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6 Steps for Running an MVP Experiment

Whether you’re bootstrapping or creating an app with a generous budget, isn’t it a good idea to know that you’re building the right app in the first place?

The term “MVP” (minimum viable product) comes from well-known bootstrap manual, The Lean Startup. It basically treats your app idea/ startup business as a scientific experiment, where you test out your hypotheses and assumptions to come to a product which is in a minimum state that people will wish to buy. Your aim is to get there as quickly as possible and, in true lean startup fashion, use the least resources possible to do so.

In short, your MVP testing should answer that vital question, “should we be building this?”

Of course to get there, you’re going to need some very clear testing methodology and to know what you’re looking for to come to a “yes” answer. Here are a few steps for running an MVP experiment:

What should you know about existing apps before building your MVP? Get our quick tips here:

#1. Identify a problem

The foundation of any successful app is built on doing your homework in terms of researching user needs. An app stands out when it solves a distinctive problem that is pressing for users and does so better than an alternative solution.

As Apptamin points out, it’s usually better to identify a problem which falls within your own realm of experience as this will give you a head start when it comes to hypothesizing solutions. Of course, doing a thorough job of identifying user needs also means getting out and talking to potential users too!

Once you’ve identified a problem you’re going to solve, it’s helpful to state that problem as clearly as possible. Many apps use a problem statement in order to ensure they’re being clear, for example, a statement for Venmo would be, “I can’t pay a friend when I don’t have cash on me.” The solution to that problem can then be something you use in promoting your app; “Venmo lets you easily pay friends back when nobody has cash.”

#2. Define your hypotheses

As stated by Optimizely, “a strong hypothesis is the heart of data-driven optimization.” The key here is to define critical hypotheses that you’d like to test. There will always be primary ones which relate to your solution as a whole and secondary hypotheses which might be as simple as “users will find this feature useful.”

Primary hypotheses might include things like:

  • Users will pay to solve this problem.
  • Other solutions don’t resolve this satisfactorily (or, our proposed solution is better).
  • We can build a product based on X problem (or, X problem should be a feature of the product).

The idea is to focus on primary hypotheses first so that you can design tests for the overall validity of your idea. You should also be sure that you have testable hypotheses, rather than just assumptions which are not easy to test. Work your hypothesis statements until they represent something you can test.

#3. Design your experiment

Once you have your hypotheses, the next step is to design experiments to test them. In the context of app testing, there are many possible ways of conducting your experiments, so let’s take a look at a few popular testing methods:

mvp_experiment

Photo credit: liverpoolhls via Visualhunt

Customer interviews

You can conduct interviews in any way that you prefer, but when it comes to understanding user needs properly, many prefer to run unscripted interviews which elicit information about the problem your product will solve. You should be exploring the fundamentals of the problem, including the user’s view on any other solutions.

The aim of the interview is to be exploratory, so it can be helpful to list down any problems you assume your product will solve and ask for the customer’s view on those.

You’ll have to conduct enough interviews to represent a fair sample, but they can be a very valuable source of information and can help you to decipher whether your assumptions about problems are correct.

Surveys and forum questions

You can easily use tools such as SurveyMonkey to set up questionnaires for your client base. Some people choose to incentivize the survey, such as by offering a discount on the product for anyone who completes it.

Another good source of information can be the various forums online. Quora is an example which attracts a diverse range of users and can provide a wealth of information if you ask the right questions.

Landing pages

You’d usually set up a landing page in conjunction with some test advertising. The idea is that you’re wanting to ascertain interest by gathering email addresses from people. Within this experiment, you will be conducting other tests, for example, split tests of ads, or even landing page copy.

Pre-orders

There’s nothing more validating than having people pay for something before it’s even available! App creators usually do this by creating mock-ups and descriptions of how the product works, then offering a significant discount for early orders.

Fundraising

Platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo make it easy to bring new ideas to the masses. Many of the examples you’ll see on those sites are MVPs waiting to happen. You can make some good assumptions about the market based on the willingness of people to put up some cash, however, it is a lot of work to do properly.

If you choose this strategy, you need to put time into planning ahead and promoting your fundraiser – most successful campaigns began with a build-up and the creation of an email list to market to first.

Piecemeal MVPs

This simply means putting together a functioning demo of your product, but using tools that are already available rather than building anything new yourself. This is a way of testing the concept to see if people are willing to pay for the solution you’ve come up with.

#4. Define your criteria for a pass

You’ve got to know exactly what it is you’re looking for from your experiment results. For example, do you need a minimum number of signups to continue? What will tell you that you’ve correctly identified a problem and solution?

Your experiment should somehow be measurable if you’re to take meaningful results from it and you should understand what measures you need to be looking at. Some people prefer to do this with a costs vs. rewards process. This means calculating all the costs involved with going ahead and developing your app against the rewards you can forecast from the results of your tests.

#5. Choose and execute the MVP experiment

Having identified the data you need to gather and planned experiments to gather it, you now choose and execute your MVP experiment. In order to ensure that you stay on track (and don’t give in to any bias you may hold about your own ideas), make sure that you are freely sharing data with your team members, or at least a reliable mentor.

Some people prefer to involve an independent third party at this stage to ensure there is an observer who doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome. Yes, there have been examples of apps which went through vigorous MVP testing, were produced and failed!

#6. Iterate and re-test

What did you learn from the first round of experiments? Most people don’t have everything exactly right the first time, which is why it’s important to iterate, then go back to testing to see if you’ve nailed it.

In app development, owners will often do this with testing of the user experience. Creating several iterations of their landing page, website or screen mock-ups helps to build a good picture of where user preferences lie.

Analyze existing apps before your MVP – here’s what you should know:

Run your own MVP…

MVP experimentation is a way of not only keeping development “lean”, but avoiding expensive and unnecessary work which will not lead to the success of your new app.

You can test as intensively or as simply as you like, the important thing is that you define what it is you are looking for and put the data you gather to use. Today’s MVP can lead to tomorrow’s new most-popular app.

Koombea can help companies who are building and testing an MVP. Ask us how we can assist today.

Jonathan Tarud CEO & Founder

Interested in building cool stuff, fresh sushi, and shiny new gadgets. He likes to empower other founders to make their dream come true.

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