Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.
Throwing together a minimum viable product, or MVP, is a great way to test your concept and find out what customers really want before you sink more money into the game.
However, there’s a fine line between tossing something together and a MVP that’s too buggy to launch. Finding that sweet spot is tough—spend too long on a proof of concept and you’re wasting your time, but send out a too-buggy product and you risk your reputation. How do you know when you’re ready?
I asked 10 entrepreneurs from YEC how they know if an MVP is ready launch. Their best answers are below.
1. Your MVP Solves a Problem
You shouldn’t judge your product based on feature set. You should judge it on whether or not it solves a problem. Here’s a good way to think about your MVP: Suppose you want to help someone get from A to B. You want to build a car, but a good MVP might be a bike. Then, you add more features and you have a scooter. Over time, you end up with a car, but along the way your product was bug-free, fully functional, and helped to solve a real world problem. You’re ready to launch when you can validate that your product solves a real problem faced by real customers. —Jonny Simkin, Swyft
2. You Know the Goal of Your Product Launch
What do you want out of someone’s use? Determine the goal of your launch. If you want someone to become a paying customer of your MVP, it’s most likely going to require a more polished product. Many companies build a pre-MVP, which is a simple splash page outlining the product features. Then, there’s a button that says “sign me up.” You can use this form to collect valuable information such as why they want your product and what their current solution is. In return, you can offer these early signups a free sample or discount of the product when it’s ready. If you want more than feedback and early user data, then launch the MVP and see what the churn rate is. —Nanxi Liu, Enplug
Before launching, find a small group of users who are passionate about the problem you are providing a solution for. Their passion is key—they will tolerate the bugs and give you meaningful feedback. Once you’ve solved for those initial issues, do a second wave of user testing. Make improvements based on the feedback you receive. Take note of patterns. If 10 users have the same issue, you know you need a fix. If one user encounters a bug that no other users do, make sure it’s not specific to that user’s device. After this wave of testing and improvements, your product is ready for a larger audience. There will still be bugs, but your team should take note of and address feedback constantly. Keep making incremental improvements as the audience increases and your product will succeed. —Mac Morgan, Tonic Design
4. You Have a Hypothesis
The point of an MVP is not to put out a product that instantly gains traction (although that would be great). Instead, a MVP should be the minimum amount of work you need to put in to test a hypothesis and learn the result. It can be buggy and look horrible so long as the bugs do not affect testing if your hypothesis is true. You only test on a small subset of your eventual audience, so you do not need to develop every feature at once. Also, don’t worry about scaling or features that are “great to have” but not absolutely required. If you build something to scale and your hypothesis is wrong, you wasted a lot of time building a scalable system that never will get traffic. So focus on getting something out there and learning as quickly as possible. —Charlie Graham, Shop It To Me
5. You’re Not Ready for a Real Launch
What you’re worried about is the reaction you might get from “launching” a buggy product. But no one says you have to do a gigantic PR push, paid advertising, or an email blast for a product that isn’t ready for it. An MVP is supposed to be something you can get in front of a handful of people and see how they respond. You can start doing that at any point when you actually have something you can put in front of people, even if it’s not functional (just mockups or wireframes). So don’t worry about the big launch for now—you can save that for when your product is ready. But how will you know if your product is ready unless you’ve actually tested it live and in the field? —Mattan Griffel, One Month
6. You Have One Killer Feature
Identify the single most important feature for your target market and make sure your product does it perfectly. In our case, that was tracking time and productivity on individual tasks simultaneously. In the case of your own business, it could be whatever solves your customers’ pain point with the greatest specificity. If you can knock it out of the park, you’re at the MVP stage. Additional features can be a little buggy if you’re delivering great value on your core feature. If the core feature itself is even a little bit buggy, you’ll turn people off of your product. —Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com
7. You’re Ready for Useful Feedback
The point of launching a MVP is to start a feedback cycle that leads you to a more polished product. When you go out and watch people use your product (yes, physically watch them), you want to make sure that the bugs don’t become the focal point of your MVP. Mobile experience not great? Have people test it on a desktop. Servers occasionally return an error? Tell people to refresh the page. Don’t have a login portal? Do it manually for the first 100 users. None of these things are showstoppers for a MVP. But if your application takes 20 seconds to load each page, the only feedback you’re going to get is “make it faster.” —Slater Victoroff, Indico
8. You Have No Bugs
MVP means feature reduction—it does not mean bug acceptability. Lay out the features that your team decides are the minimum functionality requirements to attract your target audience, and make sure they work flawlessly. Leave your user base boasting about how well it works even if they’re longing for more features. Samsung came to market with the Galaxy Gear almost two years before the Apple Watch. The product only came to life because of the Apple Watch rumors. Samsung rushed to market with a watch that didn’t do much and didn’t do it well. Apple didn’t panic that they were going to be second to market on their own idea. Instead, they patiently crafted the perfect product and are now reaping the rewards. Even Samsung lovers or Apple haters can’t deny the numbers. —Jere Simpson, Kitewire
9. You’ve Been Building for a Month
An MVP is something that you launch to a few of your most failure-tolerant customers in order to test your assumptions early on. Hence, rather than worrying about making a buggy launch, I would worry about how much time is spent building the MVP. Ideally, if you have spent around a month, then it’s time to launch the MVP. Any more time spent on this first iteration is too much and means that you are building more than necessary to test your basic assumptions. One needs to remember that the MVP is a minimum rendition of your idea. More often than not, you will end up rebuilding the product after getting consumer feedback. Hence, worry about time to market and not whether the MVP is in a perfect state for launch. —Pratham Mittal, VenturePact
10. You Have Your Greatest Work Ready
The question I always have my employees ask is “Is this my greatest work?” I believe that to have a great company, you need to overdeliver and perform above expectations. Just like investing, you should go for the long run instead of chasing short-term gains. Going for anything less and taking shortcuts might help you get your product out quicker, but will eventually cause more harm than benefit. —Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital
Photo by Neil Palmer/CIAT