As the CyberASAP teams prepare for the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) stage, we ask: what are the essentials of a successful MVP?
Posted on 10/09/2019
Turning an idea into a commercially successful product can be fraught with challenges. As this year’s cohort of academics on our Cyber Security Academic Startup Accelerator Programme (CyberASAP)* prepare their prototypes for journeying into the commercial world, our expert team discusses some useful and common considerations for anyone taking a new product to market.
“Whether you are an early stage start-up developing a product for the first time, a scale-up company or an established business, the issues are the same and the steps needed to minimise risk and optimise the chance of success for your new product are equally applicable,” says Robin Kennedy, specialist Knowledge Transfer Manager in Cyber Security at the KTN.
Emma Fadlon, Access to Funding & Finance specialist at KTN adds that ”whatever sector you are in, new product development should be a continuously dynamic process of honing and refinement. It is essential to start early with customer validation and engagement to create an insightful feedback loop – and to continue this throughout development and validation”. Customers are an endless source of insight and at the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) stage, their input is absolutely essential.
So how do we define the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) stage? Author of the Lean Start-up, Eric Ries, defined MVP 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”. The key characteristics of a product at this stage include:
- A product with the least number of features – but enough to help you learn and draw information from a trial period and from user interaction
- The ability to collect defined metrics
- Being able to act on the results
- Could be sold to an early adopter
This is the stage where you will find out whether your customers will buy your product. As Ries says “if you’re going to fail, fail fast”!
If you are about to start the MVP development stage – like this year’s cohort of CyberASAP teams – the evolution of your initial idea will have progressed through some key developmental milestones. You should have assessed, refined and validated your new product opportunity in defined, quantified markets. Next you will have scoped the development path and costs for the MVP, considered the user interface and how the final finished product will function.
Having identified the customer problem you will also know what features and benefits the MVP requires in order to address the needs you have validated. Now, the MVP needs to deliver the minimum essential features that will enable you to demonstrate those benefits and test your product.
“This validation process is absolutely crucial in helping refine the product and better understand what customers really need, what they want, and what they will pay for. Developers often forget to consider the user interface and how customers need or want to interact with your product. Getting this process right at the start can also help you plan new product development, for future-proofing and maintaining your competitive edge” adds Emma Fadlon, “so it’s important to plan well to help you get the most out of this valuable customer and end-user interaction. Think carefully about what you need to find out and what questions to ask to get you there. And make sure you are asking the right people – not just the end user, but also others who may interact with the product, and the people responsible for signing off the purchase”.
But first, you need your MVP – and what does that look like? Fadlon counsels the following components of a good MVP. It should:
- Be easy for the customer to visualise – use demos whenever possible
- Look, feel and behave as much as possible like the final product
- Be easy to modify as you get feedback from early adopters
- Use real data or data sets that are relevant to the end user.
Now in its third year, CyberASAP has seen 20 projects through their MVPs, sharing valuable experience about how to get the most out of this critically important development phase.
Customer feedback is invaluable. Using a template to record findings and feeding this back into the development process are essential. Emma Fadlon recommends the tried and tested formula of AIDA (using your demonstration to generate Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) to structure the questions and on-going validation; and using a simple ‘in-bound’ marketing approach to get the most value, asking open questions such as:
- How might this solution/product help solve the problem you are facing?
- What are the key values of this solution/product?
- Why would you not want to use this product/solution?
- What would you want us to change about our MVP (ie. which features are lacking/which are superfluous?)
Robin Kennedy adds “Think about how you might get commitment to an action – signing up for beta testing, or even a purchase. Don’t be shy – ask them how much they will pay!”
As our teams progress through CyberASAP, designed to commercialise academic ideas in the cyber security space, they will be plotting successful MVPs, guided by the experienced team at the Knowledge Transfer Network whose advice here is applicable to any company taking a new product to market.
Register your interest and find out more about the CyberASAP programme here.
* CyberASAP exists to help provide university teams with the necessary expertise and support to convert their academic ideas into commercial products and services in the cyber security landscape. Funded by the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in partnership with Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), CyberASAP is now in its third year.