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Developing an ‘MVP mindset’: how to build a successful product

Picture of Matt Ainsworth
Matt Ainsworth
MVP
// // Matt Ainsworth argues that building an 'MVP mindet' is more important than building the actual MVP...

I would argue that developing an ‘MVP mindset’ is even more critical for founders and product managers than building their MVP.

Why? Well, adopting an MVP mindset helps founders to become more willing to fail fast and learn quickly. It helps to focus on continuous improvement based on feedback and data. Thus, by applying this approach to your startup journey and MVP it will pay back in dividends because it enables you to take small, incremental steps to validate a business idea before committing significant resources.

An MVP mindset refers to a way of thinking that prioritizes experimentation, iteration, speed, and learning over perfection and planning. The term was coined in the popular title ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. Specifically, this mindset embraces failure as an opportunity to learn and improve and encourages taking small steps toward a larger goal instead of trying to achieve everything at once.

Of course, a founder needs to have a clear vision, a solid business plan, sufficient funding, and a talented team. However, in this article I’ll focus on how adopting an MVP Mindset can empower you to really streamline and prioritise the right steps in your product development framework.

Along the way, we’ll also feature SafetyCulture, an Australian SaaS (Software as a Service) startup founded in 2004 by Luke Anear, in our step-by-step framework. Luke Anear was also featured in a previous Startup News interview, back in 2017. Through each step, I will demonstrate how they adopted an MVP mindset. Not only to prioritise experimentation, iteration, and learning but to also develop their solution into a thriving offering.  

  1. Where do I start?

Perhaps you already have a clear idea about the problem you are trying to solve, or maybe you are still seeking clarity. Either way, start with a clear problem statement about the specific need or issue you are trying to address.

To bring this statement to life, you might want to consult a ‘thought partner’ to help you brainstorm. This could include bringing in a co-founder or even consulting a mentor or coach to elicit a diverse range of ideas. Either way, having an additional party certainly helps you cover a lot more bases and new perspectives.

It helps to do your research too. Some key questions to ask yourself at this stage include:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What are their unmet needs?
  • How can you maximise your understanding of their pain points?

From there you can get out and talk to potential users, interview them, and record their responses and feedback. Drawing on their insights will help you refine your brainstorming efforts so that you can construct a validated problem statement. As a final step, I would recommend running your statement by others too, to ensure it is clear, concise, and sounds viable.

At this stage, SafetyCulture’s founder, Luke Anear, was working in the mining industry in Australia when he realized that the paper-based safety inspection processes being used were inefficient and prone to error. He saw an opportunity to create a digital tool that would simplify and streamline the inspection process, reducing risk and improving safety outcomes.

  1. Hypothesise!

Once you have identified the problem or opportunity, formulate a hypothesis that will help you test whether your solution is viable. A hypothesis is a statement that can be tested and proven or disproven through experimentation.

A simple example of a hypothesis could be that by simplifying the user interface of the existing product, users will be able to complete their tasks more quickly and efficiently. Next, brainstorm all the features that you would love to see on this new interface, and explore every option. Finally, drill down to the absolute bare minimum list of features that would make the interface economically viable to build, yet still appealing to users.

At this stage, Luke hypothesised the SafetyCulture’s bare product, which was a digital checklist. This would allow businesses to create custom checklists, perform inspections, and record and report safety incidents. He decided that building a simple, easy-to-use product, as an app, would address the most pressing needs of their target users.

  1. It’s building time!

Now it’s time for the fun part, I hope. Build a prototype of your product that allows you to test your assumptions and gather feedback from potential customers. You can create a prototype using tools like wireframing or prototyping software, or even with a pen and notepad. The goal is to create a tangible representation of your MVP that you can physically show to people and get feedback on.

After establishing a prototype that you are happy with, you can start developing your ‘real’ MVP. This could involve hiring a developer or even using low-code or no-code tools to build your product. You should focus on creating a functional version of your product that can be tested by your target audience.

At the MVP phase, Luke created a simple mobile app called iAuditor that allowed users to conduct safety inspections using their smartphones or tablets. The app had basic functionality, such as the ability to add photos and notes to inspection reports. However, it was not fully featured. He then tested the app with early users, iterating and improving it from the feedback he collated.

Developing an 'MVP mindset': how to build a successful product
Luke Anear, speaking at eGroup in 2019. Photo – Startup News
  1. Test it!

