What is an MVP?

startups Nov 10, 2020

What do you mean M . . . V . . . P

The term Minimally Viable Product (MVP) is wonderfully self-explanatory and refers to a product with just enough features to be usable and provide feedback from actual customers. It is often employed when a startup wants early real world market feedback or as the starting place for an iterative process of development.

MVPs have helped to deliver many of the innovative software applications in use today.  (Amazon, Facebook, Dropbox, Uber, Twitter and many others started with MVPs)  It draws from scientific method: observation, hypothesis, test and iterate. This virtuous circle of improvement has delivered nearly all of man’s notable advancements.

What could be better?

Well . . .

Like many powerful ideas, the process has been claimed, extended, shaped and renamed with vigor over the two decades since it was first articulated. Some of this work is high value while other might be best described as social engineering. I will share a few thoughts of our real-world experience with MVPs but first I should introduce some related terms such as mVP, Mvp, MaxDP, MinDP and SLC.

At the risk of not properly explaining these concepts, here are brief descriptions.

·       A mVP places greater emphasis on the viability of the product and is usually more feature rich and built to scale than a traditionally defined MPV. However, it must still be iterated over time to reach its full potential.

·       A Mvp is a very light weight application ready for investors or a small subset of the addressable market. It is often employed when a startup does not have adequate resources to build a more complete initial release.

·       At the zenith of terminological inexactitudes, the MDP is used to define both a maximally delightful product and a minimally delightful product.  To reduce confusion, it can be noted as MaxDP and MinDP.  A maximally delightful product is a robust differentiated end-stage release. It is the antithesis of an MVP.  Superhuman is notably using this approach.  A MinDP is a rephrasing of MVP to focus on a highly pleasing user experience.

·       An SLC or “slic” is a simple, lovable and complete product.  SLCs tend to fall between MVP and a MaxDP.  We see SLCs from well capitalized efforts to build a MVP.

An important common attribute with an MVP is the recognition that any undertaking is a series of tradeoffs.  The necessity of tradeoffs is well captured in the classic engineering giggle: “Cost, Time and Scope.  You can pick two.”  Although there is no doubt that a high-performance team can reduce tradeoffs, prioritization is unavoidable.

A lamentable limitation of the MPV is the burden it places on early adopters. Potential evangelists for the new application are dragged through development cycles where the product never seems quite right. This is a manageable problem with a distinctive product and a sticky user base but it can decrement goodwill at a remarkable rate. When an MVP starts to show substantive acceptance, substantial investments are required to quickly improve the application before your customer’s goodwill bank account is overdrawn.  Early relationships with funding sources can be very valuable.

We speak with entrepreneurs that often simply do not have the funds to build an MVP.  Their desire is to build a very minimally viable product or Mvp.   Of course, this is a difficult tightrope walk. We often recommend deeply capital constrained projects start with a clickable prototype that can be used to help secure funds.  In this way the marketplace hypothesis can be properly tested when sufficient funds are available to construct a more complete application. If the application is reasonably complete and it fails in the marketplace, was the failure due to unviable application or a lack of marketplace acceptance? You will not know and this is a serious research design failure.

“A job well begun is half done.” is a quote attributed to both Mary Poppins and Aristotle so it should be given proper consideration. Investing time and treasure in the design phase of an MVP can pay considerable dividends both because the application will offer a reasonable user experience and it will be better prepared for the follow-on effort to scale and extend the feature set. We have found that design is best viewed as a distinct prerequisite task for a successful application build. Absent this important milestone the UX/UI is crafted real time by the entrepreneurs and engineers. Those smiling at the aforementioned statement have demonstrated their wisdom through experience.

Successful new products tend to be the outcomes of excellent craftsmanship not a production process. There are few easy answers that work in all circumstances. Although we can share many experiences and rules of thumb, successful projects are delivered by capable and aligned teams. Team members with relevant and varied experience with early stage application development are an invaluable asset. Call us if you would like to discuss how to best bring your ideas to market.

David Haynes

Partner @ Ravn