Different people have various ideas about a minimum viable product (MVP), and very few understand the nuances of what constitutes one.
An MVP is a product with the highest return on investment versus risk. In my several years of working with startups, I’ve seen varying degrees of complexity across these products. And what I've learned is that an MVP doesn’t always mean that you strip down all the features, nor does it mean that you go to market within just weeks -- or simply launch with just a landing page.
In short, there isn’t a one-size-fit-all MVP strategy. You have to adapt depending on the industry you’re catering to, the problem you’re solving and the existing competition.
The following points will explain the concept of an MVP, based on your particular product and industry, and help you decide the features you should build for your Version One.
1. Distinguish between "must have" and "nice to have."
The basic rule for any product development in its early stages is to understand your product's core value offering. Being able to separate the bells and whistles from the must-have features will help you get to market faster and validate your hypothesis with a lower investment.
Again, your first version should address just the core value, but this doesn’t necessitate stripped-down features. Even if you’re building your mobile app with just a couple of features, you must close the loop and build them well.
Most entrepreneurs mistake an MVP as having to have incomplete features, but instead what is essential are those limited/must have features that facilitate the overall user experience.
What you can do is build an un-automated loop or workflow at the back end which doesn’t impact the experience of the end consumer.
In short, an MVP is not a landing page, a mock-up or a prototype. A minimum viable product is a product.
2. Address just one market segment to start.
What goes into an MVP should also reflect the audiences you’re serving. Sure, your product can and will eventually have multiple features that will serve the needs of multiple customer segments. But launching on day one trying to serve all of them is not a prudent idea.
In its early days, the product you’re building should viably solve your early-adopting customers’ problems right from the get go. Building an MVP is one thing; the next task is to find and reach out to early adopters so that you can get the feedback loop rolling.
Reaching out to those early adopters who will want to use your first version is a challenging task, and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin in the early days. Focusing on one customer segment and solving those customers' problems well will help you get to the right product/market fit.
After that, it’s about scaling-up your product and marketing.
3. Recognize the difference between a served and an untapped audience.
You will not always have a completely new and untapped market in which to launch your product. Your product may merely be a better mousetrap, and that’s perfectly all right: It's just that, when competing with an existing product, you have to build yours better than the existing solution.
In that scenario, you may believe you can do less building than your competitor already has. But don’t be mistaken by that word "less." It doesn’t mean "build fewer features," but rather build those that are part of the overall user experience in the "must-have" space, without the bells and whistles.
Even just the "must-haves," howver, can be numerous, because you’re entering an evolved category or product space.
The MVP in this case will look very different from the one you build for a completely untapped market, where such a product or service doesn’t already exist.
Another thing: Don’t get carried away with buzzwords. Use your judgment, based on the insights you have of your customers and the existing landscape. That way, you'll get your MVP exactly right.
Related: Get Your Product Figured Out First