3 effective tips for building a minimum viable online product

In creating an MVP for your small business, Alon Rajic says that simplicity, flexibility and decisiveness are key. Find out why...

The concept of a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) , which was popularised by Eric Ries in 2004, comes to describe a product which is released in its plainest form to collect early customer feedback, with the least amount of effort.

The methodology has been adopted by an abundance of start-ups in the past 10 years, and some of which did exceptionally well. Among them, you can find several multi-billion dollar companies like Groupon, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Twitter.

The tricky part about creating an MVP is prioritisation. If you have set your mind on shortening your product’s time to market (TTM), then you can’t expect to release an impeccable product with the exact same functionality, look, and feel that you have originally envisioned it to have. The harsh reality is that something has to give. The only question is what.

We have created a short-list of tips destined to assist entrepreneurs who are struggling on that aspect. It is applicable for both start-ups which are currently in the process of creating an online product, as well as for brick and mortar businesses which are expanding into the online domain.

1. Intuitive decision-making instead of excessive market research

One of the most time-consuming phases entailed in the creation of a product is the research phase. That phase traditionally includes thorough market research, competitive analysis of the vertical, and consumer surveys via focus groups, which could take months to complete.

The advantage of releasing an MVP is that you learn as you go along. The sooner you release the product, the more time you have to collect top-notch data first handed – from your own organic audience, concerning your own product.

The key to a shorter research phase is to rely on intuition instead of research, at least in some areas, and be very decisive. Don’t be afraid of making the wrong decisions, as you can always reverse them in future product re-iterations.

2. Functional design instead of a flashy appearance

Your website’s visitors are likely to appreciate a simple, friendly, easy-to-navigate, design over a uniquely complex design any day of the week, even if the latter has a more attractive appearance. Ultimately, these visitors are looking to find certain information or perform a certain action as quickly as possible.

Issues that could lead them away from doing so are mainly practical – failure to load quickly, bugs that interfere with the functionality, or a broken design, and they are unlikely to base their buying decision on how stunning the design is.

Beyond that, a shift into a functional/basic design set of mind can cut dramatically reduce your costs and your TTM. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, borrow design ideas from largely popular websites in your field. Instead of customising each and every element in your website, use ready-made shelf products (which also mean familiar interfaces for your audience).

3. Agile development instead of long-term planning

Some software development directors and production managers like to stick to the old conceptions which dictate a development process must have a starting point, a midpoint and an end, all tied to specific dates i.e. deadlines. They believe meticulous planning can lead to a better work-flow, and that deadlines are the ultimate mean of achieving a timely progress.

All of the above can be true if you have a clear vision of the product, but when you’re creating an MVP, you don’t necessarily know the whole story from the get-go. You start off from a basic idea, and you continuously inspect cost against benefit as you go along – things which are taking longer than expected can be put aside, and new cost-effective features could be added on-the-fly. The key to creating the optimal MVP is creativity and flexibility, which can only be achieved using an agile workflow and short-term-oriented planning.

To summarise, if you want to build a successful MVP, the key elements are simplicity, flexibility, and decisiveness. Steer away from things that might overcomplicate the process. The product or the design, and focus on the core functionalities. It will pay off the form of a reduced TTM, and greater flexibility down the road.

Alon Rajic is the managing director of Finofin Ltd which owns and operates a network of financial comparison sites. 

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