Why You Can't Settle For The "Minimum" In Your Minimum Viable Product

Guest author Matthew Zehner is the CEO of ZehnerGroup, an interactive agency that specializes in launching Web startups and innovating established businesses.

Many startups scramble to create a "minimum viable product," or MVP, to get a version of their product to market quickly for testing. It’s a great way to cost-effectively test a website or app with real users. But be careful, if your MVP is too minimalist, it could torpedo your company's future.

The issue is that an MVP is usually the customers’ first exposure to your product, and a bad first impression could have long-lasting consequences.

So don’t take the word “minimum” too literally. Your goal is not really to create a minimum product, but rather a high-quality but focused product that you can create and release quickly.

Know Your Users

When mapping out the functionality for an MVP, the first step is to understand your potential users.

Think of three people who might use your product and identify everything you know about them. What kind of car do they drive? Where did they go to school? What kind of phone do they have? And so on. The more you know about your users the better equipped you’ll be to determine the features they’ll want from your MVP.

Once you’ve worked out the essential feature set, build your MVP around that. Stay focused. Don’t waste time adding features for every potential user need and scenario.

Focus On The Alpha Hypothesis

Define your Alpha Hypothesis early and stay true to it. Don’t ever forget the core of what your product is and what makes it unique and desirable.

How do you define an Alpha Hypothesis? After you have defined your users’ needs, identify your business goals. Create a feature set where the two intersect. Don’t release an MVP until it includes all of those features.

Any startup should be able to articulate its competitive edge, and it’s essential that you include all of the functions that differentiate you from your competitors in the MVP, even if those functions are the most technically difficult to create.

When you allow real customers to use your MVP, you’ll be testing your Alpha Hypothesis, and you’ll be able to identify where you need to adjust the functionality to meet the needs of your market.

Set Your Sights High

If you’re aiming to create the next big thing, be prepared for the fact that you might just do it. Build your MVP to be scalable, so that it can handle large traffic numbers and complex functionality in a capable manner. This will avoid the need to rebuild the site from scratch if your traffic or the user needs become too great for the current setup to handle.

How do you make your MVP scalable? By utilizing Web technologies that will easily grow with your product.

For example, rapid application development tools and frameworks have made it easier and faster to prototype, create and scale web software. A lot of successful startups have used Web frameworks such as Django (Python), Rails (Ruby) and Cake (PHP), as well as emerging Javascript and mobile frameworks. To speed the development process, automate as much as possible and standardize the codebase to simplify the ramp up of new developers.

Infrastructure has also been evolving to allow lower cost, a lower barrier to entry and instant scalability. Cloud computing, cloud storage and NoSQL all allow startups to pay only for the data storage they are using at the moment, but still be able to quickly scale up resources as needed.

So don’t think of your MVP as a minimum product, but as a focused product. Then get it to market and be prepared to scale for when your product gets traction towards becoming the next billion-dollar company.