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How to Avoid 5 Common MVP Development Mistakes

by Nicolas Jacobeus, on Jun 26, 2017 7:00:00 AM

Developing an MVP is a crucial first step in transforming your startup idea into a fully-fledged product. It enables you to test out your core assumptions - like whether your idea solves a problem people actually have.

Done well, MVP development is a valuable source of insight and information that can fuel product and business development. Unfortunately, all too often we see startup founders make mistakes with their MVP which cripple their startup - right from the beginning.

Today, we're sharing five common MVP development mistakes that we see time and again - so you don't make the same mistakes.

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What is an MVP?

A minimum viable product (MVP) is an initial version of a product developed with only a basic set of features: the minimum needed to prove the essential hypothesis underpinning your startup idea.

The idea of an MVP is to test out users' reactions to your product and get feedback as early in the development process as possible. This minimises the risk of developing a product no-one needs, reducing wasted development time - and cost.

5 Common MVP Development Mistakes

1) Wanting a Finished Product

The most common mistake we see startup founders make is to fundamentally misunderstand the idea - and purpose - of an MVP.

Instead of developing a bare-bones product for the sole purpose of testing out the most fundamental hypotheses at the heart of their startup idea, they want the first version of the product to include much more. In short, they want a finished product.

Unfortunately, this approach falls right into the trap of assuming you know what your users want. You run the risk of spending months of development time, money and effort, and ending up with a product that doesn't actually solve your users' problem.

2) Delaying User Feedback

Even if you understand the value of an MVP, it's difficult to share it with others when it's at such an early stage in development. For a founder, it can feel immensely personal: sharing your big idea that you're hugely excited and passionate about, at a stage where it bears very little resemblance to the finished product in your mind.

As a result, it can be tempting to delay getting feedback until you have a more polished version to share. However, the longer you wait to get feedback from real users, the more time and money you potentially waste if you're focusing in the wrong place. The smart option is to get an MVP in front of users as soon as possible: it's better to share an unfinished product that can be shaped to fit your customers' needs, than a finished version that nobody wants or needs.

3) Prioritising Scalability Right From the Start

When you're working on the next hot startup idea, you're anticipating the day when you'll have thousands of daily users - and it's tempting to build the earliest versions of your product to work at that scale.

However, this means you'll end up massively over-engineering your MVP - and spending much longer than necessary developing the earliest versions of your product. Instead, don't be afraid to do things that don't scale, and focus on maximising your opportunity to learn about the demand for your idea, while minimising development time and cost.

One famous example would be Zappos: to test the fundamental hypothesis behind his startup idea (whether people want to buy shoes online), founder Nick Swinmurn took photos of shoes in-store, built a website where he posted those photos, and if an order was placed he purchased the shoes from the store, and posted them out to the customer.

That approach was never going to work for thousands of customers - but it proved out the central hypothesis behind his startup idea.

4) Assuming You Know it All

One of the most serious MVP development problems is assuming you know better than your users. This could mean either ignoring user feedback, or not seeking feedback in the first place, because you think you have a better understanding of your product/service/business niche than they do.

But taking this approach can cripple your startup, as you waste time and money creating a product that doesn't meet users' needs.

5) Testing too Much

Conversely, if you've got dozens of ideas and aren't sure where to focus, it's tempting to build an MVP that tests everything at once. What you'll end up with is a really complex, feature-laden product where it's impossible to understand what it does at its core.

Avoid Making the Same Mistakes

Failing to reach product/market fit is the leading cause of startup failure. Once you realise that fact, it becomes much easier to understand the value and importance of taking an iterative approach to developing your product, as it minimises the risk and cost at each stage.

Developing an MVP requires two things: humility and a desire to learn.

Before starting to develop your MVP, take some time to prioritise the assumptions and hypothesis behind your startup idea. What is the one idea most central to the success of your startup - the one that, if proven wrong, would bring your entire business crashing down?

Once you've identified the single riskiest hypothesis, develop an MVP to test out that assumption. Proving this will be most valuable to you, as it provides confirmation that it's worthwhile pursuing and developing your startup idea further.

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