What It Means to Build an MVP
What is an MVP?
You have an idea and you’re ready to execute it. You understand the competitive landscape and what it will take to put the spotlight on your product. And now you face an internal struggle: “I want to launch yesterday” but “my product has yet to reach perfection”. One of the many beauties of building a web-based product, especially in the age of a socially driven internet, is that you don’t actually have to perfect your product before launching. Keep it simple and get to shipping. You can fill in the gaps later.
The concept of a Minimally Viable Product, or MVP, is that you can choose a simple feature-set, one that will gives your user a basic understanding of your product, and then build an enhanced user experience as you gain traction and feedback. Take Craigslist, for example. It is undoubtedly one of the simplest, and dare I say ugliest, websites you will come across. But it undeniably gets the job done. It has more or less the same design it’s had since 1995. Now, let’s say you wanted to launch “the next Craigslist”. Your first inclination would be to try to figure out how to make it an enhanced social experience, linking accounts to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You would spend time focusing on mobile usage, how to properly include videos within posts and the best way to market it. And this is precisely where the concept of MVP comes in to tell you to slow down and forget the fluff.
On a technical level, you could launch your product without social media signups, without a mobile experience and without multimedia options. You could very easily launch with a simple sign up form, simple postings and no real edge over your competing products. It’s hard to imagine that’s a good idea, but according to the concept of MVP, this is exactly what you want to do.
By launching a simple product, you begin to get your name out there. You can pick up a few users and connect to them, sharing your vision and development roadmap. You might be surprised to find out that while you were convinced that social integration was more important than a mobile experience, your users don’t mind your signup form but really would appreciate being able to check out your site from their phones. By launching a simple product, you’re giving room to more intelligent growth. Spending all of your time and resources trying to perfect a product before launch will result in unnecessary features and wasted time.
Craigslist started as an MVP and was able to stay there. While a nicer interface and enhanced experience would be nice, it wouldn’t actually change what the product is capable of and the overall happiness level of it’s users.
Simple, But Not Stupid
It’s important to note that while launching a simple product will get you into the market earlier and help you build an audience sooner than later, you need to understand your competitors and what it means to give your users a basic experience of your product. I’ve heard of screenshots being passed off as an MVP and I strongly disagree. While screenshots of your product give a user an idea of what it will look like, it gives them no experience whatsoever. Similarly, I understand that social logins go beyond the concept of MVP, but I have a hard time launching a product without it based on the current norms of web-based products.
It’s important to limit yourself in an intelligent way. Taking social logins as an example, if I were to follow the strict “rules” of MVP, I would force myself to launch a product with just a simple signup/login form. I would, however, make sure to have a way for users to recover their lost passwords, even though this is technically an enhancement to a user system. The reason being, I want people to have a positive, albeit basic, first experience. While I am making sure to cut back on enhancements (I can always add social login capabilities a week or two after launch), I want to equally make sure that my users enjoy what they’re doing.
When building a new product, keep the concept of MVP in mind. Understand your own capabilities and your particular product while deciding what falls under “basic” or “enhanced” features. It’s better to launch with a decent product and grow with it than to constantly be building the perfect product that nobody can ever see.
This is an MVP
While I’m writing this, this blog is a prime example of an MVP. The “product” consists of my thoughts and a way for you to read them. I took an out-of-the-box blogging platform and it’s most basic template. My natural inclination was to enhance it with a logo, social sharing buttons, a way to subscribe, a comments system, images within the blog post, a blurb about the author and more. I limited myself because it’s more important that I ship and get feedback before spending time and resources on a “perfect product”. Now I can gather feedback from “users” and determine if the enhancements are worth it.
LaunchRiot in MVP Mode