Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup, describes the minimum viable product (MVP) as:
The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect
the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
Here's Eric's description in terms of how it impacts the Lean Cycle:
The reason for building the 'minimum amount of product necessary' is that building the minimum amount means it gets built more quickly, and therefore we can begin measuring data and learning more quickly. The best way to see how incredible MVPs are as a learning tool is to see examples. Let's begin by looking at four different types of MVP:
Wizard of Oz MVP
Landing Page MVP
Concierge MVPs involve manually helping your users accomplish their goals as a means of validating whether or not they have a need for what you're offering. Building a product is not even necessary. Manuel Rosso is CEO of Food on the Table, a product that specialized in generating shopping lists tailored to the individual's needs and preferences. Manuel didn't even have a product or website in the beginning because he would sell the service for $10 a month in person to shoppers, then generate the recipes and grocery lists for them in person while accompanying them around the store.
There are several advantages to the Concierge MVP approach:
You get real contact with customers. Manuel learned a lot about how his grocery list service could incorporate allergies, diet preferences and health targets from creating lists and sharing them in person with customers, then seeing their reaction.
You don't need to build a site or product. This is fully transparent to the customer. You could say something like "this service will be $10 per month once I release the product. in the meantime, how would you like your own personal diet expert to create the ideal shopping list for you for $10?" Customer get a great deal and understand why. Manuel gets to learn very early in the process - before even building a product!
Interacting with customers in the place where they use the product is called ethnographic interaction. The Concierge MVP yields this opportunity. Watching shoppers as they shop gives Manuel insight that he would not get just by talking with people about shopping.
There are also some disadvantages:
A concierge service is a personal service delivered by an individual. The results of a concierge MVP experiment are not necessarily a completely accurate gauge of the underlying product idea because they can be biased by the likability of the concierge.
The building of the product still needs to happen at some point. It's great to do the learning before the product-building. But another set of lean cycles will be required when the product is built.
Wizard of Oz MVP
If you haven't seen the movie “The Wizard of Oz” then spoiler alert! :p It turns out that the wizard is an old man who pulls levers behind a curtain and the big scary green head is just an illusion.
This MVP is one that gives a certain impression of your solution from the outside, but the inner workings of the solution are actually something else. A good example of this is Aadvark, the Q&A service that routed questions to other users who were experts (via Instant Messaging routing). In the early days, Aadvark staff would just manually post the questions to whomever was online to see who would respond and then would manually post that answer back to the asker. There was no algorithm. The early days of Aadvark were a little bit like an old man pulling levers behind the screen! The product was later built to include such an algorithm and matching functionality.
From the outside, this MVP looked like a fully-functional system, but all the tasks that automated systems should have been doing were being completed by a human.
There are several advantages to the Wizard of Oz MVP approach:
In the early days, it is much cheaper to mimic a functioning system (by paying humans to do the work behind the scenes).
It is possible to see much more quickly how a mature system would behave. The full Aardvark system and algorithms may take years to build, but the Wizard of Oz MVP gets feedback in weeks.
The result is actual data generated from the user interacting with a system that they believe works perfectly. This data is far less prone to bias than the subjective thoughts of the Concierge in the Concierge MVP.
One disadvantages to the Wizard of Oz MVP is that it requires the humans behind the scene to do a good job. Typically this works fine if the founder is a domain expert and is the person pulling the strings. It may be a challenge to find others with the same knowledge.
A landing page is a single page that:
Describes your product or service
Illustrates some advantages of using your product or service (your "unique value proposition")
Contains a button that lets interested visitors click to read more, join a mailing list, buy now or some other action
Joel Gascoigne of Buffer used a landing page to test his concept for his product that automates future posting of social media at optimal times. Joel achieved 120 signups and went on to speak to 50 of these people directly. It's worth nothing that picking up the phone to discover more about what customers love about your value proposition is a superb idea. Joel even had a paying customer a couple of days after launching his product from this list. Now Buffer has over $1m a month in recurring revenue.
The big advantages of using landing pages are:
Landing pages contain a description of why your service is compelling (known as your unique value proposition). You can see if your unique value proposition resonates with customers very early in the process.
By using multiple landing pages, you can see which messaging resonates better with customers by analyzing performance.
You can capture the email addresses of interested people, which will allow you to follow up and do interviews with them later.
Landing pages can be created in a few hours. If you can spend roughly $100 in Google Ads to generate some visitors, then you can get data the same day. That is completing the whole lean cycle in just one day!
The main disadvantage of landing pages are:
Visitors are not actually buying your product or service, they are just giving you their email address to register an interest.
If people do not click the call-to-action button, you don't have an explanation why.
Creating an email takes much less effort than building a product or even a feature within a product. If you have existing customers, then you can begin by manually creating some emails to see if the response to the email is favorable. If it is, then you can proceed to building the related product features.
If you see that most people are opening the email but not clicking on the call-to-action button, then you can conclude that the value proposition is not something attractive.
Interestingly, Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt started off by emailing his idea to a list of people. After receiving rave feedback, he knew the idea was worth pursuing further.
Given that our goal is accelerated learning, we can use different types of minimum viable products (MVPs) to reduce the time spent building products until after we have validated our assumptions. Types of MVP include:
The Concierge MVP (used by Food on the Table)
The Wizard of Oz MVP (used by Aardvark)
The Landing Page MVP (used by Buffer)
The Email MVP (used by Product Hunt)
Joel Gascoigne of Buffer on how to successfully use a landing page as an MVP
Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt on using an email list as his MVP