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How to build that MVP
MVP is a process rather than a product. For the journey towards achieving it, founders need to have a dynamic roadmap
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From darkness to light
The beginning of any business lies in an idea. Some founders come by this idea through their own experiences, some have a spark of inspiration.
It can be a problem that has a solution which needs to be perfected. Or it can be something that nobody thought was a problem in the first place. But before responding to this idea with a product, founders need to validate to find out if customers even want a solution to the problem they are trying to solve.
For the first-time founder, there are often more questions than answers. Is there a step-by-step process to go about this? Do you approach a small set of customers for special access, or do you build a test group based on references? How does one decide they are on the right track?
The answer lies in a foggy but rather important concept. Building a minimum viable product (MVP). A simple analogy is thinking of this as the base on which your skyscraper will be built. We're not architects, but it stands to reason that the base, that first block which supports a huge structure, has to be built right. Knowing how to build this base, and doing it right is important because it forms the foundation of everything that comes after. It’s difficult to pivot once you’re on, say, floor 2 of this 20-story skyscraper. The MVP defines not just the capital a company can raise but also the team the founder can hire.
So we spoke to Jatin Bhasin, the Chief Product Officer at Axio, to figure out the process better. He's previously worked at SAP Labs and FICO, and has some fascinating insights on how to think about building and iterating the MVP.
“Building your vision is a journey and you need to know which part of the journey you are in,” says Jatin.
Start with the ‘Feature-Problem Fit’
Getting to MVP, or to PMF, is not like going from zero to one. It is a process and a journey. For which you will need an itinerary. There are several models but Jatin recommends looking at Shreyas Doshi’s understanding of the process as a guide.
Credit: Shreyas Doshi’s conception of PMF as a dynamic state rather than a static one (via LinkedIn)
First thing to look for is the feature-problem fit. “That boils down to your intent for starting up. You should be able to articulate what you are doing and why,” Jatin says. According to him, founders usually take one of three types of approaches to develop their business idea:
Spot a problem: You fix a problem in a specific space, in which you have experience or you spot a need. “For example, Hyperverge saw that fintech companies were struggling to scrape KYC information from documents so they built a SaaS product to simplify that,” Jatin observes.
Improve a solution: Alternatively, you see that there is an existing solution but you have a way to make it 10x better. That is, you offer a clearly differentiated solution.
Co-exist in a large market: As a third option, you can solve for a market where many solutions have the opportunity to thrive. “In these cases, the market is so large that even with only a few differentiated elements, many players can share significant chunks of share.” Jatin gives the example of banking, where Kotak and HDFC, among others, can each enjoy a big market cap.
If you are struggling to articulate your intent, Jatin suggests two exercises that “will force you to define it and push you into the execution mindset.”
Write a one-page PR pitch about your product, as if it is going to launch tomorrow. Can you explain the concept to a layperson reading the Economic Times? “Sounds easy, but it is not. Founders are in the habit of creating but not in the habit of writing it down in crisp and clear terms,” notes Jatin. At an early stage, this activity can reveal more to you about your own idea.
You can also do long-range forecasting, which is creating a high level plan for a number of years, saying how you will roll out products, when, and for which target group, etc. This also compels you to outline your vision. Have an operational plan here, where you as founder define what you want to achieve in a year, and also how feasible it is on a tech level.
Another useful way to work towards MVP is through the ‘product-zeitgeist fit’. “You are basically looking at ‘What is the vibe’? ‘What do people want, what are they expecting’?” Jatin says. The demand is so immediate and strong, you can respond with a product and build on top of that. “When you are creating such a product, which has PZF, you learn as you try it out and you get more room to fail, fix it, go back.”
For instance, remember when everyone was struggling to book appointments during the Covid-19 vaccination drives, so some developers made scripts on Python to help get past system hiccups? That, Jatin says, is a simple example of PZF, where the moment provided momentum for a solution.
When the PZF is strong with your product, there are two routes you can take as a founder. To design or not to design, is the question. Because it is a high-utility product, you can decide to focus on the use case more than the look. Or, regardless of your product being high-utility or in an overserved market, you can use design to aim for differentiation.
“Whichever route you pick, you will have to keep listening to the customer and keep perfecting the offering.”
Time to find the Product-Problem Fit
Before developing and perfecting the product, you first need to validate your idea. The best time for this is the early stage, of course, as Jatin says. He throws light on how to do this.
“Show and tell,” says Jatin. You must take the product to the end user. If you are a B2B company, that means constantly talk to the founders. The kind of insights you can get from them is invaluable. They use the product in a way you had not imagined, they create their own solutions around your product even without knowing about all the solutions you have built into the product.
Also interview. Another technique is to make a team of two, where one person interviews the user while the other silently takes notes. “The takeaways the two have from the conversation can be entirely different and that often leads to illuminating discussions,” in Jatin’s experience.
If it is a B2C product, interview a closed user group of friends and family, he recommends.
Whichever method you choose, you will find unexpected insights. Sometimes people use the product in ways you did not intend, Jatin finds. “They build their own solutions around the product that may be different from the solutions you have built into it, all of which makes for great learning.”
This is also a good time to start setting up your analytics tool with a framework and metrics.
A word of caution from Jatin is that you should not get too caught up with the results at the early stage because the sample set is too small then.
“All this will prepare the groundwork for the mid to late stage, where the tools will help you manage customer acquisition and engagement.”
Fine-tune and let it work seamlessly
How much cash do you spend on the journey to MVP? “As little as possible,” says Jatin. When do you start monetizing? “Have a marker for when you will offer promotions and when you will stop.”
Use discounts, cashback, or freebies, etc. initially, only for a customer to feel incentivized to try your product, he suggests. “But make sure that once they try it, they will like it and become paying customers. Think of how Uber or Ola went about onboarding users.”
The next phase in the progress toward your vision is the product-segment fit. This is when your product starts working for a large set of customers.
Finally, you will work towards solution-market fit, i.e. expand your target to include multiple segments and multiple industries.
The world is your oyster at this point. You can enter a new market, add more features, or add more products. “Each of these involves creating new playbooks,” Jatin reminds.
Looking at MVP in phases helps make your vision clearer and smoother. Even once you get there, you have to keep fine-tuning the product so that it works seamlessly. Buckle up for the fit-finding journey because the navigation never really stops.
What Together has been up to?
It was Diwali month and there were things happening.
Don’t fall into traps: We’ve been trying to help founders with their US GTM motion for a few months now. This was a new one where our colleague Avinash spoke to Sudheer Koneru of Zenoti on traps to avoid while shifting to the US. A must read.
Buidl Together: Last month we introduced the first half of our web3 cohort, this is our second. There are some very interesting companies being built out of India. These companies did a YouTube stream where they showcased their products.
We even hosted these companies for a pre-Diwali party in Bangalore.
We have another newsletter: Our colleague Pratyush, not to be left behind, has started his own newsletter where he speaks to devtool pros. Subscribe.
A little social media popcorn
When do you lean towards channel partners?
Manav put a crazy resource list for B2B sales.
Failure has its own lessons.
That’s it from us for this time. Subscribe if you haven’t and stay tuned. We have a very interesting guest and topic coming up next month. See you then.
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