Insight provided by Colin Dart, Technology Manager at SETsquared Exeter
Throughout my time supporting tech start-ups with SETsquared Exeter, I have found myself giving one particular piece of advice regularly. “You need an MVP”.
It’s a simple piece of advice that opens up an area of activity that is often misunderstood.
This isn’t a surprise either. Given the fast paced, goal orientated nature of launching a start-up, founders find it difficult to slow down and think about how to make the most out of the definition stages of developing a product.
I won’t bore you with the detail of the oft-used double diamond design framework or similar development theories, but that pivotal activity that takes you from idea to release can be incredibly valuable in a whole host of ways.
So, what does this really mean? Well to understand that we need to ask ourselves a few questions.
What’s the point of an MVP?
This is the first question you need to answer and is the key to understanding what an MVP is and isn’t for you.
An MVP’s purpose in life is to advance your development from being just an idea or a rough model to being a validated and defined product. It’s a chance to socialise your idea with your market, users, peers, and stakeholders in a meaningful and structured way.
The whole process provides you with the data and subsequent insight to shape and define your idea into a coherent way towards full market release.
Why is this important? Well ultimately, it’s that data that makes sure that the time, effort, and money expended through the later development and release of your product are directed wisely and efficiently and that your innovation is valid, required, and desired.
What is an MVP?
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. That sounds simple of course, but the usual misconception is the definition of the word minimum.
Imagine that you are developing a new smart phone app. It would be easy to think that you need to pull together a first release candidate and begin trying it out on your users.
This is where you need to step back and ask yourself: exactly what am I testing?
The extent to which you build your MVP is entirely dependent on your journey; however, by way of example I’d like to tell you about an MVP that has stuck in my mind from a past start-up that highlights just how “minimum” you can be.
The aim of this product was to create a sports coaching app. A system that users could upload practice data to and receive bespoke video coaching in return.
Obviously, a clean, frictionless front end was going to be key to the final release.
However, the MVP consisted of a simple one-page website to explain the process, a mobile phone number to use Whatsapp to upload the practice data, and an email client to email guides and video training in return.
Entirely manual, entirely minimum, and entirely enough to test the value of the product at that level.
What isn’t an MVP?
Equally as important as the last question, this is probably where most confusions lie.
Again, I’m not going to trawl through the entirety of the testing lifecycle of a product, but suffice to say, an MVP is not a prototype.
Put very simply, perhaps too simply. A prototype is an ideation element, a sketch on paper, a 3d printed shape model, or a photoshop mock-up. Something to begin bringing form to your idea. As you might gather, it is not yet viable.
Likewise, an MVP is not an alpha or beta release. Again, the key word is minimum. Releases begin to look at creating the functionality, value, and experience that will furnish the final product. Those are much less fluid beasts, that are designed to hone your product ready for its market.
So, in conclusion, what are we saying here? Well, it’s obvious isn’t it: “You need an MVP”