The MVP Problem
The venerable MVP, or Minimally Viable Product, has long been the measure for which most startups begin their market/A-B testing. It’s taught in nearly every prototyping seminar, early entrepreneurship education programs, and in most colleges of business. It’s tried and it’s true—but is it the best we can do?
It espouses a simple principle: build a version of your product or service that performs on the basic functional level that you can use to test whether your product or service is desirable in the market.
To build an MVP you may require experts in various areas, capital injections, costly design and manufacturing or coding to reach a version of your product that is considered “good enough to test, but not mass-market ready”. This approach, whilst getting you closer to your end goal, often misses a key point that Minimum Viable Testing may help solve before you even invest in a prototype of your concept: The Core Solution
Solving Your Core Problem
Minimum Viable Testing focuses on the key assumption of a concept, rather than the complete idea itself, as a means for market testing. To do this, you need to look at your concept and break it down to its most simple parts and assumptions and define a single, core part of your idea that must work for your business to succeed. In doing this you are proving that the problem actually exists, and that people are willing to accept new solutions to that particular problem.
Here’s how you perform a minimal viable test, with the example of AirBnB:
Imagine it’s 2008 and you’re Brian Chesky and you have the idea of renting out your couch to travelers that are staying in your area for a much lower rate than a typical hotel room. Now, this concept must have one, single detail that must be true in order for the entire idea to work, that assumption is that people would be willing to stay in other peoples’ homes.
Without realizing it, they engaged in minimum viable testing by renting out a spot on an air mattress for a weekend, rented via Craigslist. This simple act cemented the concept in their minds that their business model could work, because customers would be willing to pay for this solution to avoid staying in large chain hotels and motels.
From this point, much like how the Airbnb founders did, a startup can operate with only their base concept for the duration of the creation of their V1 product. Not only can going into business with your minimum viable tested product, but you can also use those funds to fund your product/service development!
This framework applies the same base functionality of an MVP and transforms it by focusing only on the primary assumption that you need for the business to function, saving wasted time and desperately needed capital. This form of testing can lead you to making the correct assumptions and deploying them in a faster, more accurate way than a traditional MVP can provide. From this, a would-be founder could be quick to launch and even quicker to validation.
For a more in-depth read on the subject, from (as far as I can tell) the creators/publishers of this method see The Minimum Viable Testing Process for Evaluating Startup Ideas. It’s a great read for a very interesting framework for approaching the startup process, and I can’t recommend it enough.
About the Author
Tyler Brandstetter is the FASTER WV Business Launch Specialist in partnership with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center and Advantage Valley. Previously, Mr. Brandstetter worked in product development at the Robert C. Byrd Institute, and has also co-owned a mobile food service business.