesthetic vs. usability.
If you want a master class in MVP, watch a movie called Challenge
At around 1 Hour 46 Minutes, the lead actor outlines a strategy to sell Praja Scooter (People's Scooter) to the masses by improving on a design that would provide more mileage for the fuel consumed. Once they notice in laboratory tests that their design does provide superior mileage, they take out nothing but a full page ad in a newspaper announcing a radical payment scheme to buy the scooter. All of this before they invested any money in even building a prototype. Needless to add, they receive huge sign-ups for the scooter without showing one to the public. This is a master class in MVP. Watch the clip. I can't do justice to it. You'll understand what I am saying better. Personally, I recommend all entrepreneurs to watch this movie. It has tons of entrepreneurial lessons that we can all benefit from.
I am by no means suggesting that you make tall claims and fleece people but figure out what the most minimum version is that gives you emphatic belief about the need and user behavior around which your product should work. This way, you will spend way less money and build something that you know strongly is needed and you know well what it should have.
Do as your customers do and you’ll understand them better. When you understand them better and feel what they feel, you’ll build a better product.
So, now that we know why of MVP, let's understand how to do it
Step 1: Put together a very rough version of the product you have in mind
If you are building a tech product, you can have clickable wireframes that just move from screen to screen and show the right messaging. You could have people test out the product with test info. This concept already exists in the tech world and it is called a Sand Box. A key point to note here: the onscreen language plays a very key role in how your users perceive how the product works. Again, it depends on what your product is.
The core idea here is that you don't need to fuss about aesthetics, colors, animations and all the jazzy stuff that we all mistake for viability. They will be important but not for the core purpose - is the product viable for the end user? Do end users think a. That you have something of value to offer to them and b. That the way you have designed this, works for them and they are likely to use it.
A case in point was Netflix's streaming service - around 2010 when Netflix was piloting their streaming service, they had a simple website and offered only about 2 hours of video per month. The content offered was also practically little known films. It was nowhere the gigantic looking library of smooth experience that it is today
If you are building physical products, you need to have some working versions of it for people to get their hands on and use them. Again, no need to fuss about bells and whistles
2. Carry out in Depth User Interviews
This seems cliched but lets understand this in depth. A lot of User Interviews carried out are in the form of surveys and group chats or expensive focus groups. This might provide some success but its not going to give you the insights you need. The best thing to do is put the product in the hands of the customer, let me them take it for a spin and then sitting them down and asking very pointed questions. For this, I recommend the Jobs to be Done framework.
The Jobs to be Done Framework
Trust me, this is a Gold Standard Framework. Why I recommend this so much is because most frameworks and research are focused on the product. That is the wrong approach.
The right way to do User Interviews
The right approach is to focus on the users. Once you are focused on the users, you will hit a Gold Mine. You will uncover related jobs, emotional angles and so much rich data that you will be left drooling. And you will understand how much you did not know about your potential users.You will also discover that what you think of as competition is plain wrong. That is the first and foremost thing that stands out after you've completed the interviews.
The next question is, how many user interviews to do?
If you have read this far, then the next question is the quantity of interviews. In anything, quality trumps quantity. Doing 20 user interviews with your user segment is more than sufficient. Make sure you record the interviews so you can go back and watch or listen to them. Every time you think of a feature or aspect, going back to user interviews will give you the necessary insight.
3. The Final Step
This is not really a step but more of a loop. Now, you have definitely picked up lots of feedback about your idea, app functionality etc., Start building the refined product and institute a feedback loop. Repeat the above process in a variety of ways and you will find that you will not be playing the guessing game anymore.
Final notes: Are there exceptions?
The answer is complicated but a simple explanation is that if people have tried validating the concept, you can build on it. Quick Ride App is a perfect example of that. You can listen to that discussion in the episode here: https://www.maharajasofscale.com/episode/episode-14-knm-rao-of-quick-ride-farming-to-tech-entrepreneurship-and-putting-a-dent-in-indias-urban-mobility-problem/
The story of Zoom Video Communications is another one where the concept was already validated. Instead, it was a ease of use validation. So, it is important to understand that you are trying to prove viable - the idea, the product or your UI. That will depend on what you are building and existing products and solutions.