Three Ways to Make Your Product an “MVP”

Mine customer insight to provide a minimum viable product (MVP) that covers the bases

Because CBM believes in the test, fail, test, succeed model, any discussion about coming up with a “Minimum Viable Product” to meet customer needs tends to perk up my ears. CBM’s Business Model Framework is built on the same premise: Learn how to start your company by selling your product (an MVP) and make profits as soon as possible.  Maybe it’s not the complete vision you had when you wanted to start a company. But if you go about it the right way, identifying your MVP gives you a one-way ticket to the heart of your customer.

minimum-viable-productThe point is to prove you have a product that will attract investors; help you build a solid sales and marketing approach; and engage the right customers at the right time—i.e., when they are ready (or almost ready) to buy your product or service.

This blog by Christopher Bank has a lot of good insight in the form of questions you should ask yourself when you are testing your product proposition. Minimum viable product strategies describe a process that gains the most information about your proposed product and your customers’ response to it, with the lowest risk. In a great article by Eric Ries he says identifying the “core utility”—or the minimum set of features that your customer is willing to pay for—is key to MVP success. Here are some other ideas from Mr. Bank and Mr. Ries—and a little bit from me—about how to define MVP for yourselves:

  1. Customer Insight

During the MVP process, startup companies interview customers and ask them to rank their product on which features solve the most problems. That’s a good start, however, it needs to be followed up with a home-base of sorts—a great landing page that captures who is visiting it, and why. Bank’s suggestion is to offer a set of products and features in the classic A/B mode—and see what customers prefer. He takes that one step further by asking start ups to offer A/B pricing options, too.

There used to be an ironclad rule—don’t put your pricing on your website but instead, make your customer pick up the phone so you have a better chance of sealing the deal. But because you are formulating your MVP, you are not truly selling anything—yet. Granted you want to start soon, but the A/B test is a better way to accomplish this.

  1. Explainer Video

I should preface these remarks with the fact: I love short, easy demo videos when product testing. Less than 4 minutes is ideal. Bank tells us about the DropBox explainer video phenomenon which won the company 70,000 subscribers overnight. Ries discusses how important it is to find out nobody wants your product as soon as possible. A video explainer can do that.

I worked on a project for a pharma field sales force that offered them a pop-up alert on their laptops whenever there was a new piece of approved information they could use when they were detailing physicians. Almost every salesperson disabled that pop-up within two weeks. Why? Because we didn’t bother to show them how to easily turn it off, disable sound, or gather each notification in email for an easy read at the end of the day. If we had used an explainer video, they would have been much less annoyed and told us to not even bother with the pop-up functionality.

  1. Brand Purpose

Usually, I skip blogs’ commentary section. I find that many people either don’t pose thoughtful (useful) questions or they try to sell the blogger something—either their ideas or actual goods and services. However, scrolling down on Ries’ blog, I found a gem by Chris Holz: “There is a distinction between product and offering. Those that focus solely on their product miss the potential found in communicating an offering that includes the product and other elements that customers place value on and increase willingness to pay.”

That’s a great point. I would change the classic, “Always Be Closing” (ABC) mantra to read, Always Be Communicating. Holz makes a great point that I think fits with both the CBM Business Planning Framework and the lean startup philosophy: You can (and should) build a brand for your MVP from the get-go—by communicating the reason your company exists as you ask your customer which problems they need solved by your product. Hopefully, the two answers are the same.

If you are changing your brand purpose as you are iterating your MVP, then maybe you need to be sure that your true purpose is solid. If not, you might have something to sell, but if you end up selling an iterative product, your customers might get confused or frustrated when you make changes. They won’t feel that way if you’ve effectively communicated the “why” before the “what” of your business. And they just might follow you to profitability.