Starting Small: Creating a Minimum Viable Product

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A common mistake entrepreneurs make is to start with a very specific idea and grind as hard as possible to make it work. This might work out great—but as many entrepreneurs learn, it’s far too easy to rush through, or entirely overlook, the process of refining our initial ideas into something people truly want.

Not all ideas are destined for success, no matter how compelling they seem in our heads. In order to realize your dream, you need to test the validity of your idea as cheaply, simply, and quickly as possible—and adapt quickly to the feedback you receive—before you move forward.

Finding a Minimum Viable Product

Your minimum viable product (MVP) is the least expensive, least time-consuming, and simplest version of your idea that you can ship to potential customers.

Your minimum viable product (MVP) is the least expensive, least time-consuming, and simplest version of your idea that you can ship to potential customers to start to gather data and feedback. It’s nowhere close to being your finished product; but it conveys the essence of what you hope to build well enough that you can start to understand the strong and weak points of your idea, and adapt (“iterate”) from there.

Let’s say you love cooking and decide you want to open a restaurant. A good idea for your first MVP would be throwing a dinner party yourself—or even agreeing to cater an event for a friend. Plan out the recipes, making a note of cost and the time it takes you to prepare, and insist your friends give you honest feedback after the dinner is over. Were there flavors that worked or didn’t work? Is there anything they would want to see on the menu that you didn’t serve? Was the food even good? If so, how much would they anticipate paying and how frequently would they want to come? This experiment will be a lot cheaper than starting a restaurant and finding that no one shows up.

Another great example of an MVP in action is Zappos shoes. Before Zappos became the business it is today, Zappo’s founder Nick Swinmurn didn’t know if it was reasonable to think that people would even be open to buying shoes online, since consumers were used to trying shoes on before buying. To test people’s willingness to buy, Nick put up a simple website and offered five different types of shoes. Rather than invest in inventory, he chose shoes he knew he could buy locally. When someone purchased a pair of shoes on the initial version of his site, he would simply go to the store, buy the shoes at full retail price, and then mail them off himself. While he didn’t make any money this way, he was able to determine that consumers would indeed buy shoes online, thus validating his concept.

Common Objections to the MVP Model

Creating a minimum viable product is meant to be much simpler, quicker, lower-risk, and cheaper than creating a final finished product, but people’s common sense often rebels against it.

“I Don’t Want to Spend My Energy on an Incomplete Version”

If you’ve started with a clear vision for the product you want to offer, it can feel like a waste to spend time and energy on a temporary version. Why bother gathering opinions when you already know your idea is awesome?

Good entrepreneurs and leaders are able to blend humility with the confidence it takes to push forward. Even if your idea is completely validated through your early tests, if you’re genuinely being open to feedback, you’re all but guaranteed to walk away from the process with information or resources that will be valuable moving forward.

“But My Customers Won’t Like It Until they See the Final Version”

Being open and listening to feedback doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your vision if you don’t get the kind of response you were hoping for immediately. The point is to figure out whether the idea itself is viable, not to start winning awards right away.

If people don’t like your idea, it’s probably not because it’s missing bells and whistles; it could be because the idea itself isn’t yet meeting their needs the way you thought it would. This is an invitation to tweak the idea and try again—which is a lot better than plowing forward with an incomplete idea.

“But My Customers Won’t Know What they Want Until I Give It to Them”

It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to think of themselves as visionaries. However, that doesn’t excuse you from finding a market. You’ll be sharing your MVP with early adopters who are a near perfect representative of your target market; if your idea really is a good one, you will be able to find an initial market for it.

Have a Great Idea for a Business?

We’d love to hear about your business idea—and we’d love to help you dream up an MVP version of it! Head over to our Contact page if you’d like to set up a free consultation.

Image Credits: Erin Warren

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