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Building MVP for non tech products

One of the biggest issues I have been seeing with startups is the neglected implementation of MVP. This seems to be much more difficult when the product or service is non-technical. For a technical product, we can start with bare minimum features and can keep adding stuff based on the customer feedback. What about manufacturing or a service based startup?

Before getting into this discussion, I have also seen a huge resistance among the entrepreneurs not to show their product to prospective customers in a half-baked status. This is somehow associated with their professional pride and they are unwilling to embarrass themselves with such a thing. This is driving many of them to spend huge amounts of money in product engineering without any feedback from the market. This is dangerous and needs to be addressed. The main reason probably is the assumption that MVP is the same as global launch. It is not and should not be. The website or app would be exposed to a limited number of users who can be contacted for feedback and to understand their perception of the value proposition.

Coming to the manufacturing model, the entrepreneur can always get the product assembled or made to order. I know many startups who are getting things made to order in small quantities, to test the market. This removes the complete hassle of setting up a manufacturing unit,

If an entrepreneur wants to offer a service using an app or a platform for market aggregation, he must first offer this service to a small captive market. This is where all the assumptions about operations will get clarified. What is the price point the customers are willing to pay? What kind of SLAs are acceptable? Who is going to actually do the work and deliver the service? These are not paid enough attention by some of these startups.

One startup came to me asking for funding having built an online grocery store. I have asked them if they have delivered to any customers. They said no. But they want to go for a big launch. I was suggesting them to consider taking orders from one of the gated communities and delivering to them the value proposition first. They were not interested. I don't know why these guys assume that investors will put in their money for large publicity exercises without having delivered to a single customer.

One more big confusion is about the idea being stolen by the competition. This is another misplaced assumption. If the idea is so flimsy and can be easily copied by anyone else, it can happen post-launch anyway. No amount of campaign is going to drive customer adoption through the roof before the competition catches us and improves the product further. It is a race anyway. The brand loyalty is driven by the execution model, not by the idea itself.

In fact, I feel that doing an MVP for a service is much easier. All we need is a small captive market where we have access and then just try and deliver the service there. This has two advantages. The first is that we can establish the value proposition clearly with the target customers. The second is that the operational model will get clarified. This will further help in improving the value proposition as well as the technology solution which will help in demand aggregation.

One of my entrepreneur friends wanted to build a product. His entire business plan was asset heavy due to the manufacturing costs. After the discussion about sample production and MVP, he went and found three existing manufacturers who can provide the basic product. The only task left for him now is to add the service elements and demonstrate the value proposition.

Minimum Viable Product is exactly that. It is minimal, it is viable to demonstrate the value proposition and it is deliverable to a sample set of customers. As someone said it, we need to build products for the customers rather than finding customers for our products. That is like going around with a square peg trying to fit it into every possible hole.


Sridhar Chakravarthi Mulakaluri

Author of Multiplier 19, Startup Coach and people developer

My vision is a world without poverty. My mission is to develop people into entrepreneurs to generate more jobs and livelihoods. I have been coaching the entrepreneurs and helping startups and small businesses find their feet since 2007, in India, Europe and Africa. Most of the entrepreneurs struggle with various challenges during their startup phase I help them with appropriate solutions. I have been the national Coordinator for Indian Startups Network for the past 18 months and have been helping hundreds of Entrepreneurs in many ways. I have been working for 26 years in various domains and verticals and have played multiple leadership roles. I have launched two businesses earlier and am presently working on a new social business. I am working with a few educational institutions for setting up startup incubators.