This blog is a guide for entrepreneurs to learn about various success and failure stories through prominent MVP examples.
2007 was the year when the world waited for the launch of the biggest and most popular MVP (Minimum Viable Product) ever—the iPhone. I know, a lot of you might disagree, but if you were an executive whose life depended on the capability of their phone being able to do everything for them—and more, you would too.
The original iPhone was somewhat like the Minimum Viable Product examples of today. It was nothing like the device that is now the pride and joy of millions of people. It could not copy and paste, it could not show notifications, the number of apps was limited (except for browser apps that no one wanted) and it could not connect to an exchange server back-end.
As someone who uses their phone all day for nearly everything, if you saw the iPhone in its first avatar, you would laugh at it too. However, a year later the App Store wafted in, and by the time the iPhone 3Gs was launched, the world understood that the device they thought was best for college-going iPod-touting kids had now grown up into a fully functional phone that could get a lot more done.
An important question: What is an MVP or Minimum Viable Product?
An MVP or a minimum viable product is the most basic version of the product you’re trying to create. This minimalistic product will cover all the fundamental components and features that satisfy the needs of your end-users. MVPs help startups to test the market and verify the potential of their product. MVPs are commonplace today and help startups to launch products without breaking the bank.
The idea of an MVP was first popularized by a book written by Eric Ries in 2011, called “The Lean Startup”. This book introduced and popularized many new concepts and MVP was one of them. The idea of this concept was to avoid failure by getting user feedback based on essential features before developing the final product.
First-time entrepreneurs often believe that building an MVP means that they can get away with the smallest possible product that is made in the cheapest possible way in the shortest amount of time, which is not true. An MVP is far from that. An MVP or Minimum Viable Product is a stage at which your product takes a good enough shape for your customer to find exciting and be willing to use and pay for.
Additionally, an MVP should be the catalyst that stimulates decisions to make a product better. A Minimum Viable Product can take you a week to code, or several years to put into shape.
What is the Lean Startup method?
The Lean Startup method is a principled approach to new product development. Popularized by Eric Ries, this method helps startups to eliminate uncertainties, validate their learnings, work smarter, create MVPs, and follow a build-measure-learn approach to product development.
Why do entrepreneurs love MVPs?
In one line: To reduce the risk of failure and save on business costs. Creating an MVP startup means that your business will follow the Build-Measure-Learn loop. This means that you will quickly build a product that solves a real-world problem, test its market acceptance and its usability. Once done, you will have a functional solution that you can iteratively improve.
5 reasons why you should go the MVP lean startup way
1. Launch a working product quickly
Every startup is in a race to build and deliver the solution to a problem faster than the competition. With an MVP, you actually can. Your product will not take forever to build and you can showcase it to the world so your customers can get a taste of it—leading to product loyalty in the long run.
2. Enthrall (or disappoint) early adopters
Your MVP software will essentially be a public beta version of your finalized product. What your early adopters will get is a stripped-down, minimalistic product that functions—somewhat like the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Your adopters will buy, test and provide feedback and help you build a better final product.
3. Test and validate the market
Your MVP product development will determine the success of your final product. If your product is not what the market needs, an MVP will give you the time and the feedback you need to improve, pivot and create a product that works. This will also help you to verify your assumptions about the market.
4. Mitigate risks
Investing all that you’ve got in a product will expose you and your startup to undue risk. An MVP will help you streamline finances and avoid a flop at the big show.
5. Define a monetization strategy
A monetization strategy will also define the long-term viability of your product. If you plan to launch a mobile app, your MVP will give you the answers you need. If it does not work in the MVP, chances are that it will not work in the final product either.
Now that you know why you should start with the MVP software development approach, here is a list of 5 companies that thought the same way as you did and were successful.
MVPs that were successful and made it big
What started as an idea to build an SMS service that helped a group of people communicate at Odeo became the de facto way for the world to communicate, drive brand success and network. Twitter has come a long way since that discussion in March 2006. Launched to the public in July 2006, Twitter became an instant hit with its users. Getting featured in the Southwest Interactive conference in 2007 bumped up the number of tweets from 20k to 60k and sealed Twitter’s reputation as a world-class communication platform. Twitter hit the 100 million user mark in September 2011 and has not looked back since.
