Wesley Chang

February 28, 2017

Building the Right MVP for Your Hardware Startup

Whiteboard MVP

Building the right MVP for your hardware startup should not be rocket science.

For the most part, people understand that.

But some people are sometimes reluctant to give up their perfectionism.

I can understand that.

The thing is though, MVP doesn’t stand for Most Valuable Player (at least not for hardware startups).

MVP stands for minimal viable product for a reason.

You know?

The entire goal of an MVP is to test assumptions about a business idea and learn from those tests but only delivering the least amount of resources.

That means you need to spend the least amount of time and money to create an MVP.

Doing this allows you to easily and quickly test your idea but still save a nice chunk of resources if your product doesn’t compliment the target market.

So let’s break down the MVP to it’s most basic components so you can fully understand how to build one for your own hardware startup.

Component 1: minimal

By definition, minimal means: the least or smallest amount or quantity possible, attainable, or required.

With that in mind, you have to identify the simplest product value prop that you want your product to offer.

Knowing what this is will allow you to create an overly simplified version of your product that serves the purpose of fulfilling that single value proposition.

The key here is to not develop a product that tries to do everything.

Instead try to have one use case and expand upon it once your customers are hooked in.

A great example of this is given by Stella Fayman, cofounder of matchist, a site dedicated to matching entrepreneurs and startups to top developers.

In the article, “The ABCs of MVPs: How to Get the RIGHT Product out Faster,” she said,

“A great example of bare bones MVP is social sharing tool Buffer. For their first in a series of MVPs, they simply had a landing page with their value proposition. Initially, their goal was to see how many email addresses they could collect. After reaching their goal, they expanded their MVP another layer to include a pricing page to learn exactly how much customers were willing to pay for their product.”

buffer mvp landing page

(not Buffer’s actual MVP landing page)

This allowed Buffer to quickly test their multilayered assumptions.

For a lot of startups, a landing page is a quick and easy solution to testing your hypotheses but what if your MVP is a physical product?

Well, a physical MVP could mean an unfinished product/design.

Maybe key components have been accounted for but other areas still need improvement.

So when you have a physical MVP, and it’s functional in a sense it at least fulfills its fundamental purpose then you could set up an event.

No, not a cocktail or networking event.

But a demo event.

Invite a small group of your intended audience to check out your product during its early development stages.

Just keep in mind that the main goal isn’t to showcase a completed product with rhinestones and glitter, but rather to gather data about your product, how it fits with the market,  how it would be used by your customers and how it can be improved.

To achieve this goal, ask yourself what can be made simpler, what do you want to test, and how can you test it at lightning speed.

Component 2: viable

At the start of this article, I had said that I understand why people are reluctant to give up perfectionism.

That’s because viable means to be feasible or to get the job done. That idea, or rather that definition, has never sat right with me. I’ve always been the type to either commit to something full force and do it right, or not do it all.

But for the sake of MVPs, you’ll likely have to put all that aside to truly build the right MVP.

This means that it shouldn’t have any rhinestones or glitter, nor bells or whistles.

By definition, MVPs are fundamentally functional.

SoundFocus, for example broke up their product into multiple pieces. So instead of shipping the physical product.

They validated their product by getting their audio processing software to their customers through a mobile app. And this actually reached over 100,000 people.

Alex Selig, the CEO, said,

“With very little cost, a 2 man team, we were able to reach hundreds of thousands of people, and that data is stuff that is now influencing what were are building from the hardware perspective.”

In other words, identify the simplest way to build your product. Think about the fundamental functionality of it, and how you can analyze the use of this functionality to improve on it.

Component 3: product

This part of building an MVP is where things get a little scary. For hardware engineers, building the product is the easiest part, and for the result-driven marketing founders building a viable product is easiest.

But what often throws people off is the fact that you now have gathered enough data to build the right MVP.

That means setting goals for your product, identifying customer expectations, setting quality standards. But more than that, you have to be making sure that your MVP is reaching those goals. That it actually is going from a landing page MVP to rhinestones and glitters with a hint of bells and whistles.

But of course, you don’t actually want to start building prototype after prototype only to find out that nobody wants your product.

Instead, build the MVP based on what you think would be minimal and viable. This enables you to fully test out your idea without spending thousands of dollars on circuit boards and soldering kits.

And you can test this out with the methods mentioned or you can take things a step further and set up a landing page that collects emails from people who are interested (this will allow you to further test ideas for the product), and then you can create a simple demo video for a Facebook ad that directs the to your landing page to sign up.

Dropbox did something similar to this. In fact, here’s the link to “How Dropbox Started As A Minimal Viable Product

wow dropbox was an mvp

The Equation: 1+2+3 = MVP

So you see, each component of the MVP serves it’s own purpose. It’s really a simple process. Here’s an overview:

  1. Identify your products simplest value proposition
  2. Identify how you can test for the success/failure of that proposition
  3. Build the product but with the least amount of resources (time and money).

The problem with MVPs is that they can easily get over complicated. It’s not hard to think, “feature X needs to be added because feature Y doesn’t make sense without it.” But what it really comes down to is your products fundamental goal. What do you envision your product solving?

Your MVP should be built based on that. From there, you’ll gather the data from potential customers, add new features, and then turn it into a winning gadget.

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