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Minimum Viable Product Explained. Create One: Step By Step.

This is what we will cover:
  • What is an MVP?
  • What problem are you solving?
  • Competitor analysis.
  • Define the user flow.
  • List features and prioritize them.
  • Build, test, learn.

What is a Minimal Viable Product?

The simple answer is that an MVP is the simplest version of your product.
It should only include core functionality and time and cost to produce it needs to be as small as you can possibly make it.
One of the best-known examples of an MVP is Air BNB.
It started when two guys were having trouble paying the rent so they decided to transform their living room into a bedroom with air mattresses for three people so that they could rent it out.
After figuring out that there were probably a lot of people that wanted to rent a room to generate extra income they created a simple website that allowed people to list a room for rent.
This website was the MVP. It didn’t include the bells and whistles you can see on the site now. 
Think of it this way.
They assumed that there were many people that wanted to rent out a room to generate income because they found themselves in this situation.
The next step was to test the assumption by creating an MVP before allocating time and money into building something more elaborate.
This website was simply the simplest version of the website required to confirm their assumption. 
If you have a science background, you can think of it as forming a hypothesis and then doing an experiment to test the hypothesis.
In this case, the hypothesis is the business idea and the experiment is the MVP. 

MPV: What problem are you solving?

Most professional investors like to think in terms of a problem-solution framework.
In most cases, the reason you’re setting up the business is that you’ve identified a problem and developed a solution. 
This is not just an important issue for raising capital.
The viability of your entire business depends on it. 
These are the critical questions you need to answer:
  • What is the problem?
  • How painful is the problem?
  • What is the solution?
  • How effective is the solution?
  • What is unique about your solution?
I’ve created an article/video about how to work through the problem-solution framework
It’s critical to develop your ideas in a structured way to make sure that you haven’t missed any part of the problem or the solution.
You can do this with the Idea Management platform on iimagine.
You just state the problem you’re trying to solve then invite your team or potential customers (or even the public if you want to make it public) to contribute solutions, vote on solutions, or comment on solutions from other people.
Over time, the best ideas will rise to the top.
I believe it is the most advanced idea management platform in the world and it’s free so you really should use it. 

MPV: Competitor analysis

It’s critical for you to know exactly how you compare to your competitors.
If you don’t thoroughly research your competitors it will be impossible for you to differentiate yourself from them, it will be impossible to create and execute an effective marketing strategy and you will likely make a lot of other strategic errors.
Also, keep in mind that you need to stay updated with what your competitors are doing over time because a lot of the decisions you make about how to improve your product over time will be based on how your product compares with your major competitors, so monitoring your competitors will be an ongoing part of growing your business.
I’ve created an article/video about how to do competitor research step by step. It will also show you how to create a competitor matrix.

MVP: Define the user flow

Noe, this sounds like something you would do when your product is software but it applies to any business.
You need to map out the sequence of events that your customers need to move through in order to start using your product and end up with the result they’re looking for.
This is easy to visualize if you imagine signing up for a new mobile app and using it but the same concept applies to a simple service business.
Your customer still needs to work through multiple steps with your business in order to get the final result they’re looking for.
Don’t get bogged down in features.
Focus on the core steps that your customers need to take to get from the start to the end.
So let’s use the “Ideas” platform on iimagine as an example.
The core feature here is very simple:
The user will state the problem they’re trying to solve and then invite people to suggest their solutions or vote and comment on solutions from other people. Over time, the best ideas will rise to the top.
  • State the problem: Enter information about the problem you are trying to solve
  • Invite solutions: Invite team members, and potential customers (or the public) to suggest solutions
  • Select the best solution

If you want to see more examples of MVP’s, check out this article from Myva360.

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MVP: List features and prioritize them

Make sure you’re clear about the answer to this question – what is the single most important action that I want my users to accomplish?
In the case of the “Ideas” platform, the most important action is creating a listing with the minimum (required) fields completed.
The next step is to list the other features that you want to offer and explain why you need them.
For the “Ideas” platform, there is a long list of additional features that are not part of the core functionality.
For example, there is a feature that allows users to be given “expert” status.
Why is the feature necessary? Well, imagine that you created a listing where the problem you want to solve is “How can we reverse climate change?” and you make this listing open to the public.
The people that suggest solutions will range from climate scientists through to the average Joe.
So I created this feature to allow experts to request “expert” status from the listing owner so that everyone can differentiate expert opinion from everyone else’s opinion.
A simple way to do this is to use the Story Mapping technique where you create a matrix where you have the user flow running along the top and features listed under each step in the user flow.
Then you just need to prioritize the features.  
So this is what it would look like for the Ideas platform on iimagine:

iimagine ideas platform

For those of you that are watching a video, you can see that I created this using a Kanban board.
This is the best way to do this because you can easily drag and drop items to any list.
Doing this in a spreadsheet will be very annoying.
When you’re done prioritizing these features you can decide what needs to be included in version one (your MVP) and create a scope of work for building it.
For example, for the Ideas platform, I decided not to include these items in the MVP:
  • expert status
  • convey your vote to an expert
  • public-private options
Some of you might think that I’ve included too much in my MVP.
All I can say is – you need to remember the “V” in MVP.
There’s obviously a trade-off between “minimum” and “viable”.
Only you can decide whether your MVP is too small to be viable or too big to be minimum.
This decision will be influenced by your budget, time constraints, and your available skill set.
In the end, there is no magic formula that will generate the right answer. This is an early test of your judgment as an entrepreneur. 
I simply used my best judgment to make this decision and you need to do the same, then, regardless of the result, you relentlessly move on to the next step. That’s how this works. 

MVP: Build, Measure, Learn

This final section is called Build, measure, Learn so you need to make sure that the MVP you’re building will allow you to measure the results.
It seems like I’m stating the obvious but, in some cases, you might need to adjust some aspects of your product in order to collect the most important data.
So, think about what you need to measure before you build it and adjust accordingly.
Finally, all data is not created equal. In order to “learn” from your MVP, you need to make sure that have collected statistically significant sample sizes of data.
If this isn’t practical, then the next best option is to collect feedback from a small sample of potential customers – but not just any potential customers.
They should be potential customers that accurately represent your overall target market.
Don’t fall into the trap of developing a product that only addressed the unique requirements of a small number of customers that will not be applicable to the broader market that you’re targeting.

Download Our Free ‘Start A Business’ Guide

Use our “Impact Entrepreneurship” checklist to start your business and make the world better.

  • Adam Radly

    Founder of IIMAGINE. More than $100M raised. TEDx Talk about passion > 1 Million views. Founder of World Reconciliation Day with Nelson Mandela. Founder of One Direct Democracy.