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Software Startup? MVP is a Good Way to Start!

When you are a startup ‘software’ firm and you plan to roll out new software, ‘The Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) is something you need to think of.

"You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries, not everyone." Steve Blank

When you are a startup ‘software’ firm and you plan to roll out new software, ‘The Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) is something you need to think of.

Now what exactly is a ‘Minimum Viable Product’ MVP? The term was first coined by Frank Robinson and became popular through the efforts of Eric Ries. The term explains those products which during the product development phase were deployed with the basic workable features for maximum Return on Investments against all risks.

We need to note here that this is NOT a minimum product, but a workable product without frills. This gives the programmer the flexibility to understand the product better and also test it in an environment with all risks and understand the user’s needs.

MVP is a process oriented strategy in which ideas are generated, prototypes made and presented and customer data and feedback collected and analysed. This iteration is done till there is a successful product or it is proven that the product is unviable. It operates on the principle of build, measure and learn feedback loop.

There are various methods for testing the MVP. These could be summarized as under:

  • The Interview Method
  • The Landing Pages
  • The Smoke Test
  • The Concierge
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The Piecemeal

The Interview Method MVP

The interview method is used to meet the customers or potential clients in person and try to understand what they are looking forward in a product. How they envisage the product to perform and what features they look forward to. This is a very positive method and the interview allows the entrepreneur to modify his product and also understand the customer’s perception.

The Landing Pages

The landing pages are the pages to which the customers reach while browsing through the net. The entrepreneur can easily explain the features of his/hers product and also show the demo of the product on the landing page itself. The customer can be asked to provide or click on certain questions to ascertain his or her preferences for the product. Since the actual product is not there, the user only gets to have a feel of the product and hence can explain what they really looks forward to in the final product. Here the advantage is to ‘Sell Before and Build Later’.

The Smoke Test MVP

A smoke test is carried out with the help of a website usually a simple one. The site has a provision for the visitor or customer to sign up. The visitor is asked a set of questions about the preferences he/she has. By understanding the customer’s or visitors preferences, feedback and changing the product description, it is easy to understand whether the product about to be launched will be successful or what other features would be interesting to the customer or visitor.

The Concierge MVP

The concierge MVP Model is used for the service industry and the entrepreneur charges the customer for manually providing the services. It is based on getting feedback from the customer by personally meeting the customer directly and trying to understand what the customer would like to have and what he or she expects. Based on this feedback the product is explained to customer and reactions are observed when the price for the product is mentioned. A product is thus conceived using feedbacks from multiple customers.

Case Study: ‘Food on the Table’

An example of concierge MVP is the ‘Food on the Table’. The company serves customized meal plans to clients online and also sends the grocery list for the meal with the name of the grocery store mentioning the discounts available. The company thus ensures that time is saved and is considered a boon for working mothers.

The company began it’s operation by the CEO himself meeting each and every customer and suggesting recipes and providing grocery lists. This service was payable and there was a subscription fee for a fixed period.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz works similar to the Concierge MVP. However the only difference is that the customer does not see any of the manual work being done. The front looks like any regular portal. He gets the feel that he is using the online mode and ordering the services. The work however is done behind scene manually.

Case Study: Zappos

Nick Swinmurn, the founder of ‘Zappos’ a company into online shoe business started by going the MVP way. Nick felt that people would love to buy shoes online and that it was easy to buy it online rather than going from one store to another in search for a particular brand or product. He tested his hypothesis by going online and advertising shoes with pictures. The shoes were however not manufactured by him nor were they in his stock but were only photographed at regular stores after tie up with the store owners. On receiving an order, he would proceed to buy the pair from the store physically before delivering it to his client. The business model proved to be a hit and there was no looking back since then. Nick Swinmurn proved his theory that people will buy shoes online by adopting the Concierge MVP. It was convenient to search through an online inventory and buy it online. Nick Swinmurn approached Tony Hsieh for funds for launching the company only after this successful demonstration.

The Piecemeal MVP

The Piecemeal concept is a mixture of the Wizard of Oz and Concierge types of MVP. Here the concept is developed and a functioning demo of the product provided. No actual product is made but the customer only gets the experience of using the product. We need to note here that the entrepreneur does not invest money or time in the product or infrastructure. He or she rather uses the resources of others to make a demo of the product.

Case Study: Groupon

In case of Groupon, during the startup the company used the WordPress, Mail from Apple and Apple Script to generate pdf documents as orders were received. The orders received were processed and discounts offered to the customers and clients using mails. The concept worked normally without the actual coding being done. All the work was being done manually using third party resources rather than investing money in the product. It was only after the product’s success feedback that the actual Groupon was launched.

Conclusion

The major conclusion from this topic is that one should not spend money on new products without being sure that the product will be a success. There are various methods to find the Most Viable Product. One needs to study one’s product thoroughly and should select the most appropriate method of testing the MVP. Only on a proper feedback and being sure of success of the product should one launch the product in the market.

A proper study and testing can ensure the success of the product and hence the success of the new start up.

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