Some call it a Minimum Viable Product or MVP. Others call it a “Minimum Desirable Product” (MDP) or even “Simple, Complete and Lovable” product (SCLP). Whatever vernacular you choose, launching your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is about more than just getting to market. The MVP is a version of your product (or your product idea) with the right balance of features to satisfy early customers and provide learning. An MVP is not a smaller, cheaper version of your final product. It allows you to test your product in real life with real people in order to validate the product’s core value. MVP tests are designed to answer technical questions about the product, prove or disprove hypotheses, and get a real feel for the viability of the product in the market.
An MVP can help you avoid costly mistakes. Take Smith & Wesson's mountain bike flop in 2002. When you think of Smith & Wesson, images of bikes aren't likely to pop into your head, unless you are a police officer. Smith & Wesson has been making mountain bikes for police officers for decades. Given the success there, they decided to release a mountain bike for the general public. But the general public wasn't having it. The bikes were priced too high and diverged too far from what people expected to see from the Smith & Wesson brand. Good MVP testing would have either killed the project early or helped the company find a way into the consumer biking market that people would accept.
We draw from three proven methods to test our client’s MVPs (or MDP or SCLP, or whatever you want to call them).
Sell-then-build is aptly named. First, you sell the product concept. Then, you build the actual product. We like sell-then-build approaches that use a “landing page,” directing potential customers through advertising and email marketing. That landing page is a marketing tool that allows for testing the product against market expectations and demand.
This is the idea behind Kickstarter, which we’re all likely familiar with by now. It’s a platform for sell-then-build products for creative types. The designs range from world-changing to downright wacky. One woman raised over $1400, three times her goal, to create 100 little birds out of wire and felt. Who knew that there was a market for wire and felt birds? This woman does, and she learned it without first spending a dime on wire or felt.
You don’t need to use an official sell-then-build platform, like Kickstarter, to test your MVP. A landing page on your company website will do. The landing page needs to explain the product’s features and the problem it will solve for customers. Depending on the product, the landing page can get people to pay in advance or be added to a waitlist that ensures they are among the products first buyers.
To be clear, this isn't an email grab. You want to gather feedback from page visitors and measure genuine demand for the product. This usually comes in the form of people signing up for your waitlist or giving you money in advance. You can also collect feedback from a short survey about their interest in the product and the features they'd like to see. [Read more about Getting More Juice out of the Your Voice of the Customer Interviews]
Wizard of Oz Prototyping
Toto was the real hero of the Wizard of Oz when he pulled back the curtain to reveal that the giant talking wizard head was just a sweet old man appearing all-powerful. The wizard wasn't trying to pull off a nefarious deception. His intentions were good; he just didn't have the skills yet to be good at his job. Wizard of Oz prototyping is similar in that it gives the impression that a product idea is an existing product when in actuality, it's under development. There is work being done in the background, but customers don't know it’s happening.
Wizard of Oz prototyping isn’t nefarious deception either; it’s a simulation of what the real product could look like and do. It's merely a way to avoid building expensive systems or platforms until you know there is a real demand for a product or solution. And since testing is performed manually, you can quickly modify the product to rapidly test many hypotheses in search of the most effective product.
Zappos was started using Wizard of Oz prototyping. Nick Swinmurn came up with the idea of selling shoes online when he struggled to find a pair of boots he wanted. He was at a shoe store in the mall when the idea struck him. In an interview with Fortune, Nick says he approached the store and said, "I’ll take some pictures, put your shoes online, and if people buy them, I’ll buy them from you at full price.” So, that’s what he did. He set up an online store. When people ordered shoes, he’d go to the store, buy the shoes and ship them to the customer. He was the man behind the curtain until he no longer needed to be. Now, you can hop onto Zappos.com to have any shoe you might ever want sent to your house in two days.
The Concierge Test is similar to Wizard of Oz prototyping in that the work is still being done, but, in this case, your customers know it’s happening. Concierge testing lets you try out your product idea by first providing it to a small group in beta form.
A commonly shared example of good concierge testing is the sister-team behind Rent the Runway. If you aren't familiar, Rent the Runway is an online platform enabling people to borrow designer clothing and jewelry at a fraction of the cost. The sisters behind the now $100 million company started with two beta tests. The first test offered college students a chance to come in and try on clothes to rent and return. It was a success. So, they moved to the second test which allowed women to see the clothes, without the ability to try them on. Women still rented and returned the clothes. With two successful betas under their belts, the sisters knew they had an idea that was ready for scale.
