Startups need to get their products to the market faster than ever in an increasingly competitive world. The minimum viable product a.k.a. MVP is the way to achieve this, but you must be able to provide the right key features that differentiate and give value to customers to attract clients and investors before the market moves on.
We’ve gathered these 15+ examples of successful MVPs to show what startups should focus on when it comes to developing that key MVP feature set.
All Facebook's (or Thefacebook as it was called when they launched) MVP did was connect students together via their college or class and let them post messages to their boards. The idea already existed in Friends Reunited and other social platforms, but the simplicity of Facebook’s approach and the traction it gained in the virulent world of college graduates proved unstoppable. This allowed almost all of the features that came after to build on that success.
Vouchers and discounts are old concepts, but Groupon took the idea of sharing and socializing them to new heights. It launched with a simple WordPress site and regular PDFs emailed to early subscribers. The test proved successