How to test your product idea using an MVP

Developing your Idea / concept

A lot of times we have really cool ideas for products and we want to start work on them as soon as possible. So we start building up the idea, thinking of names, features and the general process flow. There’s this moment of excitement where we think of how great the app is going to be and probably how rich we’ll get.

Let’s not forget that ideas are built on assumptions and until we confirm these assumptions, our ideas might not work out how we think it will.

Is my idea viable? Is there a market for this? Will people actually be interested in using my product?

These are valid questions and they can be answered by testing your idea with an MVP. MVP stands for “Minimum Viable Product” and it is the smallest part of your product/idea you can launch to get actual feedback. i.e whether people are actually interested in your product idea or not. The term MVP was made popular by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup”.

MVPs allow you to validate your idea without committing a lot of resources to it. It’s a great way to mitigate risk and the good part is that you don’t always have to build a demo/prototype. Here are some popular ways to test your ideas using MVPs?

  1. The Email based MVP: This is usually used by small companies and new startups. How this works is that you send out a well designed email(there are tools you can use) about your new product or feature to people you think would be interested in it and see how they react to it. The point is to make it seem like the product/feature is complete or at least coming soon to get validated feedback. Pros: It’s cheap, quick, sample space can be controlled and anyone can do it. Cons: Might seem like spam, Not advised for big brands, best matched with another MVP test method.
Example for a new inVision product called TETHR

2. The Shadow button: This is usually used to introduce a new feature in an already existing product but can be used to test a new product also. For this you just put a fake button (shadow button) that supposedly links to your new feature/product on your website/app and record how many users clicked on the button. You can decide to make the button redirect to a coming soon page, 404 page, a pre-order/sign-up page or a page to submit their email addresses to get more information about it. Amazon actually uses the shadow button technique a lot.

3. The Explainer video: For this, you make an explainer/tutorial video explaining how your product works(or how it’s going to work), send it out and see how people respond to it. This is actually how Dropbox started. The founder just made a fake video of him using the product and posted it on You tube. He got a lot of positive feedback and so he knew people were interested in using the product.

4. The Landing page: This consists of creating a web landing page for your proposed product of feature, driving traffic to it and seeing how people react to it. You can use google analytics on your page to get accurate information on how people are interacting with the page. This can also include a pre-order or sign-up page to gather information about prospective users.

Example of an app landing page

5. The Piecemeal/Frankenstein: This is done by piecing together “out of the box” software to create a basic and rough version of your proposed product so you can validate it. For example if you want to generate certificates for people you can make them fill in their information on a google form, send that to a Google sheet that triggers Zoho invoice to generate a certificate based on the information provided . There are a lot of cool tools you can use to achieve this e.g weebly, squarespace, wordpress, formstack, typeform, google forms e.t.c.

6. The Wizard of Oz: This technique works by combining a little technology with manual labour. You can build a small seemingly functional product and manually handle everything behind the scenes. For example Zappos started by taking photos of shoes from a nearby store and posting them on their site for sale. When customers made orders they would walk over to the store, pick up the shoes and ship it to the customer. They did this till they had a strong customer base and built a full e-commerce application.

Sometimes we get ideas but don’t know how users would respond to it. Well next time you’re in this situation try out one of the techniques listed above. Please note that these techniques might not work well for all product ideas. There are some other inexpensive ways of testing out product ideas with MVPs feel free to add more in the comments below.



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Eko Adetolani

Eko Adetolani

I enjoy building useful things | Product & user-centered design expert | Serial builder | Artist | Software Dev | Lagos, Nigeria |