Building a sustainable business should be the aim of all founders. The initial product idea will evolve, take many forms and could even change completely.
A key element that should stay consistent throughout this journey is communication with your targeted customers. From ideation to building the first versions of your product, your audience holds the answers to the majority of your questions.
This is where the traditional minimum viable product (MVP) format has proven to be an efficient way to kickstart this learning process. But over the years, the MVP, this coded version of your product, serves one specific purpose: validation of a range of hypotheses, from product features to acquisition channels.
On the other hand, a new approach has emerged: the minimum lovable product (MLP). It enables you to test your very first assumptions around your idea with a clickable prototype that suffices to illustrate this idea.
There is no right or wrong way whether you should build an MVP or an MLP. There is no actual battle between these two approaches, coded and non-coded.
Part 1 - How the MLP & MVP can work together:
Dan Parry is the co-founder & Head of Product @ Tectonic, a customer research company that provides hyper-targeted customer insights to B2B companies and nonprofits by collecting quantitative and qualitative data through surveys, video interviews, and customer analytics.
Parry defines an MVP as "a product, the smallest version of your product or service designed to test key assumptions that you might have about your business."
"I believe that you have one MVP, but it might have different shapes."
The smaller your MVP is, the easier it is to move from shape to shape as you figure out what the thing is. Dan shares that "people only think about launching their thing and getting it out there as fast as possible. But if you think about speed, you need to think about the speed of learning. How quickly can I learn whether I'm right or wrong?”
So you want to launch in the appropriate amount of time, the least that you can do is to know the most.
Tom Kozacinski, is a Lead Product Designer we work with at Launch Mappers, who has over 15 years of experience across the digital and organisational landscapes. He shares that "the MLP or clickable prototype should be created before an MVP from the perspective of saving time."
In an ecosystem where new products, platforms or apps are being deployed at an increasing speed, time has become a rare commodity for founders. So the creation of both MLP & MVP compliments each other, as it will allow you to focus your time and resources in building a product that serves a real and needed purpose in today's marketplace.
"It's not about being the first anymore; it's about getting it right." - Tom
Part 2 - Getting started with MLP & MVP
You should prioritise the user research and kickstart it as soon as possible. Founded in Paris in 2020, Pennylane aims to help companies' leaders in their daily administrative and accounting management tasks with an all in one platform used by managers and accountants.
Before starting to build anything, the founders of Pennylane interviewed around 150 founders of startups and SMEs. These interviewees highlighted the essential need for one platform where all financial data (invoices, payments) is combined and updated. This user research phase identified the most prominent pain points business owners face when handling their finances.
It was once this research was completed that the Pennylane team started to build their platform.
"Once we had created the platform, we went back to the same people with something they could use now," shared Edouard Mascré, Head of Sales at Pennylane.
The sooner you learn from your target audience, the sooner you can put that research to good use in building an MLP and MVP:
I - Talk to your customers
II - Understand what challenges they are facing
III - Evaluate whether these elements confirm or cancel your assumptions
It effectively depends on how much capital you have or how much you want to use. But this research is a critical investment to ensure that you're essentially building and commercialising a product that will have little chance to fail.
"Use the data to build your MVP. And again, I suggest building something tiny. The MVP could be different things; it might be a landing page, for example." - Dan
Your target audience isn't the only research needed to build the right product. "You need to understand the entire business before thinking about wireframing or anything else," states Tom.
Starting with the creation stage of an MVP before any research has been done will only generate an incredible loss of time and capital spent in building something nobody needs.
You need to have clear answers to questions such as :
- What are your priorities?
- What do your customers need first (features etc…)?
- What pricing is fair for us and our customers?
The MLP or clickable prototype will be the support material to support the research stage of what you want to build. As it requires no coding, it can be easily edited. Once the final version of the MLP is ready, you can start making the MVP.
This is just phase 1. Tom explains that "the idea is to build something that can help them in their business right away." So as time goes on, there will be more phases, and you will be building on top of this phase 1 and adding more stuff.
Part 3 - Benefits in a go-to-market strategy
"If you build an MVP based on evidence of research, you actually build things that people want and minimise your risk," explains Dan Parry.
By minimising your risks, you will maximise your learnings quickly. And by doing customer research first, you will have way more information than you did if you didn't do it, enabling you to get the closest possible to actual product-market fit, the mythical nirvana. This is all possible thanks to your initial research!
Even if you've launched an MVP or what you think the final version is, you will continuously be going to market. You have more than one chance to reinvent yourself, your product and find new acquisition channels.
Take Snapchat, for example. The social media platform has reinvented itself multiple times, as it tried to find its new revenue streams ultimately and attract new audiences.
First launched in 2011, Snapchat has completely reinvented the user's interface and developed new features along the way. With the initial MVP, they had attracted early users in order to learn from them.
The core aspect of Snapchat's MVP is disappearing messaging, which various platforms have revisited, the biggest one being Instagram. As their user database kept growing, more and more features were released like Geofilters, Discover, and Spectacles, to name a few.
By building a very basic MVP to attract a user base to help improve the platform, Snapchat has continuously grown, and it's still going strong with 293 million daily active users in Q2 of 2021.
There is no actual moment in the process of being a product owner where you won't need your targeted customers' input to keep them interested and satisfied essentially.
Dan Parry states, "you will always be talking to your customers because if you don't, someone else will. You've got to keep your customer happy because if you don't, someone else will."
In maintaining a steady and expanding growth cycle, your target customers will essentially be the key to your success.
As Dan Parry shared as an essential tip, "keep talking to your customers. If you build with your customer, you're likely to build superfans and advocates for what you're trying to do. And that will help you build faster and better and get you closer to product-market fit."
Here are some other key tips from our interviewees to help you throughout your product's building journey:
- Use no-code tools. It allows you to learn quickly so that you can end up reducing your risk and building the right thing for your customers.
- Hire experts based on their experience, not how much it will cost you. Trust their skills and the process.
- Be prepared to iterate quickly based on the feedback you receive from your customers on your MVP.