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Thinking About Minimum Viable Product

One of the core concepts of a lean startup is the idea of Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The idea behind Minimum Viable Product is to build just enough of the core of your product that you can get it to users to begin getting feedback—maybe even get some of them to pay you for it.

But a lot of startups have a hard time wrapping their heads around MVP. They come to the table with a great idea and lots of thoughts on all of the features it needs to be AWESOME and they want to build everything. As a result, it takes forever to launch. And if it takes forever to launch, it becomes increasingly difficult to get feedback from users on what they really need from your product.

Another difficulty is deciding what features to cut. Thinking about your MVP challenges entrepreneurs to boil their product down to the very essence of what it needs to do and then do that, and no more. In fact, sometimes your minimum viable product won’t be a product at all.

I was at a startup dinner one night and at our table was the CEO of an enterprise software company*. He told the story about a feature they were thinking about launching. Instead of building it and then launching it, they simply added a link to the proposed feature in the existing product that took users to a form that asked users what they’d like to see in the feature. It took them about 10 minutes to set up and they collected some great feedback about how to build the feature. They launched a MVP that wasn’t even a product and got invaluable feedback that informed their product decisions moving forward.

It can be very difficult to look at a feature and determine whether it’s core. To do this, you need to be talking to your customers, trying things out, and moving forward in small incremental steps.

There’s a great list of 10 Examples of Minimum Viable Product up over on Venture Hacks that provides some real world case studies about how real companies have developed MVPs. Hopefully it will give you a sense of how to really cut your product down to the core features, even if that core isn’t a feature at all.

Have you built a MVP? What was your experience? What was the hardest part about defining what your MVP would be? Share your thoughts in the comments.

*One of the rules of the dinner was that everything was off the record, so I’m being intentionally vague about the who and what. But it’s a true story. Trust me on this.

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