Here’s the deal:
You can research how to launch a business until the cows come home.
But if you don’t have a product that solves a real problem for enough people, your business won’t go far.
At the end of the day, all of the marketing and pricing strategies won’t amount to anything if you don’t have a product to put in people’s hands.
That’s where the minimum viable product (MVP) comes in. While it might sound complicated, MVPs are super simple, cost-effective, and as their name implies, they come together in a stitch.
In fact, you can transform your idea into a feedback-generating MVP in one week or less.
Here’s how -- and why.
What is a minimum viable product?
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a simplified but highly-valuable test version of your intended product.
MVPs are commonly used by companies to learn more about their audience and what they’re looking for in a product.
In fact, you’ve probably used an MVP-borne product today: Twitter.
The founders of Twitter originally ran a podcasting company called Odeo. After Apple entered the podcasting arena with Tunes, Odeo’s founders were looking for a new service and came up with “twttr.”
So MVPs definitely work, and although it may be hard to believe they can work for smaller creators, they’re even more beneficial.
Let's say that your goal is to sell info products teaching others how to become financially independent.
Potential MVPs you could build include a 30-minute course or 10-page ebook discussing five easy steps your audience can take towards becoming financially independent.
Whatever you choose, keep in mind your MVP shouldn’t include all of the features you think your audience wants and needs -- that’s something you can’t know for sure until after you’ve tested your MVP several times.
That said, don’t just release a test product into the wild and expect to learn heaps from your audience.
You should design your MVP marketing and sales strategies in such a way that you can easily collect feedback from your initial buyers so that you can create an even better product for them later on.
History is riddled with examples of companies designing products like Google+ that nobody wants -- don’t let yours be another one of them.
OK, you’re on the MVP train by now, hopefully, but that doesn’t answer the nagging question: If your MVP is so important but needs to be put together quickly, how do you proceed?
For that, read on.
How to design your MVP in one week or less
The whole purpose of an MVP is to learn what your customers want so you can design the best possible products for them.
However, that doesn’t mean you should labor over designing your MVP as you would in launching a full product.
As AbbyRoss of ThinkCERCA said: “You can build and launch an MVP in one hour . . . There should be nothing long about an MVP.”
Whether it takes you an hour or a full week to design your MVP, the point is that you want to create the most value you can with minimal time and resources.
Designing your MVP can be boiled down to five steps:
- Figure out what problem you want to solve
- Learn more about your audience and competitors
- Design your product and define success metrics
- Create a landing page
- Analyze the data and relaunch
Let’s tackle each of these steps in the paragraphs below.
Step #1: Figure out what problem you’re going to solve
Your MVP -- and your business overall -- needs to answer actual problems that everyday people are willing to pay to have solved.
Why? If you aren’t answering a need, you’re destined to struggle in the market. 42% of businesses fail because there’s no market need for their products, while another 14% fail because they ignore their customers.
To avoid that same fate, you need to know your customers really well.
Unfortunately, companies big and small can be tricked into thinking they know their audience well enough that they don’t need to test things out before going public.
Had Juicero made its prototypes available to its audience, it might have learned there were more affordable solutions already available and that its juice packets could be squeezed without its machine.
In other words, Juicero was a solution to a not particularly pressing, widespread, or profitable problem.
Now compare Juicero’s experiences with those of Airbnb.
In 2007, Airbnb’s founders posted pictures of their apartment online, knowing that a conference was coming to town soon. Their experiment earned them three customers and insight into how their idea could work.
When designing your MVP, it’s vital that you not only figure out what you want to solve but if your solution is something that people would be willing to pay for in its most basic form, like the first-ever Airbnb rental.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to dig into research about your customers and competitors.
Step #2: Research your audience and competitors
Researching your audience and competitors can teach you what your customers want and what their current options are.
In order to conduct effective customer research, you could do some of the following:
- Conduct a survey in Reddit’s r/SampleSize or share a Google survey with your followers
- Use Quora to ask and answer questions from your audience
- Interview your existing customers using tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts
- Join a Facebook/LinkedIn/Slack group to learn more about your audience and their problems
- Use Google Trends and other social media analytics tools to find out when specific topics are trending in your field
- Read product reviews to learn what existing products your audience likes and why
- Spy on comments on competitors’ YouTube videos, blogs, and other content channels to learn more about what people like about them
- Use BuzzSumo to find out what content is the most popular in your niche and what questions your audience has
Keep in mind while you’re researching that you aren’t only looking for information on how to create a better product for your audience.
You’re also looking for information on the audience more generally.
Ideally, you want to unearth everything about your potential customers -- their age, income level, hobbies, and et cetera -- that helps you understand their challenges and where your solution fits in.
