If your startup idea is the answer, your MVP is the question

If your startup idea is the answer, your MVP is the question

You’ve got an idea, you think it’s great, of course you do, it’s your idea. Your friends and family with whom you’ve shared the idea with say they like it. You’ve even talked with someone about investing… What’s missing?

You have yet to test your idea in the market, you have yet to ask the market if your idea is a good fit. The market wants what the market wants. If the market wants what you have, you’ll know, and if the market rejects your idea, you’ll know.

So where does one start?

MVP or Minimum Viable Product should boil down to a question, will people use an app to do X? Do people want an Uber for X? The app should be geared to answer the question proposed. Here is an example:

Meet Joe, he only eats GMO-free, he know many others who are also GMO-free. Naturally when Joe told them about his idea for a food delivery app which only delivered GMO-free food they loved the idea. Before diving into a full fledged app, Joe wants to test his idea. He hires an Independent iOS Developer in his local area of Chicago, Illinois, to build him a bare bones MVP. Joe wants to test the assumption that people will use a GMO-free food delivery app.

On the surface the app looks like a very slimmed down version of an ordinary food delivery app, but there were only a few items available to choose from, and only from a restaurant that uses the finest GMO-free foods. Once the user selects their food, enters their contact info, an email with the order gets sent to Joe. Then Joe will simply act as the middleman and place the order, Joe is going to pay for the food himself, then send the customer a link via email where the user can pay for the food. You see, Joe doesn’t want to have the developer setup a payment processor until he knows if the idea is viable, it’s just not worth it when Joe can just type in the amount and send a payment request.

Next Joe gets email addresses from his friends and family and others who are interested in a GMO-free delivery app, many people were those same people who said they liked the idea initially. Joe told them one by one, “this weekend, the app will be running”, one by one they told Joe they were excited to use the app for getting the best GMO-free food delivered. Joe got 15+ people, enough that if the orders spiked and it was a huge hit, he could handle the orders.

What happened next surprised Joe, Friday night came and went, without an order, Saturday again no order, Sunday Joe tried the app himself, just to confirm it was working. Still nothing. Sunday night Joe was stewing, had his beta users secretly thought the idea was dumb? Had they just not liked the food dishes that Joe selected? Had they had trouble using the app?

Turns out, most of the beta users ate at home that weekend. While they thought the idea of GMO-free food delivery was a good idea, when pressed further, Joe discovered that his beta users, while in the intake questioning they said they ordered food fairly regularly, it turned out they almost always ordered from the same specific places. Most times they preferred to prepare their own foods. They were open to Joe’s app idea, but it simply wasn’t enough of a value proposition to call people into action.

Joe wrapped up his interviews feeling a little discouraged, but then sitting at home reviewing all the responses, Joe noticed something. While his users didn’t seem into ordering from a new place using Joe’s MVP, they still loved their GMO-free food and they were very loyal, they just wanted to be the ones to prepare the dishes, and most of all they wanted to be assured they were using the right kind of ingredients.

Joe’s head was swimming… after a while Joe started to look at things differently, it wasn’t that there was a loss of enthusiasm for the GMO-free dishes, on the contrary, people seemed to light up when talking about their favorite GMO-free dishes.

After much reflecting Joe thought he would try a different approach. First he went back to those original beta users and asked them if they had ever wished they could just get their GMO-free groceries, from trusted vendors, delivered right to their door every week. Joe found that a lot of his GMO-free folks said they would love the idea of being able to get a standing order from their local grocery store, but it had to be specific items from a specific place.

Now Joe, has an idea of how to pivot, how about a service that will deliver all of your staple GMO-free foods every week, for just a small delivery charge. Joe finds 15+ beta users who say they would be interested in participating in the second round of beta testing. This time Joe is a little more skeptical.

Next he goes back to his local Independent iOS Developer in Chicago, a new version gets created, Joe took the top 20 products he found his beta testers wanted, he put them into the app. Again Joe didn’t bother with a payment processor, he just got an email with the order, added his modest delivery charge, not because he necessarily needs the couple bucks, he just wants to make sure it’s not prohibitive for his users.

Joe is excited to see that within a few days, some of his users are trying out the app. At this point Joe is serving the role of administration and actual food delivery. Once Joe has seen people use the app, and seeing their excitement and interested in getting their groceries delivered regularly, Joe decides to move forward.

Joe then sends out emails thanking his users, particularly the ones that actually put down money. He lets them know he is going to pursue the app and to keep an eye out for an email when the app launches.

Now Joe is ready to proceed having tested his idea, he has a combination of qualitative and quantitative data on how the market responses to his idea. Now whether Joe decides to self-fund or raise money, no longer is Joe just a guy with an idea, now he has something truly valuable, possibly the most valuable thing in all the startup world… evidence of real life paying users.

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