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The Minimum Viable Product: When is it Marketable?

Posted on May 22nd, 2013

Posted by: Seth Weedin

Minimum Viable Product

Build Your MVP in Steps

“Lean startup” is a popular phrase in today’s entrepreneurial world and for good reason: it works.  The official definition to the lean startup methodology from Eric Ries is “to provide a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.” This process involves developing a minimum viable product, or “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers”.

So a minimum viable product (MVP) is a way to get your product into the hands of users faster and use their feedback to continuously innovate. There is no better validation on whether your product has legs than honest feedback from your target market. They will be brutally honest. The key is to make sure you listen, as they will stop you from wasting money on developing a product that sucks in the first place.

When we were in the process of developing our MVP for Spotlight People & Project Manager, we took a two-phase approach. First there was the MVP phase, which we used to gather beta users and early adopters for thorough feedback. We used the feedback to continuously iterate and add functionality. Then there was the minimum marketable product (MMP) phase, which is a period where the product is out of beta and can be marketed to new customers. You will still be iterating and using customer feedback, but this product can have more marketing dollars pumped into it. Some people use these terms interchangeably but we separated it into two phases.

It’s often difficult to judge when the time is right to release a MVP and then MMP. Here we look at each one and some differences to help you in the process of building your lean startup.

Minimum Viable Product

The MVP is initially used to validate your product idea with customers. Here we look at three key areas that can help you determine if it’s worth moving forward with your product.

  • Value – Does your minimum product provide enough value that people are willing to use it? If you have a hard time attracting traffic to your product’s website through a smoke test PPC campaign, it’s obvious something needs to change. Or maybe the idea just isn’t going to perk much interest, ever. On the other hand, if you receive good traffic and a number of signups for early beta testers, chance are you’re on the right track. This initial user feedback will give you the information needed to determine if it’s worth spending the capital to move the product forward.
  • Future Benefit – As you move through the early MVP phase, you’ll get an idea of whether early adopters are actually using the product and coming back for more. Do they believe your product shows enough future benefit to keep using it? Users should be able to see the potential of your product with an MVP even if the functionality isn’t there yet.
  • Feedback– Feedback from beta users and early adopters is a two way street. You provide them some incentive, such as free use of the app right away and possibly in the future, for their feedback and suggestions. This will help guide your future development goals beyond the MVP. Instead of throwing in features that your team thinks would be beneficial (often called ‘feature creep’), use the data at hand from those using it everyday in real business situations. If the early adopters have suggestions for improvement, it will likely benefit your entire target market as a useful addition for the future. If they have no feedback at all, it’s probably time to reevaluate your product.

It’s important that early users can identify the vision and promise of the final product through the MVP. If they can’t see it or don’t think it’s worthwhile, gathering feedback and data will be tough.

Minimum Marketable Product

As previously mentioned, we separated our development roadmap into two phases, the second being the MMP. As our application evolved through the MVP phase, we asked ourselves, when is it ready to be released to the masses? Now that you’ve verified the idea with the MVP and people are getting value out of it, how do you know when the product is ready to turn on the marketing funnel? Here are three areas of your product to consider that help with this decision.

  • Reliability – The MVP phase is used to work out a lot of major bugs and server issues in your software product. While your beta testers will be understanding of outages or business crippling issues in the early phase, regular customers will not. Ensure your product is 100% free of any show stopping bugs that will deem it unusable. When you release a MMP to the world, people are going to rely on your product when they sign up, whether it’s for business or pleasure. Don’t release a product that is going to frustrate them with reliability issues.
  • Scalability – Ensure whatever platform you’re product is hosted on is fully scalable for a flood of new users. While most new startups won’t get overwhelmed with new users as soon as the MMP is released, scalability needs to be something that is worked out during the MVP. There is always that chance your product catches on quickly and the signups start rolling in. Make sure the traffic can be handled before releasing your MMP.
  • Performance – Nothing is slow these days in the world of technology. If it is slow, people don’t use it and definitely won’t pay for it. Test the performance of your product every which way before releasing an MMP. Studies show that 250 milliseconds can make the difference between someone visiting your website or a competitor’s. Chances are there will be multiple users hitting the system at once and any delay in response, even seconds, will frustrate them. Nothing good comes from frustrated users as soon as you release your product.

While there are several more things to consider before releasing your product to the entire market, these are three vital ones. You want to be prepared for anything when moving out of your MVP and into a marketable product release. While you will continue to iterate your product with new features, updates, and improvements, an MMP can be released when you’re prepared for the unexpected.

No matter if you are building a MVP or ready to release a MMP to your target market, the key to all of this is building a product that solves a problem. If it doesn’t solve some type of problem, people or businesses won’t use it. Starting with a MVP and morphing that into a MMP after honest user feedback will give you the best chance of success. Determining the timeline for MVP and MMP releases can be difficult but trust your judgment. And surround yourself with people who have done it before.

Has your business developed a product using a minimum viable product and minimum marketable product? Or do you combine them into one? Leave us a comment and share your experience.

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