Minimum Viable Product

There’s a powerful concept in the lean start-up world called Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

It means developing a product which is just about good enough to fill customer expectations, and shipping it as quickly as possible.

It gets the feedback loop between the company and the customer going at the earliest possible opportunity, which means that less effort is wasted on developing features that customers don’t want.

But how simple should a MVP be? It helps to borrow some wisdom from Einstein:

‘Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.’

So make things simple, but not at the expense of core functionality i.e. it shouldn’t be completely trivial.

Consider these examples of MVPs:

  1. A game which is fun, but doesn’t necessarily have the best graphics.
  2. A piece of electronic equipment which functions, but requires some self assembly.
  3. A device which runs applications, but not from third parties.

In each of these examples the core functionality works, but they aren’t overly ambitious, and likewise they aren’t overly simplified.

There’s one problem with MVP though - and that’s competition. For a product which hasn’t existed before, a pure MVP approach makes sense. However, releasing a MVP product into an existing market doesn’t work, unless the alternatives are massively over complicated, and customers are looking for something simpler (e.g. 37signals and Basecamp). Otherwise, why would they buy your basic product when there’s superior, and likely cheaper, alternatives on the market?

MVP goes hand-in-hand with a Blue Ocean Strategy. This is where a company looks to create a new market for their product, rather than competing in an existing space. Since the market is unproven, a MVP approach makes sense as a way of minimising risk. And since a successful Blue Ocean product is more lucrative than a product in a Red Ocean (p7 Blue Ocean Strategy, 2005), it makes sense for entrepreneurs to focus in this area.