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How to decide on your MVP

We spoke to Jan Thij Bakker, founder at EasyLMS, Thijsafgehaald, Lean Library (acquired by SAGE Publishing), and Medical Media, to discuss how to decide on your MVP.

DISCLAIMER: This interview was recorded and introduced as a lecture for our free online 10 week program, StartupLeap. It has been edited for clarity purposes. Watch the recording for the full conversation.

Over the years Bakker has founded multiple businesses, specifically tech, software-as-a-service, and peer communities, reaching millions. As a serial entrepreneur he has a thorough understanding of what it takes to launch a product or service.

What do you define as an MVP?

“The MVP, or minimal viable product, is usually referred to as something you build that has at the minimum the key added value of your product or solution. However, for me, it’s broader.”

“You’re continuously testing your assumptions. About your sales cycle, about your technology or about marketing and your MVP helps you validate those assumptions.”

“What this is varies per sector. Some startups build complex technologies that even take experienced teams months to deliver. But at the core, I always build an MVP to test the end-user interaction. If you then want to test multiple things, you can have multiple MVPs.”

“For example, at Lean Library, my co-founder built something over the summer, but we wanted to test the sales cycle, so we put it on a shelf for a while and built a clickable demo to show how it could work. And we signed 5 deals before we wrote one single line of code. Because my co-founder already validated the technological feasibility, we could simply build the full product our customers signed for.”

What is step 1?

“Again, it varies per sector. Because for a B2C market, you can only massively test when you actually have something. You can build a landing page, but you’re still not sure if people will buy from you.

“At the same time, in B2B, it’s very easy to just go out there and talk with your clients. Give them a clickable demo or a PowerPoint that explains how you are going to solve their problem and what the pricing would be.”

“You can simply tell them you want commitment from clients before you can finalize your product. You can give them a discount or do whatever to get them on board, but always be very open about where you are. And giving a discount doesn’t mean giving it away for free. Do let them pay for your service or agree that they will when you finalized when you deliver the product.”

“In this situation, they don’t have any risk if you won’t deliver, and you do have commitment for when you do. This also makes an investment decisions a lot easier.”

“The process is very similar to a regular sales processes. Some potential customers will not respond and some will be very excited. You just have to up your numbers to such a high amount that you’ll get enough positive reactions. This will also teach you what your conversion rate will look like when you actually have a product.”

When you know for whom to build, how do you find out what to build first?

“You need to have someone in your team with a strong product vision. These decisions are based on input of clients, your team, or other relevant stakeholders, friends, mentors, basically everybody. But eventually you need someone to make a decision.”

“And not everyone’s input is as valuable as others’. Ask yourself, is this person really in the center of the target audience that I want to service? And is the person I’m talking to the right person on the client side and does she really understand the problem and the solution? But what’s most important with regards to your MVP, is to ask yourself, is this really necessary right now? Is this client not going to sign that contract because a feature is not in your service yet?”

“A simple test is to raise the price if they want a specific feature and see if they’re willing to pay for it. It’s not about the money, but it’s about the foundation that they really think it’s valuable. Eventually the feature might even be useful for other or future clients. Then again, if a feature will not be useful for any future clients, you should never build it.”

What are triggers that show potential clients see value in your MVP?

“Well, most of the time, when you have these conversations, you’ve usually already iteratively come to a point where your MVP is around 80% ready.”

“Then what to do to get there. Well, people take meetings to talk about their problems, so you don’t need to have a solution. You can simply call someone, tell them you’re interested in their problem and if they are willing to share their opinion about it. That’s more than enough to get people to talk to you. But in order for them to sign a deal, you’ll need to iteratively build and talk with them.”

What would you do differently from your previous MVPs?

“Several years ago I had a strong feeling about a certain consumer product, but at some point we got interest from businesses and our main competitor got $35 million in funding, so we though, maybe we should switch. So, too late I figured it’s best to start with the use case.”

“I would never recommend leaving the use case, you know, just putting something out there and just wait for people to come and think of a use case. That’s a very risky strategy.”

Do you need a technical co-founder to validate most of your assumptions?

“It depends on the market. You can get really far, but if your technology stack is really deep, it’ll be tough.”

“Think of it in steps. Most people build an MVP to test out several things at once, so they maybe want to test their technology, their sales, their UX, or user interaction, using the same MVP. I would strongly suggest that you look at all these individual goals of the MVP and keep them out of the MVP as long as possible.”

“Testing separately keeps you very flexible in your approach. If you find out after two meetings that you should rebuild your entire MVP. If it’s just a clickable demo, you can have it changed within an hour.”

“I’m not saying this is possible in every case, but just separate the goals and see if you can find an angle where you can test something outside of your MVP.”