The idea of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is frequently misunderstood. From the name, people often think of it as a prototype, but really, it’s a learning object.
Here’s an example from our first Lean LaunchPad program. The ASPIRE team was in that group – and they’ve recently launched their platform. Here is how they describe it:
ASPIRE is an online marketplace which intelligently matches your business with potential purchasers or recyclers of your waste by-products. It saves on your disposal costs and cuts the amount of waste going to landfill. ASPIRE is run by the CSIRO in collaboration with local councils and business networks.
Register your outputs and inputs to find a match.
That’s a pretty clear statement of their value proposition. How did they test it? Their first thought was to build the website, but they had neither the time nor the money to do that during the LLP program.
Here’s what they did instead:
The hypothesis that they needed to test was:
We believe that small manufacturers in Victoria will value a service that helps them recycle waste streams.
To test that, they got 58 people in the room from 32 small manaufacturers. Then they did on paper what they proposed to do with their website – list the industrial waste streams they produce, along with the process inputs that they need. Then they looked to see if there were any matches between firms. And there were – 62 of them, in fact, nearly two per firm!
Now, obviously, this is a very primitive version of the platform that they ended up building. The launch version has a lot of smarts built into it to do that matching automatically.
But this is a great example of an MVP. They didn’t build a small version of their final product, they built an experience that validated whether or not people had a genuine need for it. The results were an overwhelming “Yes!”
This is a low-fidelity MVP. The Investment Readiness Level scale includes steps for both a low-fidelity MVP (IRL 5) and a high-fidelity MVP (IRL 7). A high-fidelity MVP is something like a prototype.
I think that the best way to think about a low-fidelity MVP is a pretotype – and pretotype.org has a bunch of great resources to help you test and validate your ideas quickly and cheaply. That Resources page includes free .pdfs of two books on the topic, and they are both excellent.
The Pretotyping Manifesto includes a great set of principles to help you build your low-fidelity MVP:
Here are some more resources to help you build and test an MVP:
- Post and talk from Ash Maurya.
- Descriptions and links to tools that help with software and website MVPs in particular from TechCrunch.
- A great case study from Steve Blank that we use a lot as an example.
- Fifteen Ways to Test Your Minimum Viable Product from The Next Web.
- Ultimate Guide to MVPs – with examples, by David Salani.
The Lean Startup approach is based on the Build-Measure-Learn loop. When you combine hypothesis testing with low-fidelity MVPs, you get into the Build-Measure-Learn loop very early in the process.
It’s a great way to learn if you’re really delivering value for your customers. The best way to think of an MVP is an object for learning.
Note: Over the past year, I’ve been running (with help, of course!) a bunch of Lean LaunchPad programs with the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) aimed at increasing the impact of all the great research that they’re doing. This is part of a series reflecting on what we’ve learned through the course of six programs involving 40 research projects and more than 250 people. The other posts are:
- Part one: The How and Why of Customer Development
- Part two: Is Our Business Model Ready to Launch?
- Part three: How Big is Your Market and Where Will You Start?
- Part four: What Assumptions Underlie Your Business?
- Part five: A Minimum Viable Product is an Object for Learning
- Part six: Move Sooner and Faster Than You Think You Can
- Part seven: How to Find Your First Customers
- Part eight: How to Make Good Lean Startup Hypotheses