What Is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

MVP written on letter board next to sticky note stating, minimum viable product.

One phrase they love to use in the startup world is minimum viable product (MVP). You’ve probably heard this term many times. But, do you really understand what it means?

This article defines what an MVP is, examples of MVPs, and how you can build your own.

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What Is an MVP?

A minimum viable product, or MVP, is a product or service that has just enough features to attract some early-adopting users in order to validate a product idea as quickly and easily as possible. Minimum viable products are just that, minimal. They have minimal functionality, but they provide the opportunity to see if customers are actually interested in using or purchasing a product or service.

The MVP is a concept made popular by the lean startup methodology, and it underscores the need for (and impact of) learning during the new product development cycle. With a minimum viable product, not only can you validate that customers will actually use or purchase your product or service, but it also gives you the opportunity to collect invaluable feedback during the development process.

The key idea behind the MVP is to produce an actual product or service (anything from a landing page to a single-feature product or service) that you can “offer” to your target market. This allows you to gather feedback and create a product with product-market fit.

Purposes of an MVP

There are several reasons why startups and established companies alike may want to (and often should) create a minimum viable product. 

Let’s talk about some of the most cited reasons:

1. To Learn

The number-one purpose of launching a minimum viable product is to learn. Whether you want to learn about your market, learn about your audience, or learn if your target customers will even want your product or service, an MVP is a tangible way to gather knowledge.

“A minimum viable product is a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” — Eric Ries

According to Eric Ries, creating an MVP jump-starts the build-measure-learn feedback loop, which is at the heart of the lean startup methodology. Creating an MPV gives you the ability to get your product or service ideas into the hands of actual customers, gather feedback, observe them using it, and ultimately learn more.

2. To Minimize Costs

Many businesses launch minimum viable products to help minimize the costs of launching a new product or service. This is particularly appealing for startups and early-stage companies that do not have the resources to launch a full-scale product.

Developing a “final” or “complete” product or service might take years and can be extremely costly. Building an MVP minimizes the time and resources that it would take to validate an idea without having to invest in developing a final or completed product.

By creating an MVP, new and young companies can validate and test their ideas even with a minimal budget, allowing them to gain traction, begin to scale, spread out their costs over time, and raise capital to fund further growth.

3. To Release a Product Quickly

Another reason many companies launch a minimum viable product is to release a product to the market quickly. It takes far less time to create a product or service with limited functionality than it does a final product. Building an MVP speeds up the launch of a new product or service significantly, allowing you to validate your ideas, collect feedback, and begin building a customer base.

A quick release also allows you to engage early adopters in your target market in the initial stages of development, providing you with the opportunity to collect invaluable feedback and align product development with your users’ wants and needs.

Benefits of an MVP

If you haven’t figured it out by now, there are several benefits to building a minimum viable product. In addition to learning, minimizing costs, and releasing your product or service quickly, building an MVP allows you to validate your idea, find the right audience, and balance product development with your customers’ wants and needs.

Validate Your Idea

One highly cited reason that startups and established companies build minimum viable products is to validate their product and service ideas. No one wants to invest resources into building a product and then find out that nobody wants it. Thus, many companies build MVPs to test their ideas with real customers and users before investing in developing a “full” or “complete” product or service.

Building an MVP allows you to “offer” your products or services to your target market and provides you the opportunity to find out if they even want it at all.

Find the Right Audience

Building an MVP also provides you the opportunity to find the messaging and audience. By building and marketing an MVP, you can test what messaging resonates with your target market and find the niches within your target market that might be your early adopters and, most likely, customers.

Emphasize Core Features and Development

Building an MVP helps you focus on your core features and their development. By building a minimum viable product, you are forced to focus on the development of your core features as opposed to worrying about building other features that might be nice to have but are not essential to your underlying solution. This encourages you to hold off on developing additional features outside of your core solution until your MVP proves successful with early customers and the market.

Collect Invaluable Feedback

Beginning with an MVP also allows you to collect invaluable feedback to direct product development. Customer feedback is a must when you are developing a new product or service. Customer feedback helps you understand customers’ problems and pain points and helps you develop your solution to meet their wants and needs better.

By launching an MVP, you can familiarize yourself with who your users and customers are, observe how they use and interact with your product or service, and learn how to better solve the problems for which they are seeking solutions.

 Collecting feedback can also tell you what to focus on next. What additional features would be most beneficial for your users or customers? What elements or features might they not need at all?

