Rocket launching out of a laptop

Thanks to Eric Ries, there are people who don’t even think “most valuable player” anymore when they hear “MVP.” Depending on where you live, the people talking about their MVP in line at the coffee shop are more likely talking about their minimum viable product.  And, even that term can be a bit of a misnomer, as it has taken on a methodology all its own. 

Today, the MVP framework is applied in creative ways, including and outside of traditional product development, to accomplish the same startup steps: build, measure, learn. When an entrepreneur creates the right MVP, they set themselves up for success by creating the shortest possible feedback loop between themselves and their market.

Essentially a sellable prototype, this allows a team to analyze their target market and recognize potential failures as early as possible. This approach is also supported by the fail fast, fail cheap mentality.

Woman holding stopwatch

An effective minimum viable product answers crucial questions about your product’s (or business’s) core value. At best, it has the potential to create the traction to bootstrap investment. However, it’s also a great way to provide the proof-of-concept necessary to secure private investment or grants.

Since unique teams need to answer unique questions, there are different types of MVPs and a variety of tools you can use to launch them. Let’s look at five types of minimum viable products and scratch the surface of the more common tools used to create them.

1. The Landing Page MVP

Here’s some good news: You don’t have to code to build an MVP. In fact, you don’t need to build your product at all. First, you’re asking whether anyone wants the product or service you’d like to offer. If these people exist, who are they?

To find out, you can draw people to a landing page with a pay-per-click AdWords campaign. When they reach your page, help them catch your vision with an explainer video, some prototype images, and strong storytelling. This approach is all about marketing. Empathize with the pain people are feeling now, then invite them to a new way of doing things. Now that people are clicking on your AdWords and signing up to hear more, you’ve found your market. If they’re not, you may want to adjust your approach or recognize your lack of market.

You’ll find plenty of tools to build a single webpage that tells your story and gathers email subscribers. Squarespace offers exquisite designs and easy editing, while Wix is slightly cheaper and easier to customize. Meanwhile, Google My Business and most hosting providers give you tools to build a simple website for free.

2. The Pre-Sale or Crowdfunding MVP

Graphic of people growing an idea and money plant

This has to be the most reliable way to research whether people will buy your product: Invite them to buy it before you make it.

If you can sell a product that doesn’t exist, you can use the money to build it. This model has kept many artists’ careers viable long after the death of the music industry. It has also fueled countless success stories, from independent films to niche board games to activity tracking diamond rings. Creators greatly reduce their risk by building their projects on measurable reality.

Everyone’s heard of Kickstarter, which gives your idea high visibility on a platform that people remember. Other strong options include GoFundMe, IndieGoGo, and Wunderfund.

3. The Concierge MVP

Hotels offer a concierge as a one-on-one service. Similarly, you can use the model as a proof-of-concept for the automated service you intend to build. To do their job well, a concierge needs to have a clear understanding of your needs and preferences. In the same way, when you prototype with a concierge approach, you do all the work your product or service will do manually. This strategy sheds light on every step of your process.

More than that, it gives you face time with your target customers. Long before you formulate algorithms and automate processes, you do the work with one human at a time. There are some things that you can only learn about customers this way. Call it service as a service.

Obviously, we can’t recommend a software tool here, unless it’s a tool like AirTable to organize the operation, or a robust app for taking notes. Warning:  Prepare for plenty of purple.

Woman and man inspecting a sweater and packing it into a box
To grow a service-based business, start with a human-powered solution, even if it won’t scale.

4. The Wizard of Oz MVP

The fourth type of MVP combines the leg work of the concierge with the simple technology of the landing page.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” -The Wizard of Oz

Your target users think they’re working with your real product, but behind the scenes, you and your teammates are performing the tasks. As a result, you’re taking every step of the journey with your future customers.

Consequently, they will unwittingly experience a slower simulation of your potential product. Nonetheless, if you discover a promising market, you can partner with developers and create the real software.

This method is far easier than one used in Hollywood’s rendition of Oz. Simply combine your landing page software with a form intake like Google Forms or JotForm. Use email or text message to deliver results.

5. The Single-Feature MVP

Last comes the one that most people picture when they hear the word prototype. You build the first working version of your actual product. What functionality benefits your customers more than any other? It takes obsessive discipline to zero in on one capability and do it really well.

Before you set out to build this kind of MVP, make sure have a strong sense of what your customers need. Like the Wizard of Oz strategy, the single feature MVP will show how audiences respond to a very specific solution. You’ve already focused on the hypothesis that the prototype is going to test.

Remember, this isn’t meant to be your final solution. A tool like Zapier or Workato can be used behind the scenes to power your app or internally to automate parts of your workflow. Leveraging existing integration hubs keeps your own coding to a minimum, and puts more power in your hands to make minor changes quickly. These tools offer shortcuts to connect your mailing list, social media, CRM, email, team platform, project management software, databases, and on and on. It’s worth trying out, since five zaps are free forever.

Beyond Confidence

Often, people think the mark of an entrepreneur is confidence. That’s because they chase the future. They bravely and tenaciously face failure. They reject the status-quo and call us to brighter visions. Certainly, these traits set startup teams apart, but we have to remember that confidence is also the root of the term con-artist. The history of technology offers story after story of people who let their dreams con them away from reality.

And so, we build minimum viable products to find our footing in what’s real. We test the voices we hear before we waste our lives chasing sirens. We listen for what the world actually needs and we find solutions that add real value. It’s good work and it drives innovation and cultural evolution.

We’d love to help you design your MVP. If you’d like to get the most out of your prototype and reduce the time it takes to create, drop us a line. We’ve found a creative process that works and we’d love to share it with your team.

About the author

enjoys working with entrepreneurs and innovators to solve problems using technology. She heads up Ascend from beautiful Eugene, Oregon.