Once you have all of that information, you can condense it into something called a buyer persona.
While they don’t represent every single customer, buyer persons typically have most of the qualities of your customer base.
For your MVP, focus on fleshing out one buyer persona specifically so you can ensure you’re getting targeted feedback about creating a product that a small group loves before trying to appeal to a broader audience.
Additionally, don’t focus exclusively on product features for your MVP -- it’s just as important to guarantee your customers have a great experience with your solution as it is to provide said solution.
By 2020, customer experience (CX) -- how your customers feel that you treat them -- will be the key differentiator for brands, according to one report.
In fact, 86% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a product or service if it included a better customer experience.
In other words, your customers' experience with the product should be as impressive as its features throughout all stages of the buyer’s journey.
Beyond crafting a stellar experience for customers, you should also learn what your competitors are doing and what you can do to stand out.
To conduct competitor research, you can use some of the following tactics:
- Figure out who your direct and indirect competitors are
- Look at your competitors’ product pages to learn more about their products’ features, pricing, format, and more
- See what questions they’re addressing in their content
- Read reviews of your competitors’ products to see what your audience thinks of them
- How they interact with their social media followers and what kind of engagement they’re getting from their audience
- Join their email list to learn more about how they talk to their customers, how they address their customers’ problems, and upcoming releases or updates
- Conduct a SWOT analysis after you’ve gathered information about your competitors to see how you compare
Aside from helping you avoid making a duplicate product, competitor research can also help you market yourself effectively and stand apart from the competition.
As an example of customer research, consider Google Glass, which closed almost two years after being launched and was criticized for having quality and usability problems, a weak market fit, and raised privacy concerns for users and non-users alike.
Had Google spent more time refining their MVP of Google Glass before releasing it to the public, they could have addressed these issues and given their audience a better experience.
Whether or not it would’ve been enough to save Google Glass over the long haul will remain a mystery, but it certainly would’ve helped extend its lifespan past two years.
This is a universal truth, by the way. Regardless of how large or small a business is, a bad experience can poison the profit well. After all, 63% of consumers have said they stopped shopping with a brand because of just one bad experience.
Another 67% have said their standards have never been higher for having a good experience with a business, though 51% feel brands don’t meet their expectations.
Don’t look at those statistics and get discouraged, though.
Your brand could be in the 49% of brands that meets customers’ expectations -- or even exceeds them -- with some good old-fashioned customer research and hard work.
When it comes to creating your MVP, the experience with the product is just as important as the features. Dig deep into your audience research until you’re confident you can create something that solves a specific person’s problem, then proceed to the next step.
Step #3: Design your product and set metrics for success
After analyzing your customer research, you can start designing your product.
Your MVP should only include features that are immediately valuable and useful to your customers. You can figure out what those features are by using the prioritization matrix pictured below.
Save the nice-to-haves for your future products -- you don’t need them this early on.
After you’ve figured out what features to include, define what quantitative and qualitative metrics you’ll use to measure how successful your MVP launch is.
Quantitative metrics include things like how many sales you make in a day and what times of the day or week are your best sales periods.
Qualitative metrics could be things like the opinions you gather from your audience via surveys and personal interviews.
After you’ve determined what features you want to include and how you’ll measure your success, it’s time to figure out how you’ll package your MVP.
There are many ways to format your MVP. Here are just three of our favorites:
Type A: The concierge MVP
A concierge MVP isn’t scalable or particularly efficient, but it is one way to launch an MVP when you’re short on time and resources.
Essentially, a concierge MVP is when you offer your product or service personally -- like in our earlier Zappos example -- instead of using an app or website.
As another example, deal-sharing site Groupon’s MVP involved sharing deals from the Chicago area on their website, and later, emailing customers PDF coupons.
If you’re a small creator who’s not ready to release your online course, you could offer private one-to-one sessions as you learn more about what your audience wants.
Alternatively, if you want to release an ebook but don’t have the time to finish it just yet, release a handful of checklists and guides to your audience first and asses their reaction.
Whatever you do, don’t discount the potential of a concierge MVP for both your customer research and CX.
Even though it’s not the most efficient model out there, a concierge MVP gives you an up-front-and-personal connection with your audience -- and their personalities, preferences, and feelings -- that most other MVPs can’t.
Prefer to err to caution and want confirmed interest before launching your MVP? If so, then our next MVP -- the landing page MVP -- may be a better fit.
Type B: The landing page MVP
A landing page MVP is used to attract interest, email addresses, and even purchases of an MVP before it’s been produced.
As many creators noted in our article about how they made their first sale, attracting interest and pre-selling your products can be crucial in your business’ success.
