3 Rules for a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

When I started my first startup projects years back I thought the way of a startup is this linear thing: You have an idea, you get funding, you put all your energy in building the solution and once it is ready, you put it out in the world, get a lot of users, earn money and maybe eventually sell the company to Google or another giant.

What I thought the startup journey looks like...

But looking back to my first projects I see that this isn’t the way to go. To explain to you what I have learned, let me share a story with you:

10 years ago I developed a local student job platform together with some fellow students. I think it took over a year to develop the platform and once we were done with all the coding, we launched. At this moment it was only the technical platform, no jobs on it, no registered students. We showed it to local companies asking them if they want to book a job offering on the platform. They asked: “how many students are on the platform, how many people can we reach?”. once we told them there are no users yet, they declined and asked us to come back after we have some traction. Thats how it went with all companies.

So we asked students to use our platform and they asked what they should do there because there are no job offerings on the platform. We were stuck.

With this example and a few more I learned that building a startup isn’t a linear approach, it should be iterative. Especially startup in an innovative space building products that haven’t existed before, need to find out first what the users actually want and what to build instead of just building the first solution that comes to their head. As Eric Ries introduced in his book ‘The lean startup’ it’s all about finding out what product your users actually need and constantly experimenting.

Build, Measure, Learn Loop from "The Lean Startup"

He proposes a Build-Learn-Measure loop, where for every product or even small feature you want to build, you have a hypothesis in mind, what problem this product or feature should solve. Then build a first version of it, test it with actual users, learn from that and now you know a bit better what your users need, go into the next building iteration.

The first version of a product you build that way is your MVP: The minimum viable product that you can use to test with real users if your solution solves the problem that you wanted it to solve.

This MVP doesn’t need to be like your final product. Look at it more like a process of finding out what you actually should build. Try to use existing tools and build a process with some manual work to create value for your first users. You can use technology to scale it later when you know exactly what to build.

So what should an MVP look like? Back to my job platform what we did was taking three steps back: Out goal was to connect local companies with students looking for a part-time job. So we set up a facebook group and posted all local job-offerings we found on other job platforms and black boards in the university. Then we invited all our friends and encouraged them to invite their friends and after a few days we had over 1000 students in this group, browsing through the offers, asking questions and saying what kind of job they are looking for. This helped us a lot to find out, how students want to search for jobs and what information they are interested in. And from that group we managed to slowly transition the jobs and the students to our improved platform.

Matthias Nannt

Matthias Nannt