There is often a misconception on what a minimal viable product (MVP) really is versus that of a prototype.
A prototype refers to a product that you are developing that has reached a certain level of development ready for testing. Most products consist of several versions or iterations of prototypes before the product is ready for market release.
A minimal viable product is a product that has already passed prototype tests and is ready for the market with the minimum amount of functionality required for users of that product. It is a product that users can start to use and, based on your business model, purchase.
Now here comes the often debatable aspect of when a minimal viable product is ready for market. Most investors and followers of the lean manufacturing or lean business model will tell you it is as soon as the product has the minimum functionality to work you need to launch it. Users can comment on the product to help you with any changes or additions you need to make for the next version or reiteration. And so you carry on until you have a product that meets their expectations.
My view on this is somewhat different. To me a minimal viable product should have the minimum functionality a user would want in order to use the product based on your market research, and NOT the minimum amount of functionality that the product requires to work. It should ideally also have more functionality than any competitor in the market, else you are simply selling what they already have access to (or less). What is the point of that?
This is specifically important in the tech industry where users download apps, and when the app does not meet their requirements, they simply uninstall it and never go back to installing it again hoping you changed some functionality. How often have you uninstalled an app because it did not do what you needed? And did you go back 6-months later to reinstall the app in hopes they fixed it? Most likely not.
Research shows that 89% of users will never reinstall the app (source The Trusted Advisor survey June 2016) that didn’t meet their requirements the first time. Let’s put that into perspective. If 100 people of your initial target market downloaded your app due to your awesome kick-ass marketing, and found that it doesn’t meet their minimum requirements, then you already lost 89 of them who will never try your app again. So when you next iteration is released, instead of 100 you now have 11 potential customers.
The same applies if you manufacturing a product. To manufacture a product that works but does not in the first release meet the expectations of consumers, then why release the product. Take an electric plug adapter for instance. The minimal viable product would be the adapter itself being able to take a number of plugs and being able to be mounted against a wall (user’s minimum expectations). The next version of this product could include lightening protection (users nice-to-have or wish-list).
A great example of the different views of minimal viable products is Bill Gates with Microsoft and Steve Jobs with Apple. As soon as the product could do the minimum to function, Microsoft released the product which as we all know from experience was rife with bugs and caused much frustration, however they learnt from this based on customer feedback (and hate mail). With Apple it was very different. Steve Jobs refused to release a product that did not exceed (not meet) the user’s expectations and was not better than any competitor in his view. Hence Apple is synonyms with quality and best-of-breed, and why people are willing to pay more, often double, for an Apple product.
A minimal viable product is a product, in my view, that you as the entrepreneur have decided is ready as a first release to market with the minimum functionality your consumers would expect from you based on your market research, whilst offering a differentiator on what competitors are doing.
The more features or functionality you can release, the better.
Consumers have become a lot more knowledgeable on what is possible and their expectations of first version products are much higher than they were several years ago and is only increasing with their constant access to information. Consumers are always on the look-out for better products to meet their every increasing need.