Bootstrapping your start-up and using no outside investment is quite a romantic notion which certainly is rewarding if done the right way but it is not without its difficulties. To be successful you may consider using some lean business methods such as a minimum viable product (MVP) and then continue to fuel your growth internally through your cash flow.
A common mistake is to think of a minimum viable product as the very first version of your product that is presented to your customers. This is not the case, a MVP is a test of a value hypothesis; an idea about your customers, product, or company that is assessed in the real world by measuring the reactions of consumers. It is a learning vehicle that can glean insights about a potential product’s viability quickly and with the least amount of effort rather than being a product in its own right.
Dropbox is a great example of an MVP launch; rather than wasting time developing their product, they decided to investigate if the market was interested by releasing an explainer video. The interest in this video told them they had a potentially marketable product as 70,000 people signed up for the beta test overnight. The video ticked some key lean boxes:
• It assessed the value hypothesis
• It allowed for immediate feedback
• It conveyed the user experience at minimal cost
So if you are developing your MVP, remember Dropbox and consider creating an explainer video to tell people what your product is like. This can be accomplished cheaply using some video editing software, infographics, and some royalty free sound effects to jazz it up.
Moving away from the “minimum” aspect and towards the “viable” element you should think about what your potential customers need to know quickly and what insights you can get from the reaction to your MVP.
As you launch your MVP you probably don’t even have a product yet, so what you are selling people may not exist yet, you are just trying to assess the viability of your offering rather than push the perfect product. This is ok, as long as you have some reasonable expectation that you will be able to technically produce what you are pitching somewhere down the line.
You are assessing the viability of your idea with your MVP launch you should launch on platforms with frameworks already established to determine the effectiveness of your marketing. If you are considering an eCommerce store then set up a Shopify or Amazon shop and get some ads up and use their inbuilt monitoring features to assess viability.
When Zappos started up the founder used photos from local retailers on their website and purchased the shoes from these retailers as customers placed orders. He then drove traffic to his site through a Google Ads campaign, measured the traffic and conversion rates to test his value hypothesis which was “People will buy shoes online”.
Dropbox first gained success in their MVP launch with posts on Hacker News and Digg which struck a chord with their target demographic and told them that the product had legs due to the massive response rate. They used simple, tailored content that contained references that appealed to this target audience such as references to XKCD to get this response.
A key takeaway from this is to identify a representative sample of your target audience and present the key capabilities of your product in a way which will inspire a response; at the same time remembering that a lack of a response is not a defeat but is a lesson showing that some tweaks are required.
A minimum marketable product (MMP), on the other hand, is another minimal offering tool. It focuses on the core capabilities of a product which can be brought to market and will be used by early adopters. This is the first, functioning iteration of your product which will be seen by consumers and so the focus should be on delivering maximum value to consumers while requiring minimum investment from yourself.
Think of it as a stripped-back version of where you envision the product will be down the line, eliminating the “nice to have” features and containing only those essential, value-adding features which are necessary for the right user experience.
If customers respond positively to your MMP then fantastic, if not then do not despair; you most likely only need to make some minor tweaks. As you market your product focus on the needs of the customers you are trying to fill, telling them exactly what they need to know. Use some A/B testing during ad campaigns until you hit on that sweet spot where you start to see traction and keep analyzing.