Early Testing of Your Product or Service

Building an MVP allows you to begin testing your product or service early. An MVP gives you the opportunity to observe and test how customers or users interact with your product or service.

Depending on the type of MVP you build, you can test your messaging, pricing, desired features, and even the technological parts of your product or service. In application and software development, this is especially important, as a prototype may show how things should work. Only through quality control and testing with actual users will you find out if and how things actually work. Testing an MVP is also much more simple than testing a complex product or service.

Reduce Errors and Risk

Another benefit of building an MVP is to test your ideas and your early product or service in order to reduce the number of errors and risks. When you launch a minimal product, you can identify who your early and most active users are, how they use your product, and how you need to develop your product or service to meet their needs.

If you start off by building a complex product or service, there are many more moving parts, and it is much more difficult to find and correct errors, make changes, and tailor your product or service into a product that your customers want, need, and are willing to pay for.

Building an MVP with minimum features also simplifies everything in the process, generating far less risk than building a complex product or service with more to go wrong.

Types of MVPs

When thinking about minimum viable products, the types of MVPs that can be created to validate an idea and learn can be broken down into two types: low-fidelity MVPs (those that do not yet have a functional product or service) and high-fidelity MVPs (those that have a functional product or service).

Low-Fidelity MVPs

Low-fidelity MVPs are minimum viable products that do not yet have a functional product or service. The purpose of a low-fidelity MVP is to validate whether there are enough customers that would be interested in buying your product or service if you were to build your product or service idea.

The Email MVP

The simplest form of MVP is the email MVP. Drafting an email takes a lot less effort than making an explainer video, creating a landing page, or building a product or service. 

If you have an email list, a contact list, or existing customers that are within your target market, then you can launch the simplest form of MVP by drafting some emails to see if your potential customers are interested in your idea.

With an email MVP, you will want to gather as much information as you can. Try including a call to action and experimenting with your pricing, messaging, and value proposition. If people are opening your email and following through on your call to action, then you might be onto an idea that customers want. But don’t stop there — make sure to follow up with some of your potential customers who clicked on your call-to-action to get more information about your MVP.

The Landing Page MVP 

A landing page MVP is simply a landing page that lets you test your product or service ideas and messaging without ever having built a product or service.

Landing page MVPs are typically one- to two-page landing pages. The first page should describe what your product or service is, and the second page gives people the opportunity to sign-up to get more information or even allows them to attempt to “buy” your product or service. Those that do try to “buy” are often provided a message that lets them know the product is out-of-stock or isn’t available yet but asks them to provide their information to be the first to find out when it is available.

A landing page MVP is a great way to “offer” your product or service to actual customers, and it can help you decide if you should even build an initial version of your product or service in the first place.

To get the most value from your landing page MVP, make sure to capture as much feedback as possible. A “sign up” or email address alone doesn’t provide much validated learning. Use your MVP to test different messaging, different pricing, etc., and make sure to follow up by engaging in actual conversations with some of the customers that signed up.

The Explainer Video MVP

Another type of low-fidelity MVP is the explainer video MVP. The explainer video MVP describes how your product or service will work. 

With the explainer video MVP, you don’t need to actually develop your product or service idea. You only need to create a video that demonstrates what your product or service is and how it will work. This allows you to measure interest and gather feedback before you spend anything at all on product development.

A great example of a successful startup that used an explainer video MVP is Dropbox. With a simple three-minute explainer video, Dropbox had 70,000 people sign up to participate in their beta almost overnight.

High-Fidelity MVPs

High-fidelity MVPs are minimum viable products in which you actually build a version of the product or service. The purpose of a high-fidelity MVP is to validate that you are actually solving the problem impacting your users or customers.

Wizard of Oz MVP

The Wizard of Oz MVP is a high-fidelity MVP in which you create the illusion of an automated, functional product or service, but all of the work is actually being done by a human.

With a Wizard of Oz MVP, the customer is led to believe that the entire process is automated. However, on the back end, everything is carried out manually. In this way, you can easily create a prototype of how your product or service would work with a fully developed product. This allows you to validate the market response to your product or service before creating anything at all.

A great example of a Wizard of Oz MVP is the shoe giant Zappos. Nick Swinmurn launched Zappos with a simplistic website featuring pictures of shoes from his local mall. When customers would place an order, he would then go to the mall to purchase the shoes to mail to his customers. While it appeared that customers were interacting with a fully automated system, everything behind the scenes was carried out by a real-life human being.

