Ritam Gandhi talks to New Electronics about why start-ups should consider a minimum viable product (MVP) when it comes to developing a new product.

“For a tech start-up, bringing a minimum viable product (MVP) to market can be a huge first step in the process in bringing a successful idea to fruition,” explains Ritam Gandhi, the director and founder of Studio Graphene.

A minimum viable product or MVP is a product that’s defined as having just enough core features so that it can be effectively deployed. Typically, developers will deploy a MVP to customers, usually early adopters, who will be able to give feedback and have an understanding of the vision associated with the product from using an early prototype.

For its proponents MVPs help companies because they don’t have to build products that customers might not want while, at the same time, generating a mass of information about the needs of their customers.

“There are various definitions of an MVP, and examples can differ based on form, function, purpose, and audience. As such, for clarity, an MVP is the first version of a product that is released to users with the purpose of receiving feedback to determine what needs adjusting in future development,” says Gandhi. “MVP’s have gained prominence over recent decades with numerous major tech brands opting to observe how their product fares among initial customers including numerous unicorns. Large brands such as the workplace messaging service Slack, lodging booking service AirBnB, and even tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, all launched as a stripped-down, limited version of their planned conception.”

Often contrasted with the more traditional "stealth mode" method of product development where businesses tend to make detailed business plans this approach at validating a product is far cheaper and limits risk. Businesses can easily terminate if the feedback from customers warrants such as action.

There are four main types of MVPs: physical, digital – which are the most common and come in the form of landing pages, websites, and mobile apps, piecemeal MVPs which take two already existing products and creates a minimum viable product that combines the two to see how user will react and concierge MVPs, usually digital products and services run manually at first for testing purposes.

According to Gandhi, “With tech companies launching in record numbers, founders must consider a number of critical factors regarding their product before entering a competitive consumer and business market. And for many, MVPs offer a more effective and safer approach to launch that highlights any potential teething issues.”

What does an MVP require?

Using a minimum viable product is a lean approach to launching. The product is intended to get into the hands of customers as quickly as possible reducing time costs while eliminating wasted financial resources.

“Before launching, start-up founders must consider carefully and evaluate what their MVP will do, and more importantly, what consumer data will be most valuable. As such, it important that they decide upon the best form of MVP best suited to their needs,” says Gandhi.

“The predominant form of MVPs launched to market is a version which is functional but stripped-down only to its core essentials. Doing this gives start-ups capacity to avoid the costs of developing a fully formed product to later find out it's not a fit for the market. Meanwhile, they can save time on building product features that may fail to connect with users – the essential reason for MVPs, more user testing at the initial stages in the hopes of a finishing with refined and effective product.”

This technique was made popular by Eric Ries, who described it in his book ‘Lean Startup’ published back in 2011. Since then, many thousands of businesses have made use of the MVP concept for product testing and market research.

“Start-ups, SMEs, all types of businesses, can opt for a more minimalist approach by launching a representative landing page which exhibits the potential function and value of the products without the need to develop its core features,” says Gandhi.

One most famous example of this, is the file host service Dropbox, which used an explainer video to display the functionality and potential of their product.

“Whichever form their MVP takes, it is essential that you establish what information you are seeking. For many products, this will look at user engagement metrics, how successfully the idea has translated into use in practice, and whether it has achieved its value at the user end.”

MVPs are intended to be a starting point so a clear vision of what is expected after your MVP is launched is critical as is feedback, which means that everyone who either uses or views a product will be required to carry out feedback on the MVP.

Understanding what a MVP is will be critical as it’s not a beta version of a product, a product or a product description.

Learning from failure

From an everyday business perspective, aiming for failure certainly seems a peculiar concept. Yet, user data is an essential to improve an MVP and the reason why they’re used in the first place, as developers are provided with invaluable feedback to frame future iterations around.

“There are various methods to getting user feedback, however – regardless of whether acquired through an in-app survey, or a post subscription questionnaire – the process remains the same. This means reviewing the actions the product was designed to fulfil, and pinpointing user behaviour when they were fulfilled. And then equally, if not more, importantly when and where the user failed to use the product to complete its intended actions,” explains Gandhi.

From an everyday business perspective, aiming for failure certainly seems peculiar and also poses the question, can there be such a thing as a bad failure?

“If the objectives of the MVP have been thoroughly considered beforehand, then there should be nothing to suggest that all feedback isn’t good feedback. That said, however, a product must still come under the description of ‘viable’, and in cases where the minimum aspect of the product is overreaching, users will not experience the potential nor value of the product. As such, the feedback sent back to the developers would be insufficient use.

“Certainly, as I have discovered, through my own experiences working with start-up on new products, to launch a successful MVP, it is crucial to do so with a clear objective. Picking up user data in the market in resourceful and cost-effective manner is an incredibly valuable way to assess the credibility of the product, while learning of the necessary future alterations is vital to the development of the product.”

Each MVP will be unique but in order to benefit from this approach there are certain steps that need to be considered.

Define the problem you’re looking to solve; minimise the product and focus on the bare bones, so that you deliver a MVP that is functional and valuable; decide on how you’ll present the MVP (physical, digital etc.) and ensure that you collect user data and request feedback.

And if you are struggling with the process, get guidance from a professional production team that deals with MVPs regularly.

  • Studio Graphene is a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.