What is an MVP?
If you have never heard the term before, an MVP is your minimum viable product. It is the most basic component of your business, the product or service that (according to the most reputable source of Wikipedia) has the “core features sufficient to deploy the product, and no more.” Simply put, it is the non-fancy, most plain, least expensive version of your product or service that will still generate business and allow you to learn how to improve it, without costing you tons of money to produce, or lose, if it fails.
Why is it important to determine your MVP? In my opinion, because it allows you to prioritize. If you strip everything else away, what is the one thing that your product or service has, that clients are willing to spend money paying for? FOCUS ON THAT!
At my company Massif Games, our primary product “The Mountaineer” has 1,000 cool add-on features we could make. LED’s that light the mountain, special component holders, extra pieces that clip into the mountain side, ski lifts, special player pieces, associated phone apps, and the list goes on and on. And many of these feature would be pretty cool. Some of them were even suggested by the customers. But, all of these things take time, money, talent, resources; things that as a small start-up company we have very little of. (Especially the money thing!)
So, what do we do? We focus on our MVP. We focus on the things that compose our MVP. Our customers love making their player move all around the mountain. They love completing individual missions or routes. And they love how the game is vertical and spins. And those are the things that we want to focus on. Everything else can come later! Why? Because, if we were to focus on all the extra features, guess what? It would take years to complete them. And by the time we would have the most amazing, feature rich version of the game ready to market, we still would not have made one sale, and likely would have lost out to the competition, or at least lost the initial market interest in our product. And have negative cash flow.
Not Just Businesses:
The principle of a MVP doesn’t just apply to products. It can apply to services, charities, communities, and even sports teams. What is the one thing that is required for your organization to succeed? What is the one thing that the people in your organization want and will keep coming back for? I learned this in my work with the Corvallis International Community, a volunteer group of Americans and international students meeting together to learn about culture, help each other, and just hang out.
Previously, we had focused on trips, games nights, soccer events, dinners, and tons of other activities. All of which were great, and which had attendance. But we weren’t getting the same people for every event. The Europeans didn’t want to come play boring games, many of the Asian girls weren’t into playing soccer, and the Middle Eastern’s didn’t enjoy attending meal events where they couldn’t eat half of the food for religious reasons. And I was getting stretched thin, trying to convince people to show up to events, all of which were starting to lose energy and felt boring, even for me.
And that’s when I realized I needed to focus on the one thing that everyone enjoyed. Road trips! Nearly everyone enjoyed exploring the great Northwest. And it made sense. If I was brave enough to go to a foreign country to study, I wouldn’t want to spend my weekends stuck in a room playing games, or watching people eat food that I couldn’t. I’d want to be exploring! So, I stopped worrying about the dinners, game nights, and other events, and focused on our groups MVP, or MVS (minimum viable service): Giving internationals a chance to explore Oregon and the surrounding states. We went to the coast, big cities, Canada, California, national parks, mountains, lakes, waterfalls you name it. And our attendance and impact exploded! And it was all from a simple principle: focusing on the one minimum thing that everyone wanted.
There are many places you can find more information about how to find and focus on your MVP as a business or organization. Entrepreneur.com has some great articles and is one of my favorite websites in general. Another book, called “Value Proposition Design” goes in-depth into this and many other areas. And in all honesty, it is pretty simple. What are the minimum requirements in your product or services that your customers or organization MUST HAVE? If you’re not sure, just ask them. I can almost guarantee that they will tell you and you’ll find a trend.
I hope this article is helpful. Personally, just writing this reminds me to focus on what is important in our game, not what would be cool as an add-on. What is your businesses MVP? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your opinions and experience in this area.