Social media-scheduling tool Buffer is a notable example of a landing page MVP.
Buffer’s founder created a two-page website to gather leads. One page had only an email signup form, and the second linked to a plans and pricing page.
After getting 100 signups and four paying customers, Buffer’s founder created the MVP eventually led to Buffer becoming one of the premier social media scheduling tools for small businesses and marketers alike.
If you'd like to roll out your own landing page MVP, check out our review of the best landing page builders for creators.
Landing pages aren’t the only way to educate and entice your potential audience, however. For a more hands-on approach, check out our last MVP model of the day.
Type C: The informational MVP
An informational MVP is exactly what it sounds like. It explains what your product will do once it’s ready for launch and demonstrates the features through content, such as in this explainer video from Dropbox.
When paired with a landing page, it’s an excellent way to gauge customer interest and bring early leads into your funnel.
Just remember when designing your explainer video that you don’t want to post it on YouTube or your website alone.
Instead, you want to pair it with helpful information that guides your audience to either make a purchase or sign up for your email list.
Speaking of landing pages, that’s the next step in creating your MVP, regardless of which model you choose to create.
Step #4: Create a landing page
A landing page is a page on your website where you want your customer to “land” after reading about your product somewhere, whether that’s another blog post, an ad, or something else.
The purpose of a landing page is to gather leads. In other words, landing pages collect the contact information of people who are interested in your products but who want to learn more about them -- and your brand -- before making a purchase.
While they can be simple and only ask for your name and email, some ask for more information so you can have a clearer idea of who your leads are, as in Brandwatch’s landing page below.
You could take your landing page even further and use a live chat tool like Drift does on their homepage to gather information, too.
Whatever MVP type you choose, a well-designed landing page helps you gather potential customers’ contact information.
When designing your landing page, you’ll want to make sure that it:
- Clearly states your offer and the value it has for your customers
- Is short, sweet, and to the point, since landing pages with fewer words tend to convert better
- Has one CTA so you don’t distract your visitors from taking the intended action, i.e., giving you their email address or getting them to view your pricing page
- Has social proof (like testimonials) that can help you convert more leads into customers and stand out from the competition
Once you have your landing and sales pages all set up, the next step is to analyze who bought your product, why they bought it, and how you can iterate.
Step #5: Collect information and relaunch your MVP
After you’ve made some initial sales, seek feedback from your customers, and analyze data from your landing page, sales page, and more.
Though, keep in mind that your MVP (probably) isn’t ready for a full release at this stage, even after you gather feedback.
In fact, you’ll probably need to release several versions of your MVP to ensure your product is as desirable and valuable as possible to your customers.
Going back to our financial independence course example, suppose that in your first iteration you learned customers wanted more information about retirement accounts.
However, your second MVP showed that they found all of this information overwhelming when presented in a video, so you changed the formatting in your third MVP to include more worksheets and eguides.
After several iterations, you may have finally gotten your MVP as close to perfect as possible.
It’s only then that you’re poised to launch something called a minimum marketable product (MMP), which is a sellable version of your MVP once it’s been tested several times.
If your product launch fails, however, don’t worry -- that just means that you may need another few MVP iterations before launching your MMP.
Of course, just because your product has been launched and is doing well doesn’t mean your work is done; you should still follow digital product marketing strategies to increase your chances of success. (Looking for techniques unique to online courses? Look no further than our online course marketing strategies article.)
Regardless of if your product succeeds or needs further tweaking, always seek out feedback from your customers so that you can keep designing products your audience will love.
And on the note of creating something amazing, it never hurts to have the right resources on hand when you’re pivoting on your feedback.
Tools you can use to launch your MVP in a week (or less)
When it comes to designing and launching your MVP, there are hundreds of tools you could choose from.
Minimally, we recommend that you have resources to help with customer and competitor research, launching your MVP, and marketing.
For audience and competitor research, you could use:
- Discussion forums like Quora and Reddit where you both ask and answer questions from your audience
- Moz’s Link Explorer so that you can find out which sites link back to your competitors -- and where you should try to get links, too
- BuzzSumo, Google Trends, and similar tools to find out what topics your audience is reading about or searching for
- Websites like SimilarWeb that let you see where your competitors are getting their traffic from, how much of their traffic is organic, and so much more
When it comes to designing, selling, and maintaining your MVP, why not try:
- Canva, Venngage, and other graphic design tools so that you can create gorgeous digital downloads
- Video-editing software like Wondershare Filmora or Adobe Premiere Elements that can help you create killer videos for your online courses
- An email management program like Mailchimp to help you grow your email list and contact subscribers
- Platforms like Podia, where you can host your online courses, create webpages and sales pages, accept payments, and more