How to Build a Minimum Viable Product

How to Build 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 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?


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 and how to build a minimum viable product?

An MVP is not just the Product

 Marshmallow toasterAn 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

If it doesn't result in validating learning, whatever we build isn't an MVP. Click To Tweet

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.

MVP w/o channel is like a can of soup without a can opener. Won't satisfy your hunger for learning. Click To Tweet

And if we have customers? What then?

If 10,000 people download our MVP, does that help us? Are we collecting feedback?

Customers w/o feedback is like drinking salt water. Satisfying when dying of thirst but still deadly. Click To Tweet

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

How to Build a Minimum Viable Product On 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 minimum viable product in the StoryboardSince 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.

@TriKro Can you give me feedback on my P/MF storyboard? Click To Tweet

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.


Discussion (11 comments)

  1. Yazin says:

    Broken contact link 🙁

    1. Tristan says:

      Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Jason Fraser says:

    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.

  3. Kevin Dewalt says:

    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”.

    1. Tristan says:

      Agreed. We’ve changed vocabulary but not behavior.

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  14. Pradipti Basnet says:

    The article has really good idea about understanding the audience or customer. If you understand the customer then you can reached out to their demand. The main point is to get to know customer and the designing the product to their needs. i like the way it relates MVP as soup can with can opener and customer with drinking salty water. Absolutely true, the product is making customer demand more and MVP is helping them to be satisfied.

  15. WOLFF says:

    Thank you very much for this synthetic and didactic presentation of the MVP

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  17. Kevin says:

    How much time is too much to create an MVP?

    I’ve read some posts that said that it took them 2 months, others up to 4 months… I guess they’re talking about a prototype or set of features, and are forgetting about the real driver for creating an MVP which is “to learn”, right?

    So bearing in mind the “to learn” driver, from your experience: is there a time limit around which you can say it’s already too much for an MVP, cut it down?

    1. Tristan says:

      It depends on what industry you are in. It sounds like you’re talking about software, so my answer would be <1 week, probably more like 3-4 days.

      If you're talking about an industry like space travel or pharma, months or years would be more appropriate!

      But generally, it almost every industry, it's possible to learn something about your business model just by talking to your customers. That only takes a few days!

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