Use a Minimum Viable Product to Learn, Iterate, and Move Quicker Than Your Competitors


Use a Minimum Viable Product to Learn, Iterate, and Move Quicker Than Your Competitors

March 31, 2021 | Education

You might have heard the scrappy and tenacious story of how SPANX shapewear founder, Sara Blakely, started her business. 

She had the concept for a footless, pantyhose-shaper, but had just $5,000 to make it work and had no contacts or industry experience. After months of hearing no, she cut the feet out of some control top tights, put them in her lucky red backpack, and drove around North Carolina to try and convince stores and hosiery mills to help bring it to life. 

With no real prototype, she was able to write her own patent application, and work with a mill to manifest her idea.

From there, it took her a year to lock down the final product. 

Her cut-off pantyhose helped her to establish her idea and inspire people she needed to get on board. It had the core functions it needed to solve her customer’s problem. 

What is a minimum viable product?

Minimum viable product (MVP) is the simplest, most bare-bones version of your new product so that you can learn from it, iterate, and potentially sell in the idea. It was coined by Lean Startup author Eric Ries who describes “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the least effort.”

When is it useful? 

The role of a minimum viable product is to facilitate rapid learning with the least amount of resource possible. It’s hugely popular among tech companies, but not exclusive to the industry.

It helps you to build a rapport with potential customers, stops you from making big investments in products or features that people don’t want or need, and allows you to move quickly when competitors may be hot on your heels.

There are two types of MVP; low-fidelity and high-fidelity. A low-fidelity MVP tests whether there is a large enough market for your product or service and if there’s a problem you can solve.

A high-fidelity MVP addresses whether your product addresses the wants or needs of the group and if it fixes the problem. 

How can I get it right?

Frontload your design with a strong base of research

Your MVP is used to test assumptions. Make data and research-backed assumptions and your MVP will be closer to the money. The research can be as informal or formal as your resources will allow, but having a good idea of your target audience, their pain and gain points, and a thorough competitor analysis will set you up for success. 

You’ll also get a feel for which features are high priority, which are medium, and which are low and can set reasonable, measurable targets against the process.

Have a singular focus

If your product has lots of different audience types or fixes a multilayered customer pain point, you might fall into the trap of trying to solve every problem for every type of person. Your MVP only needs to solve one.

If you can pin down your main target audience, you can provide them with just the features that solve their problem, and not complicate it with other design elements or SKUs that will make gathering feedback knottier.

Be specific when gathering feedback

Because your MVP isn’t answering all of your audiences’ pain points at once, limit your research to a few closed questions that will give you the information you need to get to the next test.

If you’re testing a booking system that helps people book last-minute open dentist appointments, feedback on the font or color choices won’t help you at the early stage.

Move quickly 

One of the reasons that MVPs work so well in tech is that you can get your idea out into the world before a competitor does and make the swift decisions that will go on to give it a broader appeal. There’s a reason they call these bursts of work sprints.

Kathleen Toomey, owner of Mighty Violet Design told Hello Alice:

“Once you create your MVP, get feedback as soon as you can. You’ll always want it to be “more perfect,” but the early feedback will ensure you spend time on what people want to see and what they expect from your brand.”

Treat it like a process, not a product

It can be hard to put something out into the world that isn’t exactly what you envisioned or to kill one version of your product to make room for a better one. But your MVP is about a process of evolution and learning, rather than the product itself, which needs to be flexible and movable.

Hire advisors

A lot of the discussion around the iterative process of an MVP is about using customer research to refine your offering, but there will be lots of insight an advisory panel can give you about the eccentricities of bringing a new product to market in your sector and their early feedback can be invaluable.


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