This is a very high touch form of testing, as you manually work out what the product will be, and how customers engage with it. While it is intensive, concierge testing gives rich insight into your customers’ needs and desires because you are right there with them. Eventually, you can scale up the product and remove some, or all, of the human touch.
Regardless of the testing method you choose, the goal is to see how real customers engage authentically. Testing allows you to pivot your initial idea quickly and easily, if you learn that customers need or want something different, don’t let your product be the next Smith & Wesson Bike.
Have you used one of these MVP approaches or something else entirely? We would love to hear about it. Contact us.
Not sure about what MVP approach is best for your company? We can help.
I traveled to DC for business earlier this week. Not wanting to take irresponsible risks with COVID-19 (or the flu), I took hand sanitizer and a bag of Clorox wipes. I want to be responsible and try to stay healthy.
But as an entrepreneur, a mom, and a business advisor, I know I need to do more than just keep myself healthy. I need to lead my team, offer advice to clients and make sure my family is safe.
I've been asking business leaders whose opinions I value what they are doing to lead in this time of uncertainty. I am by no means an expert in crisis management, but I wanted to share the best advice I've received and how I am applying it:
1) Get comfortable with the facts
When the future is uncertain, start by understanding the facts. And please make sure your facts come from reputable sources.
The next step is to outline the best-, medium-, and worst-case scenarios in your big areas of uncertainty. So, for our businesses, this means running scenarios for revenue and cash dips, supply chain disruptions, and long periods of remote working. If you don’t know where to start, check out this McKinsey report published on Monday for inspiration. It outlines best-, medium-, and worst-case scenarios for big companies and also has actionable advice for each.
The team at Vecteris is fully distributed (i.e., remote), so my business scenarios have focused on revenue and cash flow. For each scenario, I wrote down the actions we could take to stay strong. Yes, things are continuing to evolve, but the act of imagining the worst-possible scenario and writing down how we might respond was incredibly comforting. I also suggest thinking through best-, medium-, and worst-case scenarios on how might the kids staying home for weeks or months impact you? What happens if travel restrictions continue? How could you manage each scenario?
The point is not to deny the facts or their seriousness. Scenario planning is both coming to terms with the facts and, more likely than not, discovering that the scenarios can be managed. Every situation, even the worst case, can be figured out, and a plan can be put in place. Or, in the words of Marie Forleo, “Everything is figure outable.”
2) Reframe the situation
In each of the scenarios (best-, medium- and even worse-case), there is always an abundance of opportunity. It could be everything from using the dip in the market to invest (I just noticed one friend fishing for small M&A targets on LinkedIn - seriously), to the opportunity to tackle long-delayed projects at home.
It is also an excellent time to shed things in your life or business that are not working. For some companies, that could be pruning the product portfolio, accelerating investment in new products or making overdue organizational changes.
It is also a great time to build new capabilities. Personally, that could be taking online courses or starting to tackle that pile of books you want to read. From a business standpoint, what could my team do with free time if business slows? I get excited thinking about having the time to create a new workshop offering, create new content, strengthen our prospect list, and the list of ideas goes on.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…
It’s about learning to dance in the rain. – Anonymous
3) Be of Service
Being of service to others almost always helps me forget my own concerns. For example, how can I be of better service to my customers? The McKinsey report I referenced earlier has good advice about “getting closer to your customers” to find out what help customers need during this time of uncertainty rather than taking wild guesses.
Even better, be of service to those who are truly suffering. How can we help hourly workers or people who work in travel and hospitality? Or Uber and Lyft drivers? What about the homeless? Or the elderly? Some people will struggle with the community-wide isolation - what can we do to help them?
Consider dropping off needed supplies at a local homeless shelter (call first and ask what they need). Phone an elderly neighbor or relative to find out what they need. Be extra generous with tips. This is a drop in the bucket, I know, but it will help you contextualize your own situation.
With all the media coverage and social media frenzy, it's easy to start to panic and feel overwhelmed by the potential fallout. But there are things you can do to keep yourself, your family, and your business safe. I know I am feeling more prepared and ready for whatever the next few weeks or months have in store.
I would love to know what information sources you are finding useful and the steps you are taking. Please share!