Concierge MVP

Another type of MVP that you may want to consider is the concierge MVP. The concierge MVP is similar to the Wizard of Oz MVP, in which all the work is performed manually, but with the concierge MVP, there is often no illusion of automation.

Take, for example, Manuel Rosso’s MVP for Food on the Table, a service that generates recipes and creates shopping lists tailored to each customer’s individual wants and needs. When Rosso launched his MVP, he hadn’t even built a website. Instead, he sold customers his services for $10 a month and then created his recipes and shopping lists as he followed them around the store. While this was highly inefficient, it allowed him to validate his idea while getting feedback from actual customers.

One big benefit of the concierge MVP is that you get to interact with customers when they use your product or service. This allows you to gather validated learning insights before you even begin to build your product or service.

Single-Feature MVP

The single-feature MVP is an MVP that focuses on one core feature that solves a problem their customers or users need. This does not mean that this core feature is the only feature that is developed with the MVP, but it should be the focus of the MVP, and all of the other basic features that might be required are secondary to developing an MVPs core feature.

For example, Spotify started as a single-feature MVP. The single feature that Spotify focused on was streaming music. Of course, there had to be a number of other features, such as selecting music and controlling the volume, that Spotify also had to incorporate into their product, but their focus, the value they were going to provide, was the streaming feature.

Single-feature MVPs are useful to validate your product or service’s core feature and provide you with the information necessary to develop future features.

Examples of Successful Minimum Viable Products

There are a ton of real-life examples of successful MVPs. Did you know that all of these companies started as a Minimum Viable Product:

Airbnb

Airbnb’s start may be described as purely coincidental. Needing help paying rent, Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia, the founders of Airbnb, used their own living room to make a few bucks and validate their idea that people could rent their extra space to those looking for short-term rental housing. They built a simple website, posted a few photos along with some additional details about the space, and had three paying guests by the next day. With their validated idea, they went to work building what has become the largest accommodation service in the world.

Amazon

Way back in 1994, Jeff Bezos knew that the internet was the future of shopping when he launched Amazon; however, it wasn’t always the “everything” marketplace that it is today. Amazon began with a simplistic website selling books. Thousands upon thousands of books. It was from here that Amazon began iterating, continuing to add products, features, and services to this day.

Buffer

Before Buffer developed its social media sharing applications, it began as a simple landing page. Buffer’s landing page explained what Buffer was and how it works. Buffer then offered several plans and a sign up button, all without even developing a product. For those who were interested, when they attempted to sign up, they were shown a message that Buffer wasn’t quite ready but encouraged them to sign up for updates. With email addresses in hand, Buffer used these to have actual conversations with interested users in order to gain insights to build a product that users actually wanted.

Dropbox

Another famous example of a successful minimum viable product is Dropbox. Dropbox launched their MVP as a short, three-minute explainer video that discussed how Dropbox would work and a link to a website at the end where users could leave their email address to stay updated. Without a working product, founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi wanted to make sure that potential users would even be interested in their file-syncing idea before they built it. It turns out they were, as more than 70,000 people had signed up for the mailing list by the next day.

Etsy

Etsy is another successful company that started as an MVP. Founders Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, Jared Tarbell, and Haim Schoppik were website developers for a crafting forum when they noticed so many members complaining about the difficulty and fees they were charged for selling their crafts on eBay. 

To solve this problem, Etsy’s founders developed a simple website with basic functionality to allow anyone to create an account and sell their crafts. Within days, thousands of users had signed up, proving the concept and allowing them to iterate and scale their website as they learned and grew.

Facebook

Facebook is another example of an MVP that turned into a meta-sized company. Facebook, or Thefacebook as it was known back then, was created as a student directory for students of Harvard University. Even though the first versions were overly basic, as Thefacebook collected feedback and iterated, it began to grow to include other Ivy League universities. Thefacebook expanded to colleges, high schools, and finally, anyone with an email address. Now, with over 2.8 billion users, Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

Foursquare

Foursquare is a famous example of a single-feature MVP. When Foursquare launched its app, it had just one feature — the ability to check in to different locations and earn gamification rewards. It wasn’t until after they had validated their idea and began to grow a user base that they began adding features like city guides and recommendations.

