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November 7, 2022

 mins to read

What Is an MVP and How to Define It

Did you know that before going public in 2009, Spotify spent about three years testing their assumptions about the product’s viability, learning how to handle copyright issues, and defining the overall quality of their service with the help of a limited product version?

The ability to correctly define and then iterate an MVP enabled Spotify to become a service with more than 365 million annual users. And this is not the only case in history when startups benefited from these three trendy letters.

Eleken is a design agency that provides various UI/UX design services, including MVP design. And in this article, we want to help you finally get a clear understanding of the following topics: 

  • What is an MVP?
  • What is its purpose?
  • And most importantly, how can you define it for your project? 

What does an MVP mean?

In a nutshell, a minimum viable product (MVP) is such a version of a product that has a basic set of functions enough to solve a specific problem and is used to validate an idea in the early stages of the product life cycle. An MVP allows you to understand whether people are ready to use your product and pay a commercially viable price for it without spending the entire budget.

Unlike the prototype, an MVP has to be validated by a measurable experiment in a real-world market. An MVP does not necessarily have to be coded. It can be a simple landing page that describes the product, a service that only imitates automation where you manually help users accomplish their goals, or something else. However, “MVP” doesn’t mean bad or low-quality, it should bring value to your customers, solve their main problems, and provide a consistent user experience.

Where does the term MVP come from?

The origin of this term goes back to 2001 when Frank Robinson coined it to describe the result of synchronous product and customer development. At that time Robinson defined an MVP as follows:

 “The right-sized product for your company and your customer. It is big enough to cause adoption, satisfaction and sales, but not so big as to be bloated and risky. Technically, it is the product with maximum ROI divided by risk. The MVP is determined by revenue-weighting major features across your most relevant customers, not aggregating all requests for all features from all customers.” 

Still, MVP became really popular after Eric Ries described it as a part of his Lean Startup Methodology to emphasize the importance of learning when developing a new product. Here’s the MVP definition by Eric Ries: 

“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product a team uses to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

According to the Lean startup methodology, to find out how to create value for your customers and business, you can use the three-step process loop “Build-Measure-Learn”. MVP here is your start point, you build a product that can help test your business hypotheses quickly, show it to users, gather their feedback, based on learnings, build a better version of the product, and iterate (continue improving on the solution until it solves a problem). This way, a minimum viable product helps you get the data that pushes your business forward.

lean startup cycle
Lean startup cycle. Image credit: bigjump.com.au

Since the MVP concept first appeared in Agile terminology it was given numerous different definitions and underwent some transformations. For example, Henrik Kniberg offered terms Earliest Testable, Earliest Usable, and Earliest Lovable Product. In fact, there is no need to get into the MLP vs MVP battle. After all, they all serve the same main purpose. Let’s move to the next section to learn what this purpose is.

What are the goals of a minimum viable product?

The main goal of creating an MVP is to test the idea before moving to the development of a full-fledged product. By creating a product or service with basic functionalities only, you validate if there’s a need for the solution you want to build while saving time, money, and mitigating risks if your idea fails.

For example, one of our clients, Habstash, had an idea of building an app that would help people save for their own houses. But to make sure people need such a tool and check how potential users would react to different features they addressed Eleken to quickly design an MVP with fresh UI and intuitive UX. 

dashboard for a SaaS fintech company
Habstash’s dashboard

Other purposes of an MVP product development can be: 

  • Quick launch
  • Entering the market with a small budget 
  • Collecting maximum quality feedback from early adopters 
  • Finding the product-market fit
  • Generating revenue to inject some valuable cash flow to a business/give confidence to investors/hook new investors
  • Increasing flexibility in future development

Once you launch your minimum viable product, you can start gathering valuable information and asking customers for feedback. The sooner you find out how customers use your product and if they are willing to use it at all, the sooner you can adjust your plans or stop investing resources in something that won’t succeed.

What are the examples of an MVP?

MVP approach successfully exists not only in books and numerous articles but also in real use cases. Here are five examples of companies that started their way with something small and simple.

Airbnb

To test the idea that people are willing to rent short-term accommodation directly from the landlord instead of booking an expensive hotel room, founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia created a simple showcase website and filled it with photos of their own apartment. At that time AirBed&Breakfast had neither payments (you had to exchange money with the host in person) nor map view (you couldn’t check the exact location of the accommodation on the map).

And such a minimalistic website was enough to validate the idea, Brian and Joe got their first clients and understood in which direction to move further.

Airbnb MVP
Image credit: thehustle.co 

Buffer

From the very beginning, it was very important for Joel Gascoigne, the CEO of Buffer to create a product that brings value. For that purpose, he created an MVP that looked like a landing page with a product description, a list of features, and several pricing plans. If some visitors were interested in picking a plan, they were informed that the product is not launched yet, but they could join the waiting list. Next, which is very important, Buffer’s team used the emails of people from the waiting list to ask them for their needs, expectations, and finally to be closer to a perfect market fit.

Buffer MVP
Image credit: rst.software

Uber

Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick, the founders of Uber, managed to identify the problem people faced in their city: it was difficult and expensive to find a taxi in rush hours in San Francisco.

To quickly launch the service to market, they created a simple iOS app that performed just two basic functions: it connected those who want to get a ride with drivers and allowed payments with a credit card system. There were no reviews, no driver tracking, no payment automation but these two features solved users’ problems well.