Twitter became an investor’s darling quickly, raising a total of $1.5B, and went public in 2013.
How did Twitter become so successful?
Twitter was extremely successful because it was first released to a small group of people who tested the product and gave feedback that was incorporated in later releases. The features we have come to love today including Twitter Spaces, Fleets and many more did not exist in the first version, which allowed the developers to carefully validate the product before launch.
Dropbox started as a video about what Dropbox could do. Leveraging the comments, feedback and emails of users from this group on Hacker News in April 2017, Dropbox validated their MVP development, added missing features and released their product to the public. Dropbox was envisioned as a safe, secure, no-nonsense way to store files online.
Dropbox got a total of $1.1 billion in investments from 2007 to 2014 and at one time was a company that Apple wanted to purchase.
How did Dropbox become so successful?
Dropbox validated its ideas with a novel approach and conducted market research before launching the product to the public. They now gain a new user every second.
If you’ve ever taken a taxi and gotten ripped off, you would know Uber and its outstanding low-cost rides. From just 3 cars in their prototype in 2010 to the alternative name for a taxi that are today.
Uber raised a total of $25.2B in funding in 15 rounds and is now a public company.
Why is Uber so successful?
Uber started with just 3 cars and validated their idea before their competition could. They also kept the interface simple and only launched in one city (SF) before expanding further. Uber is the perfect example of an MVP becoming a household name in less than a decade. Uber checked all the right boxes for early adopters: It was reliable, convenient, cheap and offered a tech-driven interface rather than one that relied on mobile phones.
Basecamp was formed due to a need. The team at a design firm called 37signals were frustrated with the problems faced by managing projects by email. When they could not find an alternative that worked, they built their own MVP. All the first version did was have a message board for updates and feedback, to-do lists to keep track of things and milestones to keep deadlines in check.
Although Basecamp has kept its funding information private, their valuation of over $100 billion in 2015 said a lot!
Why is Basecamp so successful?
Basecamp went the true MVP way by sticking to the phrase “less is more”. They made a product that did only what they wanted to do, and that is what worked. Basecamp has since grown to add a lot of features, but keeps the ‘less is more’ philosophy intact.
We all love deals, don’t we? I know I do! Groupon started to do just that. They took the word MVP to a whole new level. Groupon’s MVP was a simple WordPress page that amassed a huge list of engaged customers because of the deals posted on it. This helped Groupon to convert these leads into revenue and they then used the revenue to create their backend and voucher system. There could be no better description of Groupon than from its founder, Andrew Mason:
“All we did was we took a WordPress Blog and we skimmed it to say Groupon and then every day we would do a new post with the points embedded. It was totally ghetto. The actual coupon generation that we were doing was all FileMaker. We would run a script that would email the coupon PDF to people. It was trying to catch up and piece together a product.”
Groupon has raised $1.4B to date. A testament to its viability is its 2011 IPO, which was the biggest by a US company since Google. All from a company that started on WordPress! Impressive, isn’t it?
Why is Groupon so successful?
Groupon has stuck to its core need of being a deal-of-the-day list that offers discount gift certificates that are redeemable at local vendors worldwide. Groupon’s model was so popular that they expanded their offerings to encompass everything from salons to international travel! Groupon offers what their customers need in a simple, easy-to-use interface that works well with their end-users.
However, all is not well in the MVP world. I also put together a list of those who did not make it beyond the MVP stage.
MVPs that didn’t make it in the long run
Electroloom was a 3D printer that challenged the clothing world. They created a radical device that could create a garment using electrospinning—into in any shape you saw fit, using just electricity and raw materials. The fabric is created without stitches or joins, making them lighter and stronger than cloth.
Electroloom raised a convertible note of an undisclosed amount from SOSV.
Why did Electroloom fail?
