MVP, MLP, where to stop?

Blurry lines…

The MVP concept seems easy to understand, just develop the minimum number of features for a product to be viable and ship it.
Benefits and potential problems were discussed and written about enough.

… But… viable … what does it mean? What’s viable? Where do we draw the line?
This is, for me, the most difficult part.

Let’s try and figure this out.

“Listen to the users”, that’s almost always the answer, right?
So let’s speak to our potential users and through a mix of questions and observation figure out what’s the minimum set of features that would suffice them.

How do you measure the “suffice” part?
If you ask users they will always want more, so we look into how they do it today and implement just enough to be an alternative.

We can then say we have an MVP!
Not so fast. We have an alternative but why would our target audience pay the price of changing from something they already know and use our solution?

This is where the MLP concept comes along.
Minimum Lovable Product, making something useful may not be enough, you need to do something your users will love from the get go.

Once again, how do you figure that out? It seems even more abstract than the MVP.

We have a couple of recurring examples from the literature on what is an MVP:

  • Build a landing page with a newsletter subscription form and measure how many users sign-up;
  • Do the same but, instead of the sign-up form, ask the users to pre-order some goods by paying in advance (Kickstarter model);
  • If it is an enterprise software solution, get a sales agreement signed by a couple of potential buyers.

Enough examples, I guess you got the point.

This examples fail to address one thing, what do you put in the product description?

My way to answer this is to follow this list of steps:

  1. Identify the need in the form of the “Job to be Done”;
    What are your users trying to achieve through your platform?
    When will they use it (situation)?
    Why will they use it (motivation)?
    What do they want to achieve (desired outcome)?
  2. Define the minimum boundaries in a clear way;
    Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Figure out what’s the shortest part of the job the user what’s to achieve where you can really add value.
  3. Get the most feedback possible without any implementation;
    Just go out and chat about it. Get reactions from people.
  4. Put the MVP in place and get it in front of potential users.

In my present and past works I deal with products with a very specific kind of business model, a two sided market or marketplace. This is always a business model when you need to address two kind of users, almost always with specific needs.

This particularity makes me always struggle to figure the MVP.
- Should I have two MVP’s, one for each side?
- Should I figure out the “main” side and just get the MVP for that one?

To better illustrate what I think is the answer, let me use an example:

Problem: There is no easy way to book outdoor activities when I’m traveling (surf lessons, scuba diving, canoeing trips, etc.).
Solution: Build an online booking platform where activity providers fill in with the offer and users can choose, book and pay for the activities.

So what’s the MLP for this? We must be compelling for providers and clients who want to do the activities.

Let’s try to apply the steps provided earlier:

  1. Job to be done: When I’m traveling I want to be able to compare, choose and book outdoor activities so I can discover the local nature while enjoying an healthy lifestyle.
  2. Boundaries:
    example 1: Should we also book the transportation from and to the activity location? Probably the provider already does this for his present clients or at leasts has some good pointers, let’s leave it to them;
    example 2: Should we develop an invoicing feature so that the provider can invoice the client? The provider will be in direct contact with the client and he already has a way to provide an invoice, let him handle it.
  3. Now with a clear description of what your platform will do, just go and talk with everyone you can about this, see if it really is a need.
  4. Build a landing page with a couple of offers for a specific region (they can be fake) and put a booking button in each offer asking the email of each person willing to book.
    Figure out what’s the minimum conversion rate at which you will be satisfied.
    Direct some traffic there and measure conversion.

Each case is different, you will always struggle to figure out what’s your MLP, but keep this in mind:

  • Failing fast is better than failing slow;
  • You will fail to predict user behaviour 100% of the times;
  • Your version one will be awful most of the times;
  • You are just a tool for your users to get from point A to point B so figure out where is A, where is B and what’s the shortest path between the two.

Indie Campers Director of Product & Tech/ Web addict

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