What is a minimum viable product? [updated]

What is a minimum viable product, and why do you need it?

The 411 on MVPs

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept popularized by author Eric Ries in his classic book “Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Products.”

He described it as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

An even simpler description of an MVP is that it’s a basic, working version of your product.

It should capture the essence of your idea, and have only enough features to make it usable and adoptable by your target users.

example of MVP development infographic
Example of MVP Infographic by Addie Kugler-Lunt

The definition of an MVP has evolved over time to include not only the basic working version of a product, but also an approach to the early stages of product development, and variations on that theme.

​​Maksym Babych, founder and CEO of SpdLoad explains it in this article excerpt from Forbes:

An MVP is not a technology prototype but a way to validate its sale. It may not be based on a prototype but a landing page with a “Buy” button.

The primary purpose is to test a business idea at minimal cost to find a response from the target audience and determine further iterations to enhance the value development.

One variation on the MVP is the MLP: the Minimum Lovable Product:

“Minimum Lovable Product” is a term coined by Brian de Haaff, founder of the roadmap software known as Aha! 

The MLP is about creating enough functionality so that customers will adore the early-stage product, not just tolerate it.

While many companies create MVPs to get a product with basic functionality up and running quickly, not all consider the delight factor. An overly simplified or generic product can leave customers frustrated and cause them to look for alternative solutions.

MVP vs. Prototype

Another useful distinction to note here is the difference between the MVP and the prototype. Where the goal of the MVP is to show proof of concept, the prototype shows how it can be done.

A prototype shows a product’s basic layout, including flow and navigation. Many prototypes are interactive in nature, allowing designers and prospective users “test-drive” the experience before the product has actually been built.

It also gives the design team an opportunity to tweak the visual layout before the hard work of coding and development begins.

So, why would you only build a simple version of that great idea for an app you’ve had in your head for ages?

The unique advantages of building an MVP

At the most practical level, building an MVP can save you time, money, and resources while reducing your risk of failure and increasing your chances of success. It’s a great way to find out if the world is ready for your new idea.

two people working, one at a desktop computer

So, how does this work? Rather than spending your funds on a highly complex project that may or may not be successful, you can build the simplest, usable version possible, and then test your product on real-world users

As your real-world users interact with your MVP, you can observe their interactions and collect data about their behaviors. This data helps you determine whether more investment in your project is worthwhile, and what your next steps should be.

Validated learnings and specific research of your target audience are incredibly valuable for software development.

The feedback you get from early adopters can be much more valuable than any predictions or business analytics. Users can tell you which features they appreciate the most or what they would like to see in the next release.

Your next steps could involve adding features to your product, pivoting in a new direction, or ending the project entirely. Either way, data and not guesswork will inform your choices.

The main elements of an MVP

An MVP should include only a few elements. Remember, you are creating a product that has only enough features to be usable. This is a very lean version of the app you’ve been dreaming about. Here are the main elements:


Infographic showing difference between MVP and MLP
MVP vs. MLP Infographic by Addie Kugler-Lunt

As shown above in the infographic above, the key difference between the MVP and the MLP is the additional care and attention taken when designing the UI. Evoking positive emotions, like delight, in the user, is the goal of a Minimum Lovable Product. It goes further than simply fulfilling a need or solving a problem.

The aim is for the user to not only get the basic functions but enjoy the experience. User satisfaction, particularly in a saturated market, is key to building your market share and converting users to your product, over similar products already available. 

A helpful way to focus the aim of the MLP is to ask some questions beyond “What problem is this product solving?” Questions could include, “Why is this product useful?” and “What makes this product desirable?”

Answering questions like these will help uncover the features or UI elements that will make the product not only useful but loved – the ultimate goal!

two people working at a desk with a projection behind them

The main benefits of launching with an MVP

Launching with an MVP can put you in a stronger position as you build your business. Here are the main benefits of entering the market with an MVP:

  • Invests less time, money, and resources
  • Allows you to launch early and fast
  • Reduces the risks associated with launching a new product
  • Tests the market by observing and collecting data about user behavior
  • Enables you to validate (or disprove) your assumptions, build new features, or pivot in a new direction

The process of building and launching an MVP helps you avoid the costs and risks associated with developing a full-blown (or over-engineered) product that is not a good match with the market. 

You could look at it as a kind of trial balloon, used to determine how your product will be received. Once you measure and assess customer interactions with your new app, you’ll know whether it’s worthwhile to take the next step.

Pro tip: getting your product into the hands of your actual target users, rather than just other techies, is key to gathering data that’s useful and accurate to use in your product development process.

two people in front of a projection

MVP Examples

There are many examples of successful businesses that started as MVPs. Some of the biggest and most popular today include Amazon, Airbnb, Dropbox, Instagram, Zappos

Here’s an excerpt of the story of how Dropbox started with an MVP:

Founded in 2007 by MIT students Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox is a fantastic file-hosting service that currently provides customers with extensive cloud features like personal cloud, client software, cloud storage, and file synchronization. When the founders came up with the idea for a cloud-based file syncing service, they realized that building an actual hardware infrastructure would be incredibly time-consuming and expensive. So they followed a scaled-back approach to test the idea and made a simple video (as the MVP) that told prospective investors what the product would provide to customers once it was created and launched.

Despite being simple, the video was highly successful and encouraged over 70,000 signups from people curious to learn more. The feedback provided was also pivotal to building and developing Dropbox to what it is today.

Here’s a video by that illustrates, with simple stop-motion animation, the successful concept of Dropbox that remains at its core today:

For more examples, this article outlines the development of 10 of the most successful companies today that started out as MVPs.

In conclusion

two people working on wireframes

In summary, an MVP protects you from wasting valuable resources by making poor decisions based on false assumptions. We are all susceptible to confirmation bias and human error. But there is no reason the products we build should reflect those traits.

Now that you’ve answered the question, “What is a minimum viable product?”, maybe it’s time to give it a try. At LimeTech, we’re happy to give you a hand with your MVP, or other aspects of the mobile app development process.


*Editor’s note: this article was expanded and updated in April 2022 by Addie Kugler-Lunt.

LimeTech is a creative tech company with a focus on innovation and adaptive change. We use technical know-how, design skills, and deep experience in entrepreneurship to help companies advance their business goals. Our specialties include mobile app development, website design, and technology planning.

Do you have a great idea for a mobile app? Get in touch today and find out how we can help.

entrepreneurship    minimum viable product    mobile applications    MVP    startups    

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