MLP vs MVP: Which One Brings Customers?

Masha Panchenko

Any person who has been thinking seriously about launching their own product knows that an MVP (minimum viable product) is the thing to start with. However, if you start researching more, you discover that many people state that MLP (minimum loveable product) is a better thing to do, while the concept of MVP is outdated. Let’s figure out if this is true.

As a design agency, we meet both clients who want to build an MVP and those who are determined to develop an MLP. Here is our short guide to minimal viable and lovable products.

What are MVP and MLP?

MVP — the minimum viable product is a product with a minimum set of basic features that is used to collect feedback for further iterations.

MLP — the minimum loveable product that has not only basic functionality, but also the potential to make users fall in love with it.

What is the difference between MLP and MVP?

Let’s take a look at the MVP and MLP from the point of coffee: favorite example. There are hundreds of coffee shops in any city. Even in your area, there would be more than one. But which one do you choose when you want some coffee?

The answer depends on many factors: the quality of beans, the skills of the barista, pretty cups, comfy chairs, or the availability of a lactose-free option. These are just a few factors that create a user experience in the coffee buying process.

Each coffee shop offers you a caffeine drink to give you an energy boost. Still, there are certain things that make the process of coffee drinking more pleasurable.

Coffee shops try to create the best conditions to get loyal customers. Depending on your priorities, you will choose a favorite coffee shop (or few) and stick to your choice.

MVP vs MLP

Adding hot water to a spoon of instant coffee is probably the easiest way of making coffee. Using minimum time and resources is the hallmark of the MVP. A hot drink with caffeine in a paper cup in our case can be called “minimum viable coffee”.

On the contrary, preparing a cup of fine espresso requires more time (grinding beans, loading the machine, cleaning it) and resources (professional coffee machine, fancy-looking cup). The product is still minimal (no cream, spices, ice cream), but loveable at the same time. Drinking this type of coffee brings pleasure and makes us come back to the coffee shop serving it again and again.

But what if you are running out of the house at 9 AM for a meeting after having missed the alarm? Which option would you pick? A cozy coffee shop with a barista grinding fresh beans for you, or a cup of instant coffee that you can grab to drink in a car? In such a case, you are likely to go for that very basic coffee.

The latter example shows us that MLP is not always the perfect option. Depending on conditions, MVP might be the best choice.

MVP - faster, cheaper, solves the problem. MLP - slower, not that cheap, makes people fall in love

As a team of professional designers, we want to make thought-out products that people love. However, our clients might be in a condition where they don’t want/ can not invest enough money and time to build a loveable product.

Each product is special and we practice individual approaches. However, if to get a general idea of when to go for MVP and when go for MLP, you can base on the following principles:

When do you need an MVP?

  • When the time is limited
  • When the budget is low
  • When the product is so innovative and unique that the most important is to launch it as fast as possible
  • When the product is built for beta testing

When do you need an MLP?

  • When the product is not the only one in the niche and has to provide an exceptional user experience to win over competitors
  • When you want to gain the loyalty of your target audience right away
  • When you have already built an MVP and want to go to the next stage

How to build an MVP

We have a whole article on how to build a minimum viable product, but to save your time, here is a short list of things you have to focus on:

  • Define the user's problem and think of a solution to it. Validate the idea.
  • Think of the minimum set of features necessary to solve the problem.
  • Define the target audience. Even with a minimum viable product, you have to tailor it to people that will be using it.
  • Research the market: are there any competitors? What do they offer?
  • Create a user journey map. Most startups can’t afford to invest heavily in UX research at this stage, but totally ignoring the research is a way to fail.
  • Develop and test the MVP. The keyword here is “test”: remember that MVP is a product that has to be tested by real users, iterated, and serve as a basis for building the future product.

If you are curious about what you can get at the end, check out our article about MVP with examples.

How to build an MLP

Many product managers aim to build a minimal loveable product right away. This is a good objective, but it has some requirements to succeed. Here are some important pieces of advice on developing an MLP:

  • Start with functionality. Solving users’ problems goes before making them love the product.
  • Avoid adding too many features. The product has to stay minimal, as it would be subject to changes and iterations anyway.
  • Talk to users and research. The product that seems to be totally loveable to you might not be as attractive to your target audience. Run some user interviews to find out how people really relate to your product.
  • Define the criteria for lovability. Yes, when we talk about UX research, we can try to measure even love.
  • Invest in design from the very start. Building a startup team does not typically start with a designer. However, for making an MLP, a skilled UX professional has to be involved in the project at the very beginning: possibly at the stage of idea validation.

The evolution of minimal products

The concept of MVP was introduced in 2001 by Frank Robinson. MLP appeared in the vocabulary of product managers, startupers, and designers in 2013 thanks to Henrik Kniberg. This means that for 12 years people were focused on creating a viable product, until suddenly it was not enough anymore.

What happened during this time? The number of digital products grew exponentially, the competition rose. Developers and design teams make way more effort to create a popular app.

Rising standards in the industry raised user expectations. They are not satisfied with just anything that does the job: now customers are spoiled with sleek interfaces, smart copy, intuitive structure, pretty visuals, lively animation — all this and many other things that create a great user experience..

Nowadays, when apps’ copy talks to us as old friends, while marketing and advertising are doing their best to build a sentimental relationship with a product, being “just a product” is not enough. Only brands that win the love of people get loyal clients, and companies that don’t invest enough in design will soon be replaced by those who manage to create that loveable product

This story explains why people talk about MLP where they previously used to talk about MVP. Many think that loveable is the new viable, and it makes sense.

What else? Live, love, sell?

Along with MVP and MLP, you often see other abbreviations, like MMP and MSP. These stand for minimum marketable product and minimum sellable product (and are the same thing).

MMP is possible after the product has already been through testing and has proven its viability. Making a sellable product is the ultimate goal of all product managers.

And then comes the MCR — a minimum credible release, an MBP — a maximally buyable product… What’s next? Minimum Profitable Product? Minimum cult product? Jokes aside, let’s wait and see what tomorrow brings.

Conclusion

Why do we need so many ways to differentiate between different minimal products? Do you really need to start with MVP and go all the way to MLP at the initial stages of the development?

The key is not in the terms. Whatever you call the minimal product, you have to keep the objective clear: to find product-market fit. Once you achieve this goal, you can start going serious with marketing and thinking of shifting from minimum product to the new level by adding new features and expanding functionality.

So, how do you achieve product-market fit? Find out in our article “How to Screw up Everything but Still Succeed. Guide to Product-Market Fit

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