Groupon

Before Groupon became the global platform that it is today, it also started as an MVP. Groupon launched their MVP with a simple WordPress blog and an email list of early subscribers to which they would send PDFs advertising limited-time deals for local businesses. It was only after they proved their concept that they began building their own platform and scaling the business.

Product Hunt

When Ryan Hoover came up with the idea for Product Hunt, a platform that allows users to share their new products and services and get feedback from others, he wasn’t sure if anyone besides himself would even be interested. So, before building a platform, Ryan tested his idea using a team collaboration tool called LinkyDink, which allows users to share links with a group or team. He started by adding his startup friends, and within two weeks, he had over 170 subscribers, validating his idea all while helping others validate their own.

Spotify

Spotify is a great example of a startup that focused on a single-feature MVP. Back in 2006, when founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon came up with the idea for Spotify, there were few options for streaming music. Wanting to get to market quickly, Ek and Lorentzon focused on a single feature when building their MVP — the ability to stream music. They built their MVP, a desktop application, in just four months and by 2007 began beta testing with influential music bloggers in Sweden. 15 years later, Spotify has over 300 million active monthly users and over 170 million premium users.

“We spent an insane amount of time focusing on latency when no one cared because we were hell-bent on making it feel like you had all the world’s music on your hard drive. Obsessing over small details can sometimes make all the difference. That’s what I believe is the biggest misunderstanding about the minimum viable product concept. That is the V in the MVP.” — Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify 

Twitter

Twitter is another example of a successful company that started as an MVP. Although it might now be a widely popular social media platform, Twitter, originally known as “twttr,” was created by the podcasting platform Odeo to be an internal app that allowed employees to send SMS messages and display them to their groups through the twttr platform. When Odeo execs saw how much their employees loved engaging with twttr, they released it to the public in 2006, but it wasn’t until the South by Southwest Interactive conference in 2007 that Twitter saw real success when daily tweets jumped from 20,000 to 60,000. 

Uber

Uber is another example of a successful company that started as an MVP. Founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp’s original idea was to create a timeshare ride service that you could order via an app. Originally calling it Ubercab, Kalanick and Camp launched an MVP for iPhone users in San Francisco with just three cars on the road. From their successful MVP, Uber initially raised $1.25 million, the first of many rounds of funding on their way to become one of the largest rideshare services in the world.

How to Build an MVP

Step 1: Research the Market

The first step in building a minimum viable product is to research your idea. Before beginning to build anything, you should research the industry, research the market, and research the competition.

In order to create a successful product or service, your idea needs to meet the needs of the market. Your idea needs to solve an actual problem that your target market has, and your target market needs to be willing to pay for your product or service.

No matter how “cool” your idea is, if your target market doesn’t want or need it and they are not willing to pay for it, you probably shouldn’t be building an MVP in the first place. According to one recent survey by CBInsights, a lack of market need is one of the top reasons startups fail.

To avoid facing the problem of building a product no one wants or needs, research your market. This may include studying research that already exists, such as government data, industry reports, and trade publications or it may involve conducting your own research like surveys and customer interviews with those who you believe might be your most likely potential customers.

You should also spend some time researching your competitors. Although you may believe your product or service is unique, chances are your target market is solving the problem that your solution intends to solve in some way or another.

Step 2: Develop Your Idea

The next step in building an MVP is to identify definitive areas of the market where your product or service can solve specific problems or improve upon current solutions. 

You can start by asking yourself, “what problems is my idea solving,” but to successfully complete this step, you really need to understand your target market and take on their perspective.

What problems or pain points are most important to your target market? And, why and how would your target market use your solution?

With a better idea of a specific problem facing your target market, you can begin developing your idea around the core features that will solve these problems. By developing an MVP around the core features that users want and need, you ensure that your MVP is actually viable.

Step 3: Define Your Features

The next step in building a minimum viable product is to define your features. You can begin by listing all of the features that your product or service “must have” as well as all of the features that would be nice to have.

Then you will need to prioritize these features. Remember that you can only create a limited amount of functionality for your minimum viable product. But, it also needs to be viable. You will need to determine which features are necessary and which features you may want to add down the road.

By listing and prioritizing the features of your product or service, you are translating these priorities into an action plan. Your MVP needs to include, and only include, the core features that are necessary for making your product viable.

Step 4: Build and Launch

After all of your research and due diligence, the next step in building a minimum viable product is to actually build and launch the MVP.

