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Digital Transformation

Minimum Viable Product: Validate Your Business Idea

Tablet showing development process

The development of a new digital product can be complicated for the designer and team members involved in the project; this creates uncertainty in the team during the work process. When an entrepreneur has an idea of a digital product, they think that the first step is to make the “perfect” prototype, thinking that this product can solve the user’s pain; because of this, they create a prototype that has all the features, advanced technology, without bugs, and with an excellent visual design. These “perfect prototypes” require many hours of work, even months or years, depending on the complexity of the product, and when they think their product is ready to become the next Facebook, most of the time, the product fails because no one uses it.

“Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.” Mark Cook – Vice President of Kodak Gallery Instead of creating this type of prototype, it is essential to validate the idea – the value proposition – before investing in the development of the product. Thus, a way to validate the idea is to develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), that is a quick version of the product that can satisfice the needs of the early adopters and allow us to obtain fast feedback with minimum effort and time in this way the entrepreneur can start the learning process as quickly as possible. Where do we start? To create a product that generates a tangible impact on the user, we have to (1) understand the user and (2) test the product with the user as part of our process. Many frameworks can help in this process. The most popular in the digital industry is Design Thinking, which is commonly used with the Human-Centered Design mindset.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Tim Brown – Executive Chair of IDEO

Design Thinking Framework
To find innovation or the sweet spot in the development of a business, IDEO proposed the three lenses of Human-Centered Design:
  • Desirability – What do people desire? (User)
  • Feasibility – What is technically and organizationally feasible? (Technical)
  • Viability – What is financially viable? (Business)
Three lenses of Human-Centered Design – IDEO
Before investing in the development of a product, we have to be sure that the value proposition of our product is desirable for the target audience; otherwise, even if the idea is feasible or viable, it will not have success in the market because it is not what the user wants. That is why it is necessary to do user research, identify their problem and the context. With this information, we can make different assumptions or hypothesize solutions and begin the experimentation stage. The importance of a product proxy We think that successful companies have always been that way thanks to the perfect product they launched, but that is not true. They started with an MVP, researching, interacting with potential users, and getting feedback on their product. The MVP is the proxy version of a product, and its quality does not matter because if the user finds it valuable, that means we are on the right track. Innovators and entrepreneurs fear that showing a scrappy product will affect their reputation, but the thing is that with many fast iterations during the experimentation stage, they can acquire the knowledge they need for the product’s success.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late.” Reid Hoffman – Co-Founder of LinkedIn

Case study: Get inspired by the stories of successful business There are different MVP archetypes. Depending on the business activity, we can select the most appropriate to implement; to inspire us to create the MVP for our product, we present some stories of successful businesses. The Concierge MVP This MVP archetype is where we hand-create the user experience, which involves direct interaction with the user and observing if the MVP achieved the previously established goals or not. With this type of MVP, we can collect information and identify the early adopters. Case of study: Airbnb This story begins in San Francisco, where two Rhode Island School of Design graduates did not have enough money for their rent. They found out that there was going to be a vital design conference and they thought they could take advantage of the number of students who were attending because booking a hotel would not be easy, so they decided to rent their apartment and earn some extra money. This is the story of two of the founders of Airbnb – previously known as AirBeds & Breakfast – and how everything started. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia started with a simple website –a digital directory– where they offered the user an alternative lodging. During this phase, the guest had to pay the host in cash. The founders worked along with the hosts and helped them to make the user experience more attractive with their feedback.
AirBed & Breakfast Website 2008
The Wizard of Oz MVP This MVP is about faking the customer experience; the end-user is not aware that humans are working behind the scenes. This is often used when the business idea is complicated to test because it is a significant investment and infrastructure project. Case study: Zappos Imagine that in 1999, get the idea of selling shoes online for the customers to find the best prices and variety than what they would at their local mall. Decide to take pictures of the shoes and upload them to the website, and surprise! Someone buys some shoes but what now? Send someone to the local mall to buy the shoes and ship them to your client. This is the story of Nick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos – a famous online shoe retailer. This simple experiment validated the idea of selling shoes online. Amazon acquired Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009.
Zappos Website 1999
The Sales MVP Known as Smoke Test, MVP is to prove that you can sell your product before building it (presale). Most of the time, this type of MVP is a landing page with a value proposition and a call-to-action for email signup. A popular alternative is using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Kickstarter Website 2020
The experts recommend that the building time of an MVP should be a few weeks, not months, also that this version should reduce the features of the product by only integrating the most important one, the one that allows you to prove your first product faster and only with a small group by solving the user’s higher-order problem. Use existing tools! Nowadays, there are many tools available that we can use to develop an MVP without coding, similar to the Sales MVP. But… what happens if we want to present the user our product proxy? Next, I will explain how I developed my mHealth MVP by using Google Suite. The hypothesis that I wanted to prove is that a digital version of traditional tools like notebooks or log sheets to register the T2D (type 2 diabetes) patient’s health data is easier to use. The first step to develop the system was using Google Drive to create a folder for each patient. These folders contained the surveys (Google Forms) linked to Google Sheets, the patients answered the questions in Google Forms (Figure 1). In the survey regarding medication intake and physical activity, options like medication and physical activity were personalized.
Figure 1. Google Drive: Patients’ files.
The participants had to install Google Task on their smartphones. They obtained access to a list for each behavior (blood glucose, medication intake, physical activity, and habits) and a link to access the survey. Also, visualize the patient’s records in Google Data Studio (Figure 2). programming alarms and reminders depending on each participant’s needs.
Figure 2. Google Task – Google Forms – Google Data Studio.
Figure 3 shows an example of how displayed the information for the participants to monitor each behavior.
Figure 3. Google Data Studio: Patient’s report.
Before the trial, a Gmail account was created for each participant and explained how to use G Suite. With your MVP, you can learn faster thanks to the user’s feedback and decide if you should persevere or pivot the idea. Persevere of pivot? With all the iterations made during the experimentation stage and using different MVP archetypes to validate the value proposition, we can decide if our product achieves the previously established metrics. If this is the case, we can develop an alpha or a beta version and escalate it. However, it did not achieve the metrics. We can use the information we obtained from the end-user to rethink the project and start it again. Hopefully, now you have a better idea about how to develop your first MVP! References An MVP, not a 1.0 (CASE) by Alex Cowan (Cowan+) https://www.alexandercowan.com/an-mvp-not-a-1-0-case/#Exhibit_B-_MVP_Archetypes How to Plan an MVP by Michael Seibel (Y Combinator) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hHMwLxN6EM How to Prototype a New Business by IDEOU https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/how-to-prototype-a-new-business Human-Centered Design Toolkit: An Open-Source Toolkit to Inspire New Solutions in the Developin World (2011) IDEO The Inside Story Behind the Unlikely Rise of Airbnb by Knowledge@Wharton https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-inside-story-behind-the-unlikely-rise-of-airbnb/ The Lean Startup by Eric Ries http://theleanstartup.com/ What’s the difference between human-centered design and design thinking? By IDEO Design Thinking https://designthinking.ideo.com/faq/whats-the-difference-between-human-centered-design-and-design-thinking We want to thank Nadia Villalobos, the creator of this article.

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