As many of you reading this know, a minimum viable product or MVP is the most basic version of your product idea—with none of the bells and whistles—that allows you to get feedback from users (it’s also super low-cost or free to produce). For example, for Purple Prize 2019 company, Mauka Marketplace, their MVP for a digital marketplace was actually a physical pop-up market, which in comparison is much less expensive to run. The pop-up market allowed them to build their user base on both sides of the marketplace (vendors and customers) and gain a bunch of insights about what vendors and customers want. It also allows them to gain more clarity about who their target customers are so that they can design the next iteration of the MVP.
Now that they know who their target customer is and a bit more about what they want, they can improve their MVP to an iteration of their product that everyone will like more, OR they can choose to create an MLP, a still minimal version of their product that their target customer will love.
The transition from MVP to MLP is really a mindset shift: It’s going from “let’s put something out there that accomplishes the goal of addressing problem X” to “let’s put something out there that your target customer can’t live without.” It’s going from wide/shallow to narrow/deep.
But aren’t I supposed to be amassing as many users as possible? Sure, but once a competing product goes to market, what’s holding those users back from switching over?
By creating an MLP, you’re going down a path where you might not initially build a huge customer base, but what you will have is a customer base that’s loyal— which is way more valuable in the long run than a big user base up front. Why? Loyal customers will act as advocates, help you market, and give you great feedback, steering your product down a path of consistent growth.
However, you should take some intentional precautions when making this mindset shift. For example, “Listen to your users — but don’t take their word as gospel.” First Round Capital’s blog post “Building a Minimum Viable Product is Like Serving Burnt Pizza — Build Lovable Products Instead” has some great tips on best practices for MLP design and management.
To recap, you should always start with an MVP — a cheap, basic version of your product that allows you to start getting feedback from your users — but rather than iterating on your product to serve more users with the goal of increasing user numbers, try to refine the product in a way that satisfies what the smaller core group of users really want. Doing that will get your users to love your product, create loyalty, and a path to consistent growth. Taking the MLP route may also save you money, as well.
Director, Purple Prize