What if your company is focused on the wrong MVP?

No, this isn't a discussion about the most valuable player on your team. When it comes to application development, MVP typically refers to a Minimum Viable Product. This is a bare-bones, scaled-down version of your new app that can be shown to potential customers.

As co-founder of a software development company, I work every day with growing companies determined to quickly push new apps out to the marketplace. Some of our greatest success stories were the result of the MVP strategy. When our clients were able to test their apps with early customers, it led to increased revenue in shorter time periods.

Is a Minimum Viable Product really the best strategy for market research? Instead, consider a new kind of MVP--a Market Validating Project. This provides insights from the real world, with the least development effort possible. You can determine whether--and how much--customers will pay for your solution. Unless you are rolling in cash and have unlimited time, you need a Market Validating Project to get your initial product launch right.

Back to the basics

You've heard the cautionary tales. A brilliant entrepreneur was convinced that she knew the marketplace and avoided spending money on market research. Another had a cash crunch and rushed to market, in hopes of generating revenue fast. In both of these cases, the entrepreneur didn't show their product to prospective customers before launch. There was no real market demand. The company quickly failed.

Do not fall into this trap. Your infatuation with your business idea does not replace the need for market validation from real, potential customers. To quote Ann Landers, "Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful."

The first step to defining an MVP is to understand your product and the people who will use it. The goal of any business is to provide value to customers. To do this, you first must know the answers to these key questions:

  • What is the problem you are solving?
  • Who is the target user that has the most interest in seeing this problem solved?
  • What features are customers willing to purchase with real money?

Before you spend your life savings, court venture capital or or take money from friends and family (with whom you would like to stay on good terms), define an MVP.

Build it right

There are many ways to create an MVP. By understanding the options, you can ensure that you:

  • Get the information you need to build a great product roadmap
  • Exceed the expectations of potential paying customers
  • Satisfy concerned investors

Above all else, look to develop just one or two killer features. If customers don't see the value of your MVP when it includes only the top one or two features, piling on more, less-valuable features will not help.

An MVP doesn't always require the work of expensive developers. Review these options to see which best fits your app development scenario and target audience:

  • Video--In one to two minutes, explain the app and how it solves a problem. The video can be distributed on social media sites, your own web site, or via email campaigns.
  • Presentation--Build an animated slide deck and share it online. Send an email to invite your target audience for feedback.
  • Prototype--Create a prototype of your user interface using tools such as Proto.io, Origami or InVision.
  • Online ads--Place well-crafted ads on social media sites, Google, LinkedIn and other web sites. These can be a good validator, showing there is need for your product. Drive ad responses to landing pages on your web site that explain or demo the solution. Ask for feedback or, if you are close to release, ask for orders.
  • Crowdfunding--Take your video or prototype to a crowdfunding site. Launch a campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Note that the marketing plan for a crowdsourcing campaign is just as important--or more so--in determining success as the product being launched.

You want to build products that customers will buy. Don't waste your valuable time, money and relationships building features that the market does not want to pay for. Use the MVP as a strategy to hone your message, tweak your offering, and increase your odds of attracting customers and investors. Slow down enough to incorporate an MVP into your plan, and in the end, your business can find a much faster path to success.

Co-founder of Austin-based Growth Acceleration Partners (GAP), Joyce Durst is driven to help software companies achieve rapid growth through business-focused applications. Joyce has launched startups and led teams at enterprise companies by applying her passion and business knowledge to efficiently create software that solves business problems. Active in the community with Special Olympics and Springboard alumni, she enjoys helping other women in technology to achieve their dreams.