The concept behind a minimum viable product is to get something ready for sale as quickly as possible — something that will prove whether you have a good idea on your hands, without requiring you to invest all of your resources into getting your big concept ready for market. It’s a step above a working prototype, something with the potential to actually sell on its own, maybe even generating some income for you as you expand your product into something bigger.
But finding a small portion of your idea that will actually work as a minimum viable product can be a difficult prospect. It’s got to be something with enough characteristics of your full concept to help you get useful feedback, but not something that takes too long to put together. A minimum viable product is something that you can build and launch in a weekend, not a year.
There are ways to streamline the process of finding a starting point, though. If you go about analyzing your ideas in a systematic way, you can make matters a lot easier.
1. Do It By Hand
Especially if you’re thinking about building an automated software package or manufacturing many identical items, there’s a good chance that you can create a version of your product by just doing the work for each customer by hand. This approach certainly won’t scale — if you get more than a few orders, you’ll have to speed up your transition into the final product. But in the short term, consider whether you can achieve the end results of your product by doing each step by hand for a little while. You’ll be able to see quickly if the concept is worth moving forward on: if you’ve got too much work to do yourself, you’ve got a winner.
2. Sell the Information Around It
When your idea involves performing a service for your customers some place along the way, you may be able to offer them information on how to perform that service themselves. It’s still plenty of work, but publishing an ebook or something else that will help a customer get the end result they want on their own will help you gauge interest — as well as give you a clear connection to prospects once you can offer a streamlined tool that does all the work for them.
3. Decide Which Puzzle Pieces You Need to Put the Product Together
A lot of products have multiple moving parts that have to be sorted out before you can even consider what you’ll need to do to build the whole. Make that process do double duty: look for individual features or pieces that you’ll need to build that you can separate off from the rest. If something can run on its own and is representative of the whole, you may be able to turn it into a minimum viable product. As a bonus, you should be able to build directly off of it after you get some positive feedback.
4. Find a Way to Sit Down with Your Customer
A minimum viable product’s goal is to bring you feedback about whether anyone will even consider purchasing your full product. What better way to get feedback than sitting down with your prospective customers for a chat? There are often plenty of aspects of your idea that you’ve had to research, giving you something to offer: if nothing else, there’s always the option of selling a consultation that guides the buyer through the options currently on the market. You have to make sure that you’re offering plenty of value to your clients in the process, however, or they’ll be more reluctant to consider your product when it comes out.
5. Offer Up Your Initial Prototypes
Some prototypes are incredibly basic, perhaps even just a piece of paper with sketches on it. Others, though, are more like rough drafts of an English essay. You might not yet be willing to turn it in to the teacher, but you’re definitely ready to hand it off to a tutor or some other readers. Just because something isn’t ready for the main event doesn’t mean that you can’t sell it as a beta version that will be improved on in the future.
6. Build the Infrastructure for Your Product
When you’re putting together many types of products, you’ll often have to create some underlying infrastructure first. For a customer willing to put in more investment to get a usable tool faster, that infrastructure can be valuable. This particularly holds true for technology-oriented companies. There are a few dangers (like someone else building your idea on top of your own platform before you get to it), but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle in many cases.
7. Look for the Piece Nobody Else Has Yet
It’s not always the easiest minimum viable product to build, but it is the part that will get you the most feedback. If you know what sets your idea out from the competition, that’s the piece of your overall product that is most important. If you can build that element to stand on its own, you can get the core of your idea out into the world, fast. That can be enough to tell you entirely if your product really has a chance of success. The hard work will be worth the pay off, if that key component can stand on its own.
8. Ask What People Want
While you can go too far in relying on marketing surveys, a few questions for your target audience may identify a portion of your big picture that they want immediately. If it’s feasible to give them what they say they want, do it. Your customers may not actually be aware of what they’ll really buy, but they’ll at least try out anything that they swear will solve their problems. And, if it turns out that what they claimed they needed didn’t actually help them, you were able to test the claim with a minimum of effort.
The Right Minimum Viable Product
As you’re considering your options, it’s important to remember that even though you’re trying to build something that you can get out as quickly as possible, it still has to be something worth doing. This product will be the basis of your reputation with your customers as you continue to move forward. If it’s not good enough to make them trust that you know what you’re doing, it’ll be harder to sell them on your next offering. It doesn’t matter if you stop offering this product relatively quickly; it just has to be good for the length of its life span.
It’s easy to get caught up in the secondary value of a minimum viable product: it can bring you in some income, as well as even start the marketing process for your future efforts. But keep your goal in mind: the minimum viable product is supposed to tell you whether you should keep pursuing a bigger idea or if you should dump it. If it can’t do that, then it’s not going to be the best option for you to pursue in the short-term.