Anybody that's worked with me on a software project recently knows my mantra: MVP! MVP! MVP! No, we're not talking about the most valuable player (but I'm glad you think of me like that), we're talking about minimum viable products.
Minimum viable products are a beautiful thing. They allow you to save money and respond to make the changes to your product that are necessary to deliver something that people will actually pay for. An MVP keeps you from spending time and resources on products nobody wants and features that won't be used or that only serve to clutter and confuse the user experience.
But what exactly constitutes a minimum viable product and how can you make sure you're not building too much, too fast?
The first step is to ask yourself what your product does and why it needs to exist. If you can't summarize this idea in a simple, short sentence, now's the time to start simplifying. If your sentence looks something like, "our service will help A do B and C do D while at the same time allowing X to find Y and do Z," you're in trouble. An example of a good description would be something to the effect of, "our website will help new moms adjust to life with a baby." From there, take a look at your list of features and start cutting.
In our example, let's take the following list of potential features:
- A blog to share our tips and advice.
- The ability to write and share product reviews and comparisons.
- An option to allow guest posts to bring in outside experts.
- Integrated social media tools.
- An ad server to maximize advertising revenue.
- A Q&A section for moms to interact with one another.
- Search engine optimization tools.
- A commenting feature.
Take a look at the list above and narrow it down to what you would consider a minimum viable product.
No really, stop reading on, I want you to go through the exercise ...
What if I told you that none of them are necessary and your MVP for this product doesn't involve building anything at all?! I mean it, you can test this idea completely for free in a few minutes.
How, you ask?
Easy. If it were me, I'd start by publishing my content on Medium. If you're not familiar with Medium, it's a long-form social blogging platform with a great commenting system. From there, I'd promote my content to my own social networks. I'd also join some Facebook groups for new moms and begin to engage and share my content when and where was appropriate. There are some other ways I'd try to get the word out but you get the idea.
Medium tracks all of the important statistics for your post, so I'd check in to make sure people were actually reading what I wrote and getting value out of it. If they're not and I've done all I can to promote my work, then that's a good indication the service is unwanted, so I'd change things up and try a different topic. If the views are there and the feedback is good, then I'd start working on something that's going to cost me some money and a bit of time to get set up.
Step one of the actual build-out would be to ignore everything except #1 on the list above. Everything else is unnecessary and useless without the first option (#2 arguably could work but is more expensive and time consuming than #1). Once that's built it's time to publish, promote, measure, pivot if necessary, then reevaluate your priorities and add more only if absolutely necessary. Repeat.
If you want a practical example, recently we deployed a new service to sell custom notepads at corporatenotepads.com. We've used custom notepads with our logo and information on them for years as a fantastic marketing tool. They always get used, they stay in front of clients and prospects constantly, and we even have clients that come to our office specifically to pick up more. I have a thousand things I'd like to do to this site, but even as-is, it's a little bigger and more complex than it probably should have been for an MVP. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't, but it didn't cost much to find out and if it doesn't work (and even if it does), we can repurpose the technology to try something else quickly and easily.
By working this way, you minimize wasted work by only building what is absolutely necessary. Sure, as business owner that makes more money off a large software project, I'd love to design and build a massive piece of software for you, but the goal is to get there eventually with a product that actually fills a gap in the market that people want filled. Otherwise, not only do you lose your shirt but I lose a long-term customer.