How you go about building and launching an MVP depends on what type of MVP you decide to begin with. The ultimate goal is to achieve validated learning as you iterate toward a solution that solves your customers’ problems efficiently. 

Many startups begin with a low-fidelity MVP to validate whether there are enough customers that would be interested in buying their product or service and then launch a high-fidelity MVP to validate that their solutions are actually solving their customers’ problems.

Step 5: Measure, Learn, and Iterate

The “final” step in building an MVP is measuring, learning, and iterating. During this phase, you will begin measuring the results from your launch.

So what should you measure? The short answer is everything you can. Metrics like traffic, conversions, sales metrics, customer acquisition costs, and average revenue per user may all be useful for your business’s growth.

With data in hand, you should focus on learning from it. Try to determine:

  • Will it be profitable to continue developing your idea? 
  • Should you pivot? 
  • Are your core features solving your customers' problems?
  • What market should you focus on?
  • Who are your best customers?
  • What features should you focus on next?

Another part of learning is going right to your customers to get their feedback. There are many different ways to collect feedback from your customers and users. One of the best ways to collect feedback is to ask your early adopters to fill out a survey or sit down for an interview.

In many cases, such as software development, this part of the process will continue through the lifecycle of your product or service. Through proof of concepts, prototypes, alpha releases, beta releases, and versions 1.0 to 99.9 will all require you to build, measure, learn, and iterate.

The MVP Glossary

Exceptionally Viable Product (EVP): a version of your MVP that is close to the final product.

High-Fidelity MVP: an MVP in which you actually build a version of the product or service.

Low-Fidelity MVP: an MVP that does not yet have a functional product or service.

Minimum Lovable Product (MLP): an MVP that provides your audience with a user experience they love.

Minimum Marketable Features (MMF): This refers to a group of features that offers the smallest amount of functionality a product or service needs in order to appeal to the market.

Minimum Marketable Product (MMP): a product with the minimum marketable features to be appealing to consumers.

Proof of Concept: an activity focused on determining if an idea is feasible (e.g., can it be done from a technology standpoint, a financial standpoint, etc.).

Prototype: a prototype is an early simulation or model of a product or service used to test a concept.

Single-Feature MVP: An MVP developed around a single core feature that users need.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the MVP approach?

The MVP approach is an approach to new product development that focuses on creating a minimum viable product, getting it into the hands of users, collecting feedback, and developing your final product (or pivoting) based on your customer’s wants and needs.

Why is minimum viable product important?

The minimum viable product (MVP) is important because it provides the opportunity to test a product or service idea in real-time with real consumers in actual market conditions. MVPs allow entrepreneurs and product developers to release a product quickly and learn while minimizing costs. There are a number of benefits to launching an MVP, including validating your idea, finding the right audience, collecting feedback, and testing your product or service.

How do you test a minimum viable product?

Testing your MVP means examining if your idea is desirable and feasible. There are a number of ways to test an MVP, depending on the type of MVP you are building. You can examine traffic, conversion rates, usage statistics, sales metrics, customer acquisition costs, average revenue per user, pricing, messaging, or a number of other metrics that will inform you whether customers want and will be willing to buy your product or service. You also may need to test your MVP for use and feasibility through quality control, alpha and beta releases, etc.

Where did minimum viable product originate?

The minimum viable product is a concept that originated in the lean startup methodology popularized by Eric Ries in his book ‘The Lean Startup.’ This, along with Steve Blank and several other proponents in the early 2010s, brought the MVP model to prominence.

What is the difference between minimum viable product vs. proof of concept?

The difference between an MVP and a proof of concept is that although an MVP helps to prove your concept, a proof of concept only looks to prove the feasibility of an idea, not how the market or your customers will react to your idea. Proof of concepts are conducted to determine whether your idea is feasible and if you should build an MVP at all. 

What is the difference between a minimum viable product vs. a prototype?

The difference between an MVP and a prototype is that while both are minimal versions of a product or service, a prototype is about exploring ideas and what a final product could be, while minimum viable products are about showing the viability of the idea and the problem you are trying to solve. An MVP is a form of prototype. It is just one that is further along in the development process.

What is the difference between a minimum viable product vs. minimum marketable features?

The difference between an MVP and MMF is what makes an MVP viable might not make it marketable. An MVP contains the minimum amount of features that are viable to solve a customer or user’s problem, but it may not have the minimum features to be a marketable product. MVPs are built in order to learn enough to create a product with minimum marketable features (a minimum marketable product or MMP).