Before you start testing, you should define your testing goals. This will help you stay focused and ensure that you are gathering the data you need to make informed decisions. Your testing goals may include things like user engagement, conversion rates, or feedback on specific features.

As technology has developed, so too have options to conduct user testing. This means it’s very easy to test either in person or remotely, depending on your resources and the nature of your product. Furthermore, it’s important to gather both qualitative and quantitative data during user testing. This ensures you can understand not just what people think about your product, but also how they are using it.

From the data you have gathered via testing, you should then analyze it to identify patterns and insights. This may involve using tools like heat maps or user behaviour tracking to identify areas of your product that are causing confusion or frustration for users. You should also look at quantitative data like conversion rates and user engagement to identify areas where you can make improvements.

When Luke tested his prototype with early users they were enthusiastic about the app, and he quickly realized that there was significant demand for a tool like iAuditor.

  1. Continue improving

Based on your analysis of feedback, you should prioritize areas for improvement. This may involve creating a roadmap or backlog of improvements that need to be made. You should focus on improvements that will have the biggest impact on user satisfaction and engagement.

After you have prioritized areas for improvement, you should make changes to your product. This may involve adding new features, tweaking the user interface, or changing your marketing strategy. The goal is to make your product more appealing to your target audience and increase the likelihood of success when you launch it on a larger scale.

From the improvements you have made to your product, you should test them with your target audience. This might involve conducting user testing or gathering feedback through surveys or interviews. Basically, your mission is to gather feedback on the changes you have made and identify areas for further improvement.

This is an ongoing process that involved continuous learning and development. So, keep going!

Based on feedback from early users, Luke continued to iterate and improve the iAuditor app, adding new features and functionality based on user feedback. He also started to charge for the app, validating that customers were willing to pay for the value it provided.

  1. Scale it!

Once your product market fit (PMF) has been validated (people are buying), it’s time to launch your fully functioning offering into the marketplace.

Plus, it’s also a great time to refine and tweak your value proposition to ensure it is compelling and resonates with your audience. You may also want to consider expanding your marketing efforts through online advertising and social media. You could also optimise your customer acquisition approach, and convert as many prospects via your landing pages, messaging, and more.

On top of that, you should consider how your team can effectively manage your potential business growth. Looking at the infrastructure of your product, customer support, and continuing to track analytics and data, then you may need to re-structure or grow your team.

As the demand for iAuditor grew, Luke scaled the product by hiring additional engineers and designers to help develop new features and improve the user experience. He also expanded the product to new industries beyond mining, such as construction, hospitality, and retail. Today, iAuditor has more than 26,000 customers in 150 countries and has raised over $100 million in funding.

To simplify the steps we have discussed above, with an MVP Mindset approach you should:

  • Be clear on your purpose, problem, and solution
  • Build a clear hypothesis to test the market
  • Develop a minimalistic version of the product with basic features
  • Test and get as much feedback as possible
  • Continue to iterate and improve your product through feedback
  • Scale once you start to gain traction, have validated PMF, and developed a fully functioning solution

Reducing Product-Risk

The other advantage of implementing an MVP mindset is to reduce product risk. Essentially, minimising the uncertainty and potential failure associated with developing and launching a new product.

Starting small with your prototype allows you to get feedback before allocating any major resources to your project. Focusing on the core features of your MVP allows you to validate the demand for your product. Additionally, proper feedback will enable you to better meet the needs of your customers.

Building an MVP is also a risk mitigation strategy that acknowledges not all projects succeed. Hence by embracing failure, you can not only learn more about your target market and strategy but also pivot faster and potentially save your project from entire doom.

Conclusion

Developing an MVP mindset is all about focusing on the problem, embracing simplicity, iterating and improving, being data-driven, and focusing on the user experience. By following these principles, you can build a successful product that solves real problems and meets the needs of your users. Remember, an MVP is just the first step in a long journey of product development, yet with the right mindset you can set your sights on the broader company and culture too.

Therefore, equipped with your own MVP mindset you can develop almost any area where innovation and improvement are desired. But that is a story for another time …

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Picture of Matt Ainsworth

Matt Ainsworth

Matt - Founder and Startup Coach of Startup Founder Mindset. Helping aspiring entrepreneurs find their pathway to freedom.
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