The Four Parts of a Minimum Viable Product

(This is part of a series of posts about testing product/market fit. You can download the Product/Market Fit Storyboard here.)

Lemonade smoke test minimum viable product 291x300 The Four Parts of a Minimum Viable ProductThe terms Product/Market Fit and Minimal Viable Product have been inexplicably (and inextricably) linked in the tech consciousness.

If people sign up for our MVP, that means we’ve got Product/Market Fit, right?

Nope.

As we discussed last week, Product/Market Fit is as much about being ready to scale as it is about having a desirable product.

If our MVP is just smoke test, a landing page just to test customer demand, certainly you’re not ready to scale. (Frankly, calling most smoke tests an MVP is a serious stretch. We tend to forget that the ‘V’ stands for Viable.)

If our MVP is a Wizard of Oz test where you manually provide the service, you may not be ready to scale, but you may have a strong indication it’s time to build a little bit more.

So what’s in an MVP?

An MVP is not just the Product

Minimum Viable Product Marshmellow toaster  300x208 The Four Parts of a Minimum Viable ProductAs many have noted (e.g. here and here), an MVP isn’t just a bunch of features tied together.

The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. – Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

So if it doesn’t result in validating learning, whatever we build isn’t an MVP.

If we build a product, even the perfect product, we learn nothing.

If we build our MVP, with just the right amount of features to make our early adopters squirm with delight, something is still missing.

How do we get the product to those early adopters?

As Steve Blank says, validated learning comes from outside of the building. Without customers, we learn nothing and our MVP fails.

An MVP without a channel is like a can of soup without a can opener. It won’t satisfy your hunger for learning.

And if we have customers? What then?

If 10,000 people download our MVP, does that help us? Are we collecting feedback? Getting Customers without feedback is like drinking salt water. Satisfying when you’re dying of thirst but still deadly.

The Four Parts of a Minimal Viable Product

So an MVP is more than a product, it’s a route to learning.

We build an MVP in order to take a small step towards Product/Market Fit and each step must be a complete Build-Measure-Learn loop. For an MVP, this means we need a minimum of four parts:

  1. Customers
  2. Value Proposition
  3. Channels
  4. Relationship

These components are directly from the Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder and represent how we deliver Value to the Customer via Channels and collect feedback via our Relationship.

Closing the Loop

framework Business Model Canvas Product Market Fit with Business Model Canvas with Build Measure Learn Loop Embedded regular orientation 300x204 The Four Parts of a Minimum Viable ProductOn the Product/Market Fit Storyboard, we’ve started with the pieces of the Business Model Canvas, but the shape is a bit different.

We’ve flipped the direction of the arrow on the Customer Relationship, because here at the early stages of development, our Relationship is not about delivering value to the Customer. It’s about the Customer delivering feedback to us so we can modify the Value Proposition.

This gives us a loop that roughly corresponds to Build-Measure-Learn.

We’ll have to:

  1. Build our Value Proposition and Channels,
  2. Measure our Channel’s effectiveness and our Customer’s reactions,
  3. and Learn from our Relationship to come up with a better Value Proposition.

Focusing on Product/Market

The Four Parts of an MVP 300x281 The Four Parts of a Minimum Viable ProductSince we’re focused on Product/Market Fit prior to scaling, we won’t be testing our marketing Channels and Relationship so they’re a bit greyed out on the storyboard.

For the Product/Market Fit Storyboard, Channels & Relationship are temporary hypotheses which may be entirely different to your overall Business Model Canvas.

We’ll only build a sufficient Channel to reach our first few customers. When we need more, we’ll scale up our Channel accordingly. Our first channel may be just inviting 10 people directly on LinkedIn.

Similarly, we won’t be establishing scalable Relationship. In fact, we want the highest quality Relationship as possible. So we’re just looking for a qualitative Relationship where we actually get to talk to the Customer.

Next Steps

In the next few posts, I’ll go into the details of creating useful hypotheses for each of these four blocks.

If you’d like to jump ahead and get quick feedback, fill out the storyboard and tweet me an image.

If you’d like more hands on help, I’ll trade some of my time for some of yours in improving the Storyboard. First three startups can contact me here for details.

 

So…what should I post next? Tweet to tell me what to write:

Show me how to test product market fit!

or

How can I do lean startup in my friggin' huge company?

10 comments

  1. Yazin says:

    Broken contact link :(

    • Tristan says:

      Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Hey Tristan, This is a great post. The most important part for me was the understanding that customer relationships and channels need to be scaled appropriately for your immediate goals. All too often people try to build the scalable relationships and channels too soon and this really hobbles them in terms of getting the right data back at the right speed.

    • Tristan says:

      Cool, thanks Jason!

  3. Great post, Tristan. I always try to teach that “learning” not “product” is the issue. But unfortunately most entrepreneurs just use MVP the way they used to use “Alpha release”.

    • Tristan says:

      Agreed. We’ve changed vocabulary but not behavior.

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