MVP before the MVP
What’s the purpose of MVP?
The most important role of an MVP is to let us learn about what our users want. MVP’s should provide value to our users, but it is a secondary priority. It should provide value only after we make sure they are actually interested in that value. There is a step before the MVP.
How to quickly measure interest in your product or a new feature without even creating the product itself? There is a concept called a “Fake Door”. This approach involves some manner of pretending you have a product or service, and therefore require you to create a manual, prototype, or page that is a key component used during research.
Let’s say you would like to build and rent a tiny cabin house. Some Scandinavian designs have inspired you. You will need to find someone, an architect who could help you with the concept. DO NOT invest your hard-earned dollars for an idea you’re not sure about. There are two ways of finding out if potential customers want it:
Launch a landing page with key benefits and a screenshot and collect email addresses of people who are interested. If conversion rates of people giving their email address divided by landing page impressions are high enough, a decision is made to develop the product.
Ask potential customers if they want it. What’s considered as a healthy process in many organizations is sending a team with a new product idea to the organization’s top customers. The team then passionately describes the idea and asks for feedback. Would you use it? Would you pay for it? How much? What features do you want? If 10–15 customers show they are interested, the organization goes ahead and develops the product.
How to design fake door experiment
There are three ways to design a Fake Doors experiment:
- Landing or crowdfunding page
Launch a landing page that attempts to prove some kind of commitment on behalf of its visitors. This commitment could be asking them to pay for a product that doesn’t exist yet. Starting an IndieGoGo or Kickstarter project is a variation of evaluating such a commitment. Be aware, though, that crowdfunding attracts very specific types of audiences that might not overlap with yours.
- The button to nowhere
When you want to evaluate if people need a certain feature within an existing product, add a button or link or tap target to your product indicating that a certain capability or feature exists behind it. When users press, click, or tap it, show an indication that the feature doesn’t exist yet—a “coming soon” note or an “in progress” banner. Obviously, this technique requires you to have a product and enough visitor traffic.
- 404 testing
Launch an advertising campaign, for example, with Google Adwords or Facebook Ads. Ads included in the campaign lead to a 404 error page. You don’t need to develop anything. Your only goal is evaluating if people are interested in the product based on the ads.
WHAT I DID WAS:
- Spent a small budget on an architect to help me with creating the concept. I used Fiverr.com. Then found the local guy through the word of mouth.
- Created several high-fidelity visualizations representing my cabin near a beautiful area – a lake and woods.
- I hired professional to develop Virtual Reality model (if your budget allows).
- Designed a website with landing page using Themify.me free website theme to represent my dream cabin for rent.
- Embed the map to display multiple locations. Don’t stick to only one location – this will help to test different markets. Used the Airbnb website to find approximate addresses for your future cabin. Find the examples and see where they located.
- I drove traffic to the landing page through some paid campaigns.
- When someone fills in the booking form, you then automatically directed them to the page that explains the concept of testing the demand. I also gave a 10% discount for booking once my service is ready. You need to be transparent and compensate somehow for the effort so as not to leave a bad impression about your brand.
- Collected all data regarding: money spent on advertisement, website visits, booking forms filled, emails, customer locations etc.
Below is the screenshot of automated email that was sent out in response to booking request:
You can easily create and present two versions of a product/service and measure which one gets higher demand.
Why should you do it?
- You can get qualitative metrics to create a business forecast.
- You save a lot of time and money on creating products which your customers don’t want.
- You can collect the emails addresses of people who might be your audience to test your next ideas, prototypes, or eventually become your customer.
What do I try to accomplish with the website and VR prototype?
The main goal is to Validate the Idea. I want to get a good sense of whether people need something like what I am trying to build or not. I need to know for certain if there is demand, before I get myself in debt. The main question I try to answer is: Do people need the product or service?
To get the accurate feedback from your audience, three things need to happen:
They must know about the product. Your marketing and public relations channels must meet your audience.
They must understand the product’s value. Words, images, demos, and videos must communicate the value of the product and make potential customers feel it solves a problem or meets a need they have.
They must agree to the product’s cost. Potential customers must accept the price point and be willing to pay what you ask for the product.
Alright, I’ve got a good website and the prototype model. Visitors of my website get a good understanding of what this is and why it exists. There are bunch of photos and videos that showcase what it is. There is a blog page and “About” page which have detailed descriptions of the service. Also, VR model allows to get inside and look around. “Cool!” – some people might say. “So what?”. It’s not enough to showcase the idea, but make potential customers act. Preorders? Bookings? To avoid the “So what?” question, my potential customers must accept the price point and be willing to pay what you ask for the product. This means that I need to include the price and a way to pay – “Reserve online”.
It’s not enough just to launch a landing page, thinking it’s the right way to learn if people need you product. The problem is that the only question landing pages answer is “Are people interested enough to give us their email address?” You learn nothing about what people want or need. Humans have no idea what they need and will almost always be nice to people who ask them. It doesn’t cost them much to be nice and say it’s a great idea.
So what will be a good idea validation indicator? What needs to happen, so I can tell for certain – “Yes, people do want my product!”? The answer is – the ratio between how many people showed interest in the product/feature and the number of people who got exposed to the message about it. “Showed interest” means they either paid to buy the product, funded it, clicked the button to nowhere, or clicked through an ad. In my case it was “Reserve Now” button. People who were interested, would pick dates, location and reserve the stay. I will be assessing the ratio between visitors and bookings requests. The lower the ratio – the better.
What ratio will I consider “good enough” to go ahead and start building the product? Anything above 5. This means that out ever 100 visitors, I will want to see at least 20 bookings. In this case, I will be confident to say: “There is a demand for my service! Let’s build it!”. Anything below 5, will make me question my idea: “Do people really need it? Not sure…”.
Also very important to have the “right visitors”. You have to measure the demand among you target audience, not just anybody. Otherwise the results will be screwed and will not represent the real picture.
After you have collected data, it’s time to evaluate, make an informed decision, iterate, and move on. When the threshold you’ve set in advance is crossed, or if participants are very enthusiastic about your offering, these are all great signals that potential customers recognize the value of your product, feature, or service and that they want it. This serves as validation, and you can go ahead to make progress with developing a product prototype.
In most cases, though, you will find that your assumptions are invalidated. You learn that your idea has failed. Potential customers don’t provide any clear signal they want your product. This is where a lot of entrepreneurs, product managers, and startup founders make bad decisions. Many of them decide to ignore what they learned and still chase their passion for making a product out of their idea.
Research is to help inform your intuition. Sometimes, it’s the audience that you need to pivot, not the product. In any case, be sure to make a decision based on data you collect, then implement it, and experiment again. Iterate and test again. When you get frustrated that people don’t want your product, then change and test it—that’s innovation, design thinking, and user experience.
Fake door — The MVP before the MVP | Hacker Noon. (2017). Retrieved 10 January 2021, from https://hackernoon.com/fake-door-the-mvp-before-the-mvp-61197ed264a3
Research, V. (2021). Validating Product Ideas Through Lean User Research :: UXmatters. Retrieved 10 January 2021, from https://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2016/02/validating-product-ideas-through-lean-user-research.php
Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown Business, 2011.