A Minimum Viable Product is a product that is: “big enough to cause adoption, satisfaction, and sales, but not so big as to be bloated and risky.” It is that version of the product that has enough functionality to allow teams to get feedback from actual users or early adopters.Coined by Frank Robinson in 2001, a Minimum Viable Product allows product teams to minimize the risks associated with new product development. It is a critical element of the lean startup methodology. This methodology, introduced by Eric Ries in 2011, was born out of the failures of the traditional product development approach for startups.
Startups, unlike established companies, were surrounded by numerous uncertainties. Hence, the traditional approach of building products solely based on market research and assumptions without any validation from real customers did not work well.
In contrast, the lean startup focused on validated learning through honest customer feedback to validate (or invalidate) the critical business assumptions. It involved building a tool (an MVP) that allowed product teams to start learning with minimal effort. The “minimal” part of an MVP is based on the judgement of the product teams. This results in several variations of what might constitute a Minimum Viable Product. It might range from a simple landing page with a buy button or an explainer video to a fully functioning early product version. So, even though it has the term “product” in it, it need not always be a working product.
The variations notwithstanding, MVPs offer many advantages, such as minimizing risk, faster time to market, and actual user validation. However, there are situations in which an MVP might not be the best choice. For example, if there is a lot of complexity associated with a product or if the product belongs to a high-risk or critical industry.
Product teams or startup founders considering a Minimum Viable Product for their product development would benefit from weighing its advantages and disadvantages.
Read on as we dive deeper into using an MVP’s key advantages and disadvantages.
ADVANTAGES OF AN MVP
- Validated Learning:
- Validated learning is the cornerstone of the lean startup methodology, and MVPs play a crucial role in this process. Product teams can gain valuable insights and feedback by testing a basic product version with real users. Based on actual user behaviour, these learnings allow for more accurate validation or invalidation of the business assumptions. The invalidation of Glitch, an online video game, led to a product pivot, which we know today as the popular communication tool Slack.Glitch (Becoming Slack: The Story of a Son of a Glitch)
- Faster time to market and product-market fit:
- A Minimum Viable Product is a faster way to bring the product to market. This allows product teams to bring the product faster into the hands of real customers and, if the MVPs are structured such, start earning. This approach is better than spending years perfecting a product before the market launch. Also, since the teams get actual user feedback quickly, they can iterate and achieve product-market fit quickly.
- Lack of market need is among the top reasons for startup failure. A report by CB Insights indicates that as high as 35% of startup failures can be attributed to no market need. There are numerous examples of startups spending plenty of resources to build a product only to realize that the customers don’t want it.
- Since a Minimum Viable Product can be introduced with much fewer resources than a full-fledged product, it helps save valuable company dollars. It allows teams to test their ideas with minimal investment and iterate quickly based on feedback. What better example here than Dropbox, whose initial MVP was just a 2-minute explainer video?CB Insights
- Minimises Risk:
- MVP provides validated customer learning most cost-effectively. This combination of authentic insights and reduced costs minimizes the risks associated with product failure. Airbnb launched as a simple MVP website without any frills. This significantly minimized the risk if the idea had not gained traction.
The above are some key advantages of an MVP approach to product development. Other advantages include reduced waste, early customer acquisition, and increased investor interest. However, the MVP is not a panacea for new product development success. In certain situations, an MVP, if not executed properly, might prove disadvantageous.
Let’s cover some risks and disadvantages associated with MVP development.
DISADVANTAGES OF A MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT
- Branding Risk
- Most startup founders want to build a brand around their products. Even product managers in established companies want to maintain and grow their organization’s brand name. However, the focus of MVP is not to show the product in all its glory and splendour. It is to confirm, in the most cost-effective manner, whether the product concept will appeal to the customers.
- This focus mostly translates to a version that is just “good enough” for the customers. Though great for learning, this might sometimes go against the brand-building efforts of an organization. Worse, improperly executed MVPs can frustrate customers and lead to a loss of brand.
- One way to mitigate this is to launch MVPs with a different brand name. Another is for organizations to be transparent and effective in communicating so as not to set unwanted
- Competition Risk
- Though an early-stage startup has the advantage of obscurity, its MVP might sometimes catch the attention of the competition. In those instances, there might be a risk of your product concept being copied and improved upon by the competition. Ever since Snapchat was launched in 2011, Facebook (and its owned companies) have been seen to sometimes blatantly copy its core features. Even though both Snapchat and Facebook are established companies, this example underscores the possibility of your idea being copied by a competitor.
- Unscalable Technology Stack
- The MVP stage’s focus is gathering honest customer feedback as soon as possible. In the interest of launching a basic version quickly, teams might sometimes lose focus on building scalability into the MVP. This might be troublesome when the MVP is intended to act as a base for future product development. If scalability is not introduced at this stage, teams might later have to spend on costly architectural upgrades.
- Limited Functionality
- The focus on only the core value proposition forms a vital tenet of an MVP. As if identifying those core features, especially for a complex product, was not challenging enough, there is an added risk associated with limited functionality. The limited core functionality might sometimes leave customers dissatisfied if the overall experience is not seamless. Therefore, even with an MVP, it is essential to ensure that the overall experience is glitch-free.
- Patent Risks:
- Startups in industries highly reliant on patent protection and IPR must be careful with their MVPs. Launching an MVP might expose their product to their competitors. This might put the features and IPR they want to protect at risk of infringement. So, in these instances, applying for provisional patents well in advance is essential.
- Lack of Industry Fit:
- The MVP approach might not suit specific industries. These include mission-critical industries such as defence, healthcare, and aerospace. In such industries, conducting thorough internal research and spending time and money on getting everything right before launching it is better.
Though an MVP is immensely beneficial in many situations, in others, it might not always be. Therefore, weighing the pros and cons of an MVP approach before deciding on the best approach for your product development is prudent.