Early to learn, early to ship: Why a minimum viable product (MVP) is the fastest path from intellectual property to successful software
GenUI is a digital product and tech commercialization firm. We build innovative solutions that accelerate technology roadmaps and deliver real impact for clients and their customers.
Updated Jun 9, 2021
From idea to impact
Apps and software start life as ideas for how to solve problems. For the people and organizations we work with, there’s usually a lot of passion behind those ideas. Passion is a great starting point.
However, ideas aren’t software, and passion for an idea shouldn’t get in the way of realizing it. In the beginning, it’s fun and easy to imagine how much people will love the idea. Many software projects expend a lot of time and resources trying to make something that looks “real.” This can be very satisfying, but can also be a costly mistake.
Users matter most
The truth is, we don’t learn anything useful about software by iterating on an abstraction. Software only becomes real in the hands of users. Getting it there as quickly as possible pays exponential dividends.
You might get lucky (very lucky) and achieve a strong positive response on your first go. However, it’s much more likely that you’ll hear users tear apart at least some aspect of your solution. Either way, you’ll quickly see the distance between the idea and the impact you want to achieve. The sooner you can start the journey, the faster you’ll get to the goal.
Learning to learn
Think of it like a video game. You might be the best gamer in the world with the fastest fingers and quickest reflexes, but when you start a new game, you start on level one. You have to learn the ropes. You want to level up fast, and the only way to do that is by playing the game.
At the same time, a skilled gamer will have techniques for getting the hang of a new title quickly. They’ve done it many times before. They know some of the basics depending on what type of game it is, what controller they’re using, and so on. It’s the same with building software. You don’t necessarily start out being “good” at meeting a particular user need, but there are ways to get there faster and more efficiently. In other words, you can be good at getting good at creating useful software. A cornerstone of this skill is the minimum viable product (MVP).
MVP is another popular buzzphrase with varying definitions depending on whom you ask. Some teams consider an MVP to be “the best product we can make for the money and time we have, until we can get more funding.”
This approach is backwards. A valuable MVP It’s not about building the most polished thing you can afford. It’s about building the smallest thing we can learn from and carving the fastest path to the real-life user.
The science of simple
This definition of an MVP meets our very important goals of speed and pragmatic learning. Simpler MVPs are also easier to experiment with than a larger, more complex piece of software.
In the beginning, you’re performing what amounts to a scientific experiment with the idea. Too many variables--features, interactions, design elements--cloud the picture. It becomes difficult to modify and test the MVP. You might never figure out why something didn’t work before you run out of money. Simplicity avoids dependencies, helping you learn faster.
Make users feel useful
Another benefit of the simple MVP is that users are typically more honest with low-fidelity experiences. It’s a weird trick of human psychology: when something looks and feels finished, users tend to feel intimidated or like they’re in the wrong it’s not working for them.
Focusing on polish too early also leaves less space for users to imagine how the product might fit into their lives. Whether they love the look or not isn’t the point at this stage. A neutral experience helps them focus on the right things.
It’s a bit like how a real-estate agent stages a home for sale. They’ll paint the walls neutral colors, put all the family photos in drawers, and choose generic furniture and decor. They want people to imagine how the house would fit their needs--and avoid offending someone who just happens to hate the color teal.
A software MVP follows a similar principle. We leave out design in favor of functionality that matters to the user story. Remember, this is a science experiment. The fewer variables, the clearer the learning and the faster we can get to a marketable software product.
As a bonus, this minimalist approach builds loyalty and engagement.. Interacting with something that’s clearly a work in progress, they feel like they can make a meaningful contribution to the end result. This is doubly true for early adopters. These passionate advocates will spread the word about your great product. And they love being involved in the process. You’ll make friends for life if they know you care about their opinions and see how their contributions make a difference.
Learn for fun and profit
This iterative validation process can be a little scary at first because it moves so fast. Sometimes, people fear alienating users or losing their trust when putting something rudimentary in front of them.
In fact, the opposite is true. By inviting users into the process, by asking them what matters to them, you are building trust and engagement. Anything that gets in the way of that relationship will get in the way of success.
What seems risky at first soon becomes exciting as the results roll in, the MVP gets updated, and users start to love it. You can actually see the idea becoming reality--and you’re getting there as fast as possible.
Step on the gas
Ultimately, software is a tool. It only has value when people can use it to do something they care about.
And you only learn what they care about when you let them try what you built.
Using our focused and proven methodology for building, testing, and iterating MVPs helps you skip the line and get to market faster. We can usually get an MVP in front of users within four to six weeks. You gain fast answers about where to go next, helping you deploy to market faster and get the jump on the competition. And it all starts with the courage to be wrong.