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Before going full speed ahead to develop your product, take a step back and consider building an MVP (or a few) first. An MVP, or minimum viable product, is a product with just enough features to validate your idea early. It is a helpful tool to test smaller, easier to manage versions of your product before having to invest all of your resources into an idea that might possibly fail. Similarly, some investors will ask to see an MVP or proof of concept before giving you funding, since they also want to mitigate their risk.
“The main purpose of an MVP is to see if people are willing to engage with you, before they even pay for it.”
When you first start thinking about your MVP, think about it as a means of validating your hypotheses. Every iteration of your MVP should be developed to answer a key question about either your product or your business model. You likely won’t be able to develop your product with every single feature you’d like it to have, nor should you before you’ve validated any of your hypotheses. As such, it’s helpful to refer to your MVPs as tests themselves.
By now you’ve probably realized that you won’t be creating just one MVP, but multiple for different tests. As you proceed through the various stages of product development, you will find that different types of MVP tests can help you hone in on your target customer, your branding, and your product’s value proposition.
We can effectively describe different types of MVPs by the following dimensions:
In a marketing test, your goal is to evaluate the demand of your product. This is done primarily to identify product-market fit: does your product seem appealing or compelling to your target audience? Through a marketing test, you’ll also be able to get feedback on how well you are about to explain your product.
In a product test, your goal is to test the function of the product itself. This means that you’ll have done some product development and identified the key features of your product that will allow it to perform some type of function. In other words, in a product testing MVP, you’re testing for whether or not your product works in the way your users would want it to.
Quantitative testing is focused on understanding big picture questions of “what” and “how many”. In order to accurately analyze your data, you’ll need to test with a large number of prospective customers, hence the quantity aspect of it.
Qualitative testing is focused on talking to individual users to understand their unique experiences with your product, allowing you to understand questions of “why”. The type of data you’ll collect will be much more detailed, hence the quality aspect of it. Though you can use the data to identify major trends, statistical significance will be less important.
From these dimensions, we can then organize the types of MVPs into the following matrix, as outlined in the Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen.
Qualitative Marketing Tests
Marketing materials are a type of qualitative marketing test that essentially looks at the way you talk about and explain your product. In this type of MVP, you may develop a range of marketing materials like videos, advertisements, emails, or brochures, and present them to your target audience. As you talk to your prospective customers, pay attention to their reactions, which features you present that they seem to like, and how they receive your value proposition.
Quantitative Marketing Tests
Landing Page/Smoke Test
Landing pages, also known as a smoke test, are a type of quantitative marketing test that is done to gauge customer demand. For this MVP, you would create a one-page website that introduces the product and its features, then have a link for users to express their interest with, such as a sign-up button. Without having to develop the product itself, you’ll be able to track conversion rates and the effectiveness of your messaging.
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An explainer video is another variation of the landing page, but more specifically creating a video for the customers to watch in order to understand your product. Depending on the product, creating an explainer video could be a more efficient way of explaining a product if it is difficult to put the value proposition into words.
Where We’ve Seen This: Dropbox famously used an explainer video as their first MVP. In their case, they included a form below the video for people to sign up for a waiting list to access the private beta, before even developing the beta.
For people to find out about one of your MVPs, you’ll need to advertise your business in some way and direct traffic. You might choose to run some social media campaigns or use paid advertising with Google Ads keywords. When running an ad campaign, don’t try to include your full value proposition or explain your product in-depth. Be thoughtful about what to highlight in your limited ad space. Your goal here is to maximize your customer acquisition channels
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Marketing A/B Testing
An A/B test, also referred to as a split test, allows you to test two different types of messaging or design and measure their effectiveness on a specific metric, such as conversion rate or engagement. Running an A/B test could be beneficial as you develop your MVP to understand specific factors, like writing tone or design aesthetic, that could impact your marketing and user experience.
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Using a crowdfunding platform is a similar variation to a landing page, where you explain your product and gauge the level of interest. However, you benefit from the visibility of being on established crowdfunding platforms, and get to fundraise while doing so. A crowdfunding platform allows users to preorder the product before it’s been developed. This mitigates the risk for founders, since they’ll be able to see pledged amounts and confirm an interest before completely investing in the development of the product. This type of MVP is most useful for companies developing consumer products.
Where We’ve Seen This: Oculus Rift, the now-popular VR gaming system, actually started as a crowdfunded campaign on Kickstarter, where they raised over $2.4 million with 9,500 backers.
