In many of my columns in the past half year, I have eluded to a minimum viable product, otherwise known as the MVP. The minimum viable product is a key part of building your business in the first year and is one of the best ways to get real feedback from your target market.

In this column, I will define what the MVP is, explain its origin, and teach you how to build one for your startup.

The Origin Story

For thousands of years, entrepreneurs have been building first versions of their product and releasing it to the public for criticism and praise. Some entrepreneurs release their MVP as soon as its available and others take more time to work out the details before allowing the public to see what they are creating.

Steve Jobs and the First Apple Computer

Steve Jobs created the first batch of Apple computers in his garage in Los Altos, California after showing his minimum viable product to a local hardware shop that was selling similar techy products. His MVP and suave persuasive sales tactics convinced the local shop owner that the Apple was worth selling in the shop.

Over the next few months, Jobs, Wozniak, and their hodge podge team put together the first fleet of Apple computers…if you could call it a computer. They delivered their product to the hardware shop and were shocked by the feedback. The shop owner was expecting a full blown computer as we know it today and the Apple team only delivered the motherboard.

A light clicked in their heads and they realized that they needed the screen to be a part of the computer. The original MVP was not the perfect version of the product, but it allowed them to learn what the customer actually wanted.

The Lean Startup

The term minimum viable product has become universally popular in the entrepreneurship and startup world because of The Lean Startup methodology. If you are an entrepreneur and haven’t read it yet, commit a weekend to burying your head in its pages. The Lean Startup focuses on the importance of building your MVP and making iterations based off of customer feedback until you reach the ultimate product.

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Since the Lean Startup reached mass popularity, the term “minimum viable product” has become an important step to starting a new business. As I said earlier, it’s always been that way…we now just have a fun acronym for entrepreneurs to use.

What is the MVP?

The minimum viable product is a first functionable version of your product or service that you use to get feedback from your potential customer markets. Here are a few descriptors of the MVP that can help you get a better understanding of what I’m talking about.

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  • It is unfinished…and that’s okay. The beauty of the MVP is that it is a first version. It is a first version that will undergo many iterations based off of what your customers tell you they want.
  • It’s features are limited.
  • It is focused on addressing the main problem that your startup is addressing.

How to Build a Minimum Viable Product

There are 5 simple steps that you can follow to create your MVP. They are 5 steps that I have followed many times in order to test out startup ideas that I have had. While the MVP is privy to starting a new company, they can also be used when developing new products within an existing business.

They are a great way for large companies to stay small and accept new ideas from employees from all ranks of the organization. Maybe 1 sticks out of 50, but that 1 could become a new revenue stream for the company.

Step 1: Identify the customer problem

What is the issue that you are attempting to solve with the product? Make sure that you specify exactly what you want to solve.

Step 2: Understand the value that you want to add to the customer

Once you know the problem, brainstorm the value that you want to add.

Step 3: Envision a version of the product or service that could be built in 1 month

You should be able to build your MVP in a quick time frame so that you can get it in front of customers. Their feedback will alter a lot of the decisions that you make going forward with the development of the product/service.

Step 4: Create action steps

Gather your team and create a set of action steps to get your MVP built. Stick to it religiously.

Step 5: Get to work

All entrepreneurs know how to do this.

My Advice for the Day

D0n’t worry about releasing an unfinished product. As an entrepreneur, you must be focused on learning from your customer and building your product to answer their concerns. It’s also a much better outcome to release your MVP and realize that it just isn’t in demand in the market than to spend months if not years developing a product for a non-existent market. Be vulnerable and release your MVP as quickly as you can.