The founders got caught up in a wave of enthusiasm and did not take the time to think if they were using the right technology for the purpose. The user experience was terrible, there was just too much electronic interference and failure rates were high. The fabric was also not the most comfortable thing to wear, frayed easily and the user interface to set the machine to use was clunky. Electroloom failed in less than 1.5 years and the main reason was launching the product too soon.
Even Google gets it wrong sometimes. Google Glass was a futuristic device that leveraged natural language voice commands to power a ubiquitous computer that was embedded in a wearable pair of glasses.
Why did Google Glass fail?
High asking prices and privacy concerns sealed the deal for this product. Although Google Glass has launched a new enterprise-grade version of Google Glass called Google Glass 2, we’re not keeping our hopes up.
This was a product that I was a little excited to know more about! Juicero was a high-end juicing machine that promised the world in a pretty device but did little to deliver. The device made cold-pressed juice using Juicero’s properitary juice packages. Scanning the unique QR code on each package would give you detailed information about the ingredients–including the farm they came from and when they were cut and packaged. The device needed a WiFi connection to work as each package had a best-by date and if your juice package was old, the machine would not press juice from it.
Juicero raised a total of $118 million in funding.
Why did Juicero fail?
Juicero over-promised and under-delivered. Juicero was the perfect example of clever advertising breaking a product. They essentially delivered packets of ketchup-like vegetable and fruit pulp that did not need the mixer to squeeze. I have since purchased another Juicero-like product called the BlendJet 2 (which I love), but that blends better on-the-go!
Essential Products was founded by the creator of Android—Andy Rubin. The company reached unicorn status even before its launch. Their smartphone—pitched as the next best thing to sliced bread failed to gain traction. The Essential Phone was something the world had never seen before. A nearly bezel-less phone that used modular expansion as its guiding function was unheard of in 2017, and it offered more screen real estate than an iPhone 7s while being significantly smaller in size. My favourite accessory from their large list was the 360-degree camera that clamped (remember the iPhone 12?) magnetically to its back!
Essential products received $330 million in funding
Why did Essential Products fail?
A common story of most failed MVPs, Essential Products over-promised and under-delivered. They could not provide their customers with an intelligent assistant and an alternative OS called Ambient OS. They also failed to launch the list of accessories that they promised would be available with the Essential Phone.
Beequick was an O2O grocery booking service. Boasting one-hour delivery of fresh food and other products, Beequick promised efficient and fast delivery from thousands of stores. Cashing on hectic urban life, traffic and maxing out the sharing economy, Beequick quickly expanded operations and was set to be a success.
Beequick raised $110 million in disclosed funding.
Why did Beequick fail?
Beequick ticked all the right boxes, but bad planning and a massive cash outflow caused them to bleed funds. Although technically not an MVP, Beequick is a good example of how a well-funded, well-accepted startup can collapse due to bad management.
Does a failed startup mean that you are a failure?
Absolutely not. Lessons learned from past business failures will only make you a better, stronger and savvier entrepreneur.
Key takeaways – the 7 commandments for your MVP’s success
Whew! The list was exhaustive, but we have something for you to ponder upon before you consider launching an MVP of your own:
- The success of an MVP does not guarantee long-term product success
- MVPs can also be used to validate the solution that you envision
- A world-class viral promo can go a long way
- If you can relate to the problem you are going to solve, you will probably make it
- Reduce your time to market as much as possible
- Pivots and iterations are normal. Remember the first iPhone?
- Scale gradually—success can wait.
The world of today is fast, unforgiving, and competitive. To not launch an MVP means missing out on an opportunity that can help you win big, and to launch too soon without a long-term vision for success means that you take on too much risk without validating the market.
What an MVP really needs is a good development partner, a long-term vision and an assessment of risk that is well-thought-out. A combination of these factors will raise the odds that can ensure the success of your MVP.
If you believe you have an idea that can make it in the real world, give us a shout. Our world-class team has years of experience helping startups validate their ideas and get an MVP out into the market, fast! Schedule an appointment with our experts here. We’ll take care of the rest.