Qualitative Product Tests
A wireframe shows the different components that will eventually make up the product in a rough arrangement. It allows people to understand what types of functionality the product will have and how its features will come together once it’s developed, without having designed any of the visual details yet. A more detailed version of the wireframe is a clickable wireframe, where it is possible to actually click through each aspect of the product to see how they will interact with each other and understand the user experience.
A mockup takes the wireframe one step further, and includes visual design elements like color schemes, fonts, and images or icons. Like with wireframes, a clickable mockup can allow for testers to see different user flows. At this stage, it can feel very close to an authentic experience with the product and elicit valuable feedback from prospective users.
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The interactive prototype is probably what most people think of when they think of a “minimum viable product”. This qualitative product test is the next step up from a mockup and is the highest fidelity type of MVP, meaning that it is the closest representation to the actual product. In the case of software and technology, this usually means using a low-code or no-code tool to create a functioning version of the product without having to code the full product from scratch. While it may seem enticing to develop your interactive prototype first before doing any user testing, it is still a risk to wait this far along the line. Instead, take the time to test your design deliverables, like the wireframes and mockups we mentioned earlier, at each stage to maximize your success rate with the interactive prototype.
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Wizard of Oz/Concierge
A Wizard of Oz or concierge MVP relies on finding manual ways to hack around the MVP without having to fully develop algorithms to run certain processes. This type of MVP is most commonly seen in service-focused products, and takes a large amount of manual work. Thus, it should only be used on a small scale to validate your business model.
Where We’ve Seen This: Food-delivery service DoorDash started with a concierge MVP, where instead of testing the full relationship between customer, driver, and restaurant, they ran the processes themselves. A customer would go on their website and see a phone number to call to place the order. Then, the founders placed the order with the restaurant, picked up the food, and delivered it to the customer.
After collecting user feedback on different types of MVPs and iterating on them to reach a degree of success, you can build your live product. Even though the live product may feel like the ultimate stage, it is important to still treat it as an MVP that needs to be tested. It is possible to still learn new things during user testing, and you may discover hidden problems that need to be addressed before full-scale release.
Quantitative Product Tests
Fake Door/404 Page
In a fake door test, a specific feature of the product is being tested. The feature is added to the product as if it were fully developed, and interested users would click into it. They could either be greeted with a page that explains the feature hasn’t been built yet, or in extreme cases, simply with a 404 error “page not found”. You can then see the number of interested users to gauge whether or not it is worth building out. Be careful about leaving the fake door on the product for too long though, as you risk user dissatisfaction.
Where We’ve Seen This: Buffer used a fake door test to gauge demand for their product before even releasing it. When prospective customers clicked into the “Plans & Pricing” page, they were greeted with a note that the page was still undergoing construction for final touches, and had the option to leave an email to receive a notification when it was ready.
Product Analytics and A/B Tests
Product analytics is included in the MVP matrix as a reminder to track key metrics on your product to find new opportunities to improve the user experience. As you release new iterations or features, you can look at the data to measure their success. Just like how A/B tests are run for marketing tests, you can run them for product tests as well, such as in testing different user flows to see which has a higher rate of completion.
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So now you know about the different types of MVP tests you can use, how do you actually decide which one is right for you? And how can you optimize this process? To help answer some of these questions, we talked to one of our Passport mentors, Benjamin Stein.
“Be very clear about the problem you’re solving, and build the features that are a direct answer to that problem.”
You may be excited to build out your product with as many features as you can imagine, you’ll need to be thoughtful about prioritizing your features with limited resources. Approach your product as the solution to a problem. Then, consider which features you need to test in order to directly answer that problem.
Think outside the borders.
“Consider off-shore freelance developers as a cost-effective solution to get some high quality work done.”
Thanks to the internet, your geographic location does not limit where you can find your resources from. As you manage your time and budget for building your MVPs, consider hiring freelancers from abroad. Just make sure you’re using reputable websites and communicating your needs and expectations clearly.
Serve your customers.
“While it’s important to pay attention to your growth metrics, track your retention metrics as well. It’s a balancing act, but you want to make sure that you are always serving your existing customers as you grow.”
Once your live product MVP is developed, you need to continuously track your product analytics. Retention metrics can give you valuable insights into whether your users actually find your product useful enough to come back to it, or if they were just interested in the novelty of it and found that it did not solve their problem well.
And, Benjamin gives a final piece of advice to help you on your way:
“Try not to overthink it. Just get one foot in the door and start doing it. The more you do, the faster you learn and the faster you can iterate and get closer to your end goal.”
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