Now that you have a basic understanding of what a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is and why it is important to developing your business, it is time to caution you about a few common mistakes people make while building their MVP.
All of the most common mistakes with MVPs are caused by the same thing. When you are developing your MVP and expose it to a test audience, it’s easy to become distracted. It’s easy to lose sight of what will make you business successful and neglect those advantages to pursue a bigger market segment or create a flashy new feature. This will lead to expensive rework, lack of focus, and a failed product.
The purpose of MVPs is to learn more about your users and make adjustments accordingly, so it might seem counterintuitive that the best way to avoid problems is to stay the course. But as you will see in the examples listed below, it is actually about finding the right balance between flexibility and focus.
When you initially conceive your product, it’s easy to see it’s going to be something everyone is going to use. The problem or problems you envision fixing are so universal that, quite frankly, you believe that at some point everyone will be using your product. As a result, you might be tempted to build your product with everyone in mind.
You might be right about your product being something everyone needs, but you cannot begin your development with that in mind. If you begin by trying to please everyone, you won’t be able to do anything well. You have to narrow your focus and design your product for the market segment that will get the most use out of your product immediately.
An example of an organization avoiding this trap is Facebook. Obviously, Facebook is a platform that seemingly everyone uses. But it didn’t start off that way; the original focus was on college students. By customizing their product for a smaller segment, Facebook was able to build a better, focused platform which made it easier for the company to expand later.
We touched on this in past posts, but it bears repeating because it is the common and devastating mistake you can make while iterating with your MVP. During testing you are going to be swamped with data and ideas from your customers and co-workers. A lot of that data is going to suggest changes need to be made and a lot of those suggestions are going to be good. These items are going to widen your point of view and you are going to be tempted to make large adjustments so your product will be more useful and more popular.
Don’t do it. There will be plenty of time to look into new avenues and directions once you are certain that your product is well-designed and fulfills the needs of your core constituency. If you expand too far, too fast, and you won’t be able to identify what features are causing a positive response and which are causing a negative response. You need to isolate your variables and test them one a time. You need to always keep your customer value proposition front and center during testing.
While iterating during the MVP build, consider adopting the 80-20 Rule. This means that with each new iteration, 20 percent will be new features and fixes while 80 percent of the features will be the same as the last version.
When seeking feedback about your MVP, you don’t want to overtax your initial users. If you ask too many questions, whether it is about your users or your product, the odds are your potential users won’t participate at all. However, if you don’t ask enough questions, you won’t get the information you need to improve your product. Far too many entrepreneurs ask too few questions to ensure people will participate, but get feedback they can’t use because it is not detailed enough. While it is important to make the testing process user friendly, it is better to have fewer users who give you the information you need. When editing your user surveys, make sure you ask all the questions you need, no matter what.
As an entrepreneur, your one big advantage over your established, large competitor is that you can move faster. You can make changes to your product or strategy quickly because you have fewer resources to direct and fewer people to consult. Too many start-ups squander that advantage because they become ensnared in analysis paralysis – too much information leading to too many options. This paralysis is caused by people becoming entranced by the possibilities and not focusing on the core question – does my product solve the problem we set out to solve in a way that customer will pay for? By keeping your focus narrowed on that question and ignoring all information that isn’t related to it, paralysis won’t take hold and you’ll keep your upper hand over your competitors.
Ship early and you win early; the more iterations of the product you put in front of your target market, the more mistakes you will avoid, the more you will learn about your features, and, ultimately, the more profitable you will be. Fast, incremental steps with sound footing will let you cover more ground than excruciatingly deliberate large leaps into a potential minefield.
Avoiding these mistakes and staying focused on the goals of the MVP process will let you build the MVP you need now so you can build the product you dreamed of later. At this stage be sure to make the changes you need to make, not the changes you want to make.
Originally published April 30, 2017, updated December 13, 2019