When UberCab first launched, there were already some similar services on the market, so quickly creating an MVP prevented Garrett and Travis from missing valuable time on developing a complex platform and allowed them to quickly validate their business idea.

Uber MVP
Image credit: rubyroidlabs.com

Cylynyx 

The last example here is our client Cylynyx, a no-code graph visualization platform. When Cylynyx came to Eleken for an MVP design they already had a demo version of the product that allowed them to gather some feedback from potential customers.

Still, this demo version lacked functionality that is vital for idea validation: it didn’t allow users to subscribe and store files in the software. Therefore, the main purpose of an MVP technology was to make it possible for individual users and corporations to subscribe, upload data and edit its visualization.

Now Cylynyx’s MVP is still at its test phase and if you want more information about its design process, you can read our Cylynyx case study

MVP for a data-visualization SaaS
Cylynyx’s graph editor

How to define an MVP?

After years of experience in UI/UX design, we at Eleken formed our approach to designing an MVP, which looks something like this:

  • Stage 1. We talk to you to learn your product vision and create a user flow.
  • Stage 2. We build the structure of your app visualizing it with the help of wireframing.
  • Stage 3. We test wireframes with potential users and make all the needed improvements.
  • Stage 4. We work out the visual part of the product.
  • Stage 5. We hand off ready design to developers and make sure they have all needed to implement it

But none of these stages is possible without you as a product owner. Our designers can’t move any step forward without your vision and your feedback, especially at step 1. So, when our customers approach us with the question “What should my MVP look like?”, here’s how we help them define a minimum workable set of features for their products.

  1. Define the problem you are going to solve and align it with the business objective

The problem your product is going to solve should justify its existence, and explain the need for its creation. 

  • Write down the answer to the question “Why do I want to build this application/service?” 
  • Once you have the answer, conduct comprehensive research to make sure there is a place for your product on the market. Analyze the competitors and find out who are the people willing to pay for your solution.
  • Next set a business objective that you want to achieve with the product (more revenue, reach a new audience, and so on).
  • Then define the KPIs that would prove your success. For example, in a year you expect to have 5000 subscribers for your service and 200 paying users. Then divide this year into shorter milestones needed to achieve your final goal, as in the example below.
planning an MVP: timeline
  1. Define the core value proposition

“V” in MVP stands for “viable” and to define what makes the product viable, you have to clearly understand:

  • What value the product would bring to customers and to your business
  • What pain points of those customers it is going to address
  • Who the people that experience that pain are

Taking into account the fact that an MVP is not your final product, but a starting point for market experiments would be to focus on a small number of users when defining a value proposition so it’d be easier and cheaper to reach them.

To define your core value proposition you can use the value proposition canvas.

value proposition canvas
Image credit: b2binternational.com

Value proposition canvas helps you to distill value from your idea by breaking it down into nine essential components. It consists of two major parts: customer profile and the value map. In their turn, each part is divided into three sections that describe specific features of a customer or product respectively.

Start filling the value proposition canvas with “customer’s jobs”, then write down the “pains” they may feel when trying to get those jobs done. Next, specify “gains” the customer expects to receive after the job is done.

As the customer profile is ready, we move to the value map. Write down the services/products your value proposition offers to get the jobs done. Next, fill the “pain relievers” section describing how your products/services can reduce the customer’s pains. And finally, outline how the product creates the gains.

Now, take a look at both parts, and try to find a match between what your customer wants and what your service/product offers.

For example, here’s what the value proposition of a taxi booking app may look like:

value proposition canvas example
Image credit: uxdesign.cc
  1. Define the list of features

Once you understand what value your product is going to bring its customers, you need to outline the minimum viable product features.

Start with outlining the user journey.

  1. Use the information from the value proposition canvas to think of several major use cases the user will have to do within your product to solve their problem and write them down.
  2. Write features and development tasks required for each step. Write down everything that comes to your mind, no matter how expensive or difficult it can be to implement them, focus on how these features can serve the value proposition.
  3. Group the items based on dependency.

   4. Prioritize features

As the result of a previous stage you will have a full list of features grouped into clusters. Now it will be easier for you to sort them according to priority.

There are several prioritization frameworks that can help you at this stage. Let’s take a look at three of them.

  1. Prioritization matrix
prioritization matrix example
Image credit: medium.com

Prioritization matrix helps you define which features are more critical and urgent so that you can focus on what matters most. The X-axis determines how crucial the feature is for the MVP success, and the Y-axis shows whether the feature needs to be included as soon as possible or in later releases.  

  1. MoSCoW approach
MoSCoW diagram
Image credit: lucidchart.com

With the MoSCoW approach, you take the list of features and divide them into must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and won’t-haves. Make sure you have some items in your won’t-have graph as well. In case you don’t, perhaps you are not prioritizing well enough, there are always some ideas to reject when you just start with your MVP features.

  1. Kano model 
Kano model diagram
Image credit: solmesz.medium.com

Kano model is especially loved by our product designers. It works great to prioritize features focusing on customer satisfaction. The Kano model allows you to weigh those features that are more likely to be high-satisfactory against the investment needed to implement them to choose the correct priority.

Don’t fall in love with your MVP

Remember that the idea of a minimum viable product is to produce the minimum workable set of features that brings your customers real value and allows you to learn the needed information to manage risks and adjust your further steps to produce a better product. It’s just your step one in the whole product life cycle.

Looking for a design team for your MVP project? Let’s create an MVP together for you to learn if your idea meets users’ needs.

Let's talk →

Kateryna Mayka

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