Time and money are valuable resources. Investing them in a product idea that may eventually fail in the market tends to cause irreversible damage in terms of financial stability. Developing an MVP helps you verify whether a proposed product has a chance of making it big in the market. It is, therefore, necessary to test and review MVP in-depth, so as to avoid wasting time and effort in building a full-fledged product.
In this article, I provide you with an overview of how to build an MVP and an in-depth look into how to test your MVP.
MVP - A Brief Background
The concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was popularized by Eric Ries in his book ‘The Lean Startup’. His definition of MVP is “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.”
The idea of viability differs from person to person just as it differs from product to product. In a more general sense, a product is viable if it successfully fulfills a need in the market. The notion of product viability is concerned with learning whether the features you deem important are, in fact, important to the users as well.
The minimal aspect comes to play in identifying the features that are necessary (must have’s) and the ones which are surplus (nice to have’s).
How To Build an MVP
The process of building an MVP begins by defining the core problem that your product is aimed at solving. The key to developing an effective MVP is defining the problem as clearly and specifically as possible.
Once you’ve successfully defined the problem, the next logical step would be to come up with the most efficient solution. Build an MVP simple enough to test the feasibility of your central idea while satisfying the needs of the customers.
Remember, the execution of an idea is often more important and difficult than the idea itself. As such, you need to be on the lookout for your competitors and study them. The objective is to present your product in a way that’s better than its contemporary alternatives.
Before commencing the actual development process, it is essential to plan out the details of the project. You can opt for either a time-based or a progress-based product roadmap, depending upon the needs of your project.
After a detailed plan is laid out, the actual development process begins. Start out by building a basic version and keep testing and updating it until you have something that resembles your idea of the final product.
Ultimately, you seek to earn revenue from the product that you’ve developed. But to do so, it is necessary to test various pricing models in the development stage itself. You need to come up with a model that is neither overpriced nor underpriced.
Finally, launch your MVP in the market and stop further developing it. After the launch, your main focus should be to attract more users by spreading the word about your product.
How To Test Your MVP
“Of course, as the Minimal Viable Product is not the final version of the product, it's unlikely to be perfect. However, testing should show if there are any major issues with the MVP that must be fixed.”
- Vladlen Shulepov, CEO, Riseapps
As you know by now, the concept of building an MVP wasn’t already there. Even now, many startups and entrepreneurs underestimate the power of testing and validating an MVP. “Why should you test your MVP” is still a common search term, both on Google and in real-life conversations.
It is very critical to test your MVP no matter how promising your idea sounds. Sometimes, how we see the product or the problem for that matter, is vastly different from the audience we are aiming to target. No amount of data can outperform the insights we get from the responses of actual people.
“The creation of MVP is an affordable and low-risk investment that, combined with a proper testing approach, can be potentially transformed into a robust product.”
- Maxim Ivanov, CEO, Aimprosoft
A good approach for how to test an MVP would include testing the major hypothesis underlying the idea. I am going to discuss the top 5 proven MVP testing strategies that work well with most product types. However, there can be many other ways to do so too.
The only decisive factor for how to test your MVP is that you should be able to verify your MVP has a market demand and will create value for the users.
“An MVP is ready for testing when it has enough features to solve the core problem. The core problem in most cases will be the most pressing problem which will be the foundation of the product. If we take Gmail as an example, the core functionality is sending emails to another receiver in a simple and quick way. All the other features like adding a signature, attaching a file from Google Drive are good to have, but those features will not make or break the product.”
- Rahul Mohanachandran, Founder and CEO, Kasera
Top 5 Best MVP Testing Strategies
1. Customer interviews
Did you know UberCab was initially targeted at customers (passengers) only? During the MVP testing stage, they learned that a much better solution would be to meet the needs of both passengers and drivers. That’s how Uber came into being, with the help of insights gained during MVP testing in the form of real-world customer interviews.
Once you have built an MVP, the most honest feedback you can get is by asking open-ended questions to your potential audience. Encourage unfiltered, unrestricted responses about how your MVP will be useful to your customers. In order to get the right kind of insights, you must know how to leverage first-hand interviews in the right way.
There are many ways in which you can get the responses you are looking for. For example, list down problems that your product aims to solve and ask your customers about them. Tell them to rank these problems and understand how desperate they are for the solutions.
Then offer your MVP as a solution and ask them if that’s something they would like to try. It’s also an opportunity for you to gauge insights about your final product. Asking things like what else would you wish the product could do for you can help you reshape your MVP into a much more viable final product.
“You'll only get the answers you are waiting for if you address the question in a vis-a-vis setting. Not only will your customer be more honest, but their answers will also be as authentic as it can be since there's no way they can lie about something that they have only seen for the first time. These are realtime reviews and they will surely be pivotal in improving your MVP.”
Find your testers
Sometimes, it's also extremely beneficial to identify the audience that may be interested as well as the ones who may not be interested in using your MVP. These people can work as testers for you and give you actionable feedback about your MVP.
“We release the product, let's say an alpha build of an app. Then we solicit feedback via surveys from the testers we've selected, and interview testers who are on the positive and negative end of the spectrum. These are people who often feel very strongly one way or the other, and their opinions can really help us hammer out issues or improve features.”
- Dan Bailey, President, WikiLawn
“Collect some users who might possibly use your product and have them try out the MVP in a test environment. You will very likely see the best results from this one as the user personas match your target audience. If they can derive value from the product, then you might be good to go!”
- William Chin, Web Consultant, PickFu.com
2. Landing pages
Buffer, the renowned social media tool, was once just a landing page, actually two landing pages. The first page showed its features and the second was a signup page. According to its co-founder Joel Gascoigne, that’s all he did to validate his MVP.
Landing pages are one of the most trusted answers to how to test an MVP. A landing page helps you find out whether your MVP interests your target audience. Conversely, it can also tell you what kind of buyers are interested in your product. You never know, you could discover a whole new treasure of potential market through a landing page MVP.
Even though landing pages are very common, not many budding entrepreneurs make the most of them. At best, landing pages are treated as an opportunity to build an email list of potential buyers. But it’s so much more than that! The kind of data you get out of landing pages can be a gold mine of insights for you.
For instance, you can try out a couple of different versions of a landing page. These versions could show your MVP in various different ways, from design to features and pricing models.
Now, based on the number of and the kind of people who sign up for those different versions, you will be better to understand how viable a solution your MVP is and what kind of users it appeals to the most. Google Analytics can do the job well for gathering all the relevant traffic and sign-up data.
“A/B landing page tests, hot maps, and pre-order sales pages are good ways to test pricing. You know that an MVP is ready for testing when it is capable to test the riskiest hypotheses. Instead of perfecting the design or technical details, spend more time collecting feedback from users in multiple iterations. Less is always more.”
- Anastasia Schmalz, Founder, GenerationNomads.com
3. Crowdsourcing campaigns
Crowdsourcing campaigns are majorly leveraged to raise funds for bringing a product idea to life. However, if done the right way, you can use it as one of the top MVP testing strategies too.
Under a crowdsourcing campaign, entrepreneurs explain their startup ideas and provide relevant details as to how they plan to use the money received out of the campaign. If users like the idea and are ready to invest in it, it clearly indicates the idea is worth pursuing. If there are investors today, there will be buyers tomorrow
However, the major challenge here is to make your MVP stand out from the rest. Platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have become tremendously popular now. There are hundreds of campaigns being launched on these and many more platforms. So, you have to present your idea that not only appeals to the users but also sounds convincing enough for them to invest in it.
The Pebble E-Paper Watch killed it on Kickstarter as the first smartwatch within an affordable price range. With a highly effective crowdsourcing campaign, they raised over $10 million in less than 40 days!
4. Ad campaigns
An ad campaign can be a holistic market research tool for you if you know how to use it well. Just like landing pages, ad campaigns on social media channels too can provide you with highly useful analytics. However, the kind of analysis you get through ad campaigns is pretty sophisticated.
Ad campaigns enable you to make the most of the buyer persona you must have created for your MVP in the initial stages. Based on this persona, ad campaigns allow you to position your MVP to the specific sections of the audience that you want to reach out to. You can show your ads to people on the basis of gender, location, age group, and even the interests of your audiences.
Moreover, an ad campaign is your chance for A/B testing your MVP. You can create different ad campaigns for different audiences. Along with that, you can also choose to create ads highlighting different aspects of your MVP to gauge what appeals to your audience the most.
Analytics like click-through rates will help you polish the positioning of your MVP which in turn will help you launch your MVP in the most effective way.
“Let's say I wanted to create a profitable niche e-commerce business around Unicorn apparel. First I'd test interest in the idea, creating a website and some blog articles to see if I could get organic SEO traffic with a new site. Seeing that organic traffic can be the mechanism to build the business, I'd create a Facebook page and share memes and other sharable content to generate interest, a community, and learn more about my potential demographic. This would then inform me of what sort of merchandise to create based on user feedback.”
- Austin Iuliano, Social Media Consultant, Austin Iuliano Inc
5. Wizard of the Oz
Just like magic, this MVP testing strategy is all about creating an illusion in the mind of your audience. Wizard of the Oz can be your savior if you don’t have enough funds to build a complete MVP. Under this approach, what your audience sees is much more sophisticated than what you actually build.
Zappos, the pioneer in the online shoe retailing business, is a classic example of how successful this MVP testing technique can be. The founder Nick Swinmurn had a great idea of selling shoes online but he wasn’t sure whether people would be willing to buy shoes without trying them on. He didn’t want to invest money in an idea the demand of which was still only in his head.
To verify whether his business would create value in the market, he set up a website. He then went to local shoe stores, clicked pictures of the shoes, and put them for sale on his website. This way, he made his customers believe that Zappos was a brand with a huge inventory and a supply chain system in place. In reality, he would simply buy the shoes and get them delivered to his customers for the first few orders.
Now that he knew his business model had a demand, he went ahead and created a full-fledged startup. Later in 2009, the million-dollar shoe retailer was acquired by the eCommerce giant Amazon.
Thus, if you have an interesting idea, the wizard of the oz is your go-to MVP testing approach. It yields the maximum benefits when the idea is fresh and it is possible for you to carry out initial processes manually.
“The common scenario for testing an MVP is to hand it to a small group of loyal customers and start generating feedback. Of course, before an MVP can happen you go through a rapid prototyping step, creating an interactive click-through model of an application. That way, an MVP is sort of pre-tested even before it’s developed.”
- Joe Tuan, CEO, Topflight Apps
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How To Test An MVP: The Bottom Line
“Choosing the right way to test your MVP will depend a lot on what type of MVP you’ve created. If it’s an explainer video, blog, or fundraising pitch, your measurement of success will be as simple as seeing how many people viewed, commented, or donated.”
- Sam Orchard, Project Director, Edge of the Web
“With groups of users that gradually grow larger. Start 1, then 10, then 100, etc. For each user, understand what they like, what they don't like, what the solution replaces, and why they have that existing issue.”
- Nick Swekosky, CEO, Market Metrics
Out of the MVP testing strategies I have shared here, you can choose to adopt any one or a combination of techniques. The only thing that matters is your approach to test an MVP should provide verifiable insights on whether your final product will have a fair share of the market after its launch.
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