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MVP is a Relative Term

April 27th, 2018 - by Brett Derricott - Salt Lake City, Utah

We talk to a lot of potential clients who have heard or read about the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Thanks to the lean startup methodology, starting your new venture with an MVP is no longer a new, innovative approach; it has become the norm. In some ways that’s a good thing and in some ways it’s problematic.

First, the Good

Entrepreneurs are usually visionary people who dream in big, expansive ways. The lean startup movement has done wonders in countering the natural tendency of entrepreneurs to overthink and overbuild the first version of a new software product. Rather than spend all the money building what the entrepreneur believes is the right product, the lean startup methodology says to build only the minimum product that is necessary to prove viability. Entrepreneurs are now being taught to attempt smaller, more reasonable iterations of their product and I say that’s a good thing.

Now, the Problem

MVP is a relative term. A product’s viability is directly determined by the maturity of the market into which that product is entering. A product that is defining a new market can be viable at a much earlier point in time than a product entering a more mature market where healthy competition already exists.

Here’s an example to help illustrate:

One of our own products, a robust PTO tracking system, is called Built for Teams. When we launched our MVP version of the product years ago, the market didn’t really have any products dedicated to PTO tracking. There were some HRIS products that had a basic PTO tracking module, and there were some time tracking products that could record days off, but there was a lot of opportunity to define a new niche in the market.

Because of this open niche, we were able to launch Built for Teams with a fairly basic PTO tracking feature set. Our MVP quickly attracted customers who were willing to put up with the “minimum” state of our product because the few things we did were so valuable to them. In solving a few real problems, these early customers were happy to accept that our product didn’t yet do everything.

Fast-forward to the present and the market is quite different. Quite a few competitors have sprung up and, like any maturing market, we’re now in a race to do more and be better. To enter this market now, a new competitor has to build an MVP much more complex than we built for our MVP.

Your MVP

As you consider your own MVP, be sure to study your market and make sure you have a good read on what it truly takes to be viable. If you’re charting new territory, your MVP might succeed with just one feature and a poorly-designed UI. If you’re entering a competitive market, your MVP either needs to have a very unique value proposition or needs to be more complete in order to provide a compelling alternative to the established players.

Continue reading: I recently wrote about the product-market fit that an MVP sets out to accomplish.