Before you MVP

We get approached often by many early stage startups who are super excited, ready to put down some cash, and feel ready to build out their initial MVP (minimum viable product). They have spent a lot time thinking about a problem they want to solve, planning, prototyping, getting positive feedback from their inner circle, and even designing out initial ideas. Now they are seeking help to make their vision come to life.

At thoughtbot we want to reduce your risk of failure as much as possible. We need to know that you have done enough research on your business idea before you waste valuable time and money building something that people don’t want. Here are some of the questions we ask when talking with early stage entrepreneurs to see if they are MVP ready.

How many customers have you interviewed (not just your friends)?

You don’t need a prototype to validate that your problem is something people want solved. You need to go out and talk to real people and find out. The best way to do that is by conducting customer interviews. It is well worth your while to interview about 50 potential customers. This will offer you enough information to see some significant patterns and areas of validation. If you have the time to do this on your own, here is a great guide on how to conduct your own customer interviews. If you want good results faster, we recommend working with a user research team that can help facilitate these interviews. This could be done in about a one to two-week engagement.

What you will learn:

  • More understanding of your potential customers in their own voice
  • Validation or invalidation that this is a problem worth solving
  • Key customer insights (top opportunities, pain points, behaviors, and motivations)
  • Qualitative and quantitative evidence you can share with advisors and investors
  • A clear direction on where to focus first

Have you done your competitive analysis?

How much do you really know about your competitive landscape, and have you documented what you know? It is easiest to share this information with others if it is collected in a spreadsheet. This is a living document that you can update as you grow and adjust your business plans. A simple way to start is by copying this basic template. For more information about conducting your own competitive research, here is a great reference from

What you will learn:

  • Who your top 3 competitors are
  • Opportunities where you can provide a better service than them
  • Benchmarks of where you need to be and/or surpass
  • Direction on where you can enter the market

What is your 20-year plan?

Have you taken the time to look long-term and consider what impact your idea will have in the future? It is important to write down your goals on paper or post-it notes and see them out in the open. The best way to do this is in five-year increments. This will allow you to see where you really want to be heading and what you think it will take to get you there. This is the time to dream big and then walk it back to the real, tangible goals you need to meet in order to get there.

What you will learn:

  • How you can measure success
  • Immediate goals to address now
  • Critical milestones
  • Are you in it for the long-term?

Are you legit?

Do you have what it takes to really implement your business idea? What raw materials are necessary to legitimize your product (e.g. expertise, data, network, secret sauce, process, equipment, etc)?

In the beginning you may not even know what these components could be nevermind how much of them you need to legitimize your idea. The best way to find out is conducting both expert interviews and customer interviews to hone in on how to make your product credible. You can start this research on your own and then bring in a team of experts to help you facilitate a product design sprint to see how best to execute on your findings

What you will learn:

  • The minimum requirement needed to validate your product idea
  • What matters to experts in the field
  • What is important to consumers in order to build trust

Answering these questions ahead of developing an MVP will reduce your risk of failure. Working with a qualified user research team can help you get there faster and provide you with invaluable insights, ultimately pointing you in the right direction and helping you invest in smart decisions.