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Building minimum viable product is a great way to test your idea and maybe build a business. It can help you recognize whether you focus on the right problem. Without it, all you have are just assumptions. And, you don’t know for sure that any of them are true. Let’s change that. Today, we will discuss five simple steps you can follow to build great minimum viable product. Use these steps to accelerate product development. Get momentum and build your company faster.
No.1: Create concrete hypothesis
The first step in the process of building minimum viable product is forming a concrete hypothesis. Starting without this in place is a nonsense. Think about it as trying to get to some place. How do you want to get to that place if you don’t know where that place is? Maybe, a better metaphor would be trying to find something. How do you want to find something if you don’t know what are you trying to find? That’s just nonsense!
There is a saying about finding needle in a haystack. People like to use this saying to say that something is difficult. Well, you at least know that you are trying to find a needle. What if you don’t know about that needle? Imagine you are standing next to haystack and somebody tells you to find it. Find what? I don’t know, just find it. I’m sure it is somewhere in that haystack. You would think that person is crazy. Don’t do the same when you want to build minimum viable product.
Only one out of ten startups
Media outlets often like to mention statistic that somewhere around 90% of startups. This means that only one out of ten startups will eventually succeed. I don’t know if this is true. Chances are that the real numbers are a bit different. However, I will bet that all those startups that do succeed start with concrete hypothesis about what they want to build. Sure, concrete hypothesis for your minimum viable product will not guarantee you success.
Building a startup is a bumpy road full of roadblocks. If you decide to build a startup, there are many factors you have to handle. Some of these factors are more important than others. For example, finding the right people for your team. Another one Building great product. These two factors are, I think on the top. Guess what? Without concrete hypothesis, you will not know what people you need to hire. And, you can’t specify what are you going to build.
The praise for failure
A lot of entrepreneurs praise themselves for failing in their ventures. Sometimes, they even use it as a part of their pitch. Before you know who you are talking with, you know about all the business they tried to build. I don’t share this attitude towards failure. I think that failure is bad no matter how much you try to decorate it. And, what if someone wants to argue that failure is good for learning? Well, I will rather learn from failures of others.
Whether it is in business or in sport, failure is just bad. Would you brag about how you failed to win gold medal at the Olympics? Probably not. That would be stupid Why would you do the same in case of failing to build a business? How does this relate to building minimum viable product without concrete hypothesis? If failing in building a business is stupid, then what is failing to build a business without any hypothesis? I think that would be completely insane.
Another example is praising your child (if you have any) for failing in some test. Or, even giving her a medal for it. Instead, you want to praise your child for her effort and how she plans learning on the test. I think we should do the same in case of entrepreneurs. What is someone fails in building a business? We should praise the effort he made to improve his chances of success.
Improving the odds
So, how can you improve the odds of building great minimum viable product? You have to ask the right questions. Why do you want to build a startup in the first place? Are you trying to solve any problem? If so, what problem are you trying to solve? More importantly, is this problem real? Is that problem worth solving? Is there anyone else having this problem? Are these people willing to pay for solution? In other words, is there a market for your solution?
These are just some of the questions you should ask and answer to form solid hypothesis for your minimum viable product. And, I am sure there are many more. Will answers to these questions guarantee you success? Probably not. There is a lot you have to do. However, answering these questions will at least help you get started. Finally, remember that concrete hypothesis is not just about “what”, but also about “for whom”.
No.2: Focus on minimum, but keep it usable
A lot of startups take the minimum viable product name into extremes. As a result, their product is so minimal that using it is a pain. This is a problem. When you are building something new, you want to make it easy to use. People will not want to try something that as difficult to use. Imagine that you would need to read a 40-page manual to use the iPhone or iPad. How much success do you think would these products have? Probably not so much.
Sure, we can discuss whether the first generation of these devices was the case of minimum viable product. However, even the first prototypes that was made just for testing had to be easy to use. If we know something about Steve Jobs, it is that he was strong advocate of simplicity. Everything had to be as simple as it could, if not more. As a result, people loved iPhone and iPad, and other Apple’s products, and these products became enormously successful.
You need to learn from this example. Your minimum viable product must be easy to use. Forget about creating a manual. What needs manual is too complex and already broken. Although people may give you more than one chance, their first impression is already formed. You can’t change that. And, there is no such a thing as “second impression”. Don’t screw it the first time. Which brings me to another thing. Make your minimum viable product lovable.
Beyond mere usability
What does it mean lovable? People should want to use your minimum viable product. They should like to use it. This doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, without any flaws. I think that there was not yet a product in a history that would meet this criterion. Every product has some bugs or places where it can be improved. Even if your minimum viable product is a little bit clumsy, it still can be lovable. There are many products in alpha or beta that are far from being perfect.
Still, people prefer these products over any alternatives and they like to use them. So, don’t be afraid to show your minimum viable product to people because it has some bugs. Remember, nothing is perfect, especially in its first few iterations. And, even imperfect product can get the key into people’s hearts. What is this key? The benefits of your minimum viable product has to outweigh any issues users might have. There has to be something that will make the user smile.
Even if the product crashes, freezes or is incredibly slow. The user must have some reason to use your product again. And, no, begging or spamming are not ways to achieve that. As we discussed, your minimum viable product has to solve a real pain. If that pain is significant, it might be enough. However, you can do more. Your product should remove as many barriers as possible. It must allow user to get his jobs done simply and easily in the smallest number of steps.
Every successful product helps the user finish some job. And, the easier it is, the more it motivates the user to use your product again. Your product should do this the best, better than any alternative. It doesn’t matter what are you building, your goal must be becoming the leader in that category. And, finally, don’t forget adding some emotions. We are not robots. If you want to create great experience, you have to make it more human.
No.3: Gather feedback and learn from it
Building your first minimum viable product is only the beginning. You are creating just the initial version, the first iteration. You need to understand this. That product you’ve started with may not be the same product you will have in the end. Rather than something constant, think about your minimum viable product as a living and evolving thing. Because this is what it is. You are building something other people will use. So, you must test your product on real customers.
It is relatively easy to end up with something nobody will want to use. If you want to avoid this situation, you need to ask people for feedback. Every time you test version of your minimum viable product, talk with people. Ask them what they like and what not. Take tons of notes. It is always better to write more than is necessary than to rely on your memory. However, you should also never rely just on what people say. Watch what their interaction with your product.
After you do a couple of tests, you will realize that people sometimes say one thing and do something else. Or, they may not even know they are doing something. There are many things we do automatically. And, we are often don’t aware of them. Problem is that if you are not aware of something, how do you want to point it out? You don’t know about it, you will not talk about it. This is why watching people using your product is so important.
Finally, be aware of your assumptions and question all of them. You might think people will use your product in certain way. However, the reality might be different. This is why you must keep a distance when you are testing your minimum viable product. Give the person your product and shut up. Watch her, in silence, do what she thinks she should do. Don’t give her any instructions. Do this with number of people to find out how intuitive and easy to use your product is.
No.4: Ship before you are ready
Is there any perfect time to ship your minimum viable product? My immediate answer is no. Just like your product will never be perfect, there is no perfect time to release it. So, you don’t have to wait for it. Instead, I would encourage you to ship as soon as you can. Even if your minimum viable product is just bones and simple styling. Even if it can do only one thing, barely. Just ship it. Remember, your goal is not delivering something perfect, but gathering feedback for new version.
There is a quote by Reid Hoffman I like a lot: “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” The first version of your product is built on your assumptions and hypothesis (hopefully). However, neither your assumptions nor your hypothesis might be true. And, the only way to find it out is by … Yes, shipping it! Only when you put your product into people’s hands (people outside your team) you will see what assumptions are true.
Shipping early and first impression
A lot of people don’t want to follow this advice. The reason is simple. They are afraid that their product will look bad. It is again about the first impression. The problem is that first impression is useless if you don’t get your product out. In that case, there is no first impression at all. Another thing I want to mention. If you ship, you know exactly what you have to work on to improve the first impression. If people say the design of product sucks, you now know you need to improve it.
The truth is that the majority of people will not care about the design as much as you think. Well, unless you are testing your product with designers. People will care much more about the usability. This is something I learned on my previous startups. For the majority of people, usability is always first, design is second. They will forgive you bad design. Design is not such a priority for them. Remember, they want to get some job done and remove their pain.
We’ve talked about first impression in the part about focusing on usability. It might seem like this advice contradicts it. Not necessarily. Think about shipping early as a way to find out how to improve your minimum viable product. This is what it is. Every time you ship and test, you get the opportunity to learn what you need to improve. This way, you are building your product with your users, not just for them. As a result, you will have higher chance to create better first impression.
Tester vs user
There is another thing to keep in mind. The people that help you test your minimum viable product now may not be the final users. You may never see them again. So, does it really matter that they saw the first or second version of your product? Let’s say that some of these people would talk about how bad your product was. The easiest thing you can do is show the current version. You can show how far you were able to get from that version.
As a result, you can even convince some of those people to try your product again and fix your reputation. As they say, the best defense is good offense. Don’t argue or excuse yourself and your product. Show how much better it is now. Have you seen the first version of Twitter, or Facebook, Google, YouTube and Amazon? None of them was perfect. That was not even the goal. The goal was to test the hypothesis and product and gather feedback.
So, don’t be afraid that the first version of your product may discourage some people from using it. There are still a lot of people in the world. Remember, you goal is to ship early, find how to make it better, do it and repeat the cycle. If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
No.5: Don’t be afraid to pivot
What if your product is not solving the right problem? It can happen that you are the only person having this problem or pain. Or, people may use your product in a different way than you though. If you built your minimum viable product and it failed, don’t dwell on it. Move on. World is full problems just waiting to be solved. Just because it didn’t work this time, it doesn’t mean it will not work the next time. You failed. OK. You can check this problem off and focus on something else.
Another possibility is that your product didn’t fail. However, people use it in a different way than you planned. For example, they may mainly use only one specific feature. It can be even some minor functionality. In that case, you should use that to create new hypothesis and test it. What if that function was the main feature of your product? Would people want to use it? You may find out that people would want to use your product even more. This might be a reason to pivot.
Because we already discussed this topic in Pivot – How to Go From Survival To Epic Success, I will keep it short. If your product completely failed (nobody wanted it), take it as an opportunity to move to something else. On the other hand, if the majority of people used your product in the same way, but differently than you planned, consider pivot. You can also create new minimum viable product to test this hypothesis without killing the first.
Who says you must have only one product? It is absolutely okay to use more variants of your product and run A/B test. Then, you can see which variant to focus on. Don’t worry about failing. Worry about not recognizing it.
Closing thoughts on building great minimum viable product
Every time we are in the end of the article, it seems that there is more to talk about than in the beginning. This time, it is no different. There is so much we can talk about to build great minimum viable products. It seems to me that we’ve only scratched the surface. What I want to say is, expect more in-depth articles on what we discussed today in the future. I want to give you as much material as possible to build not only great minimum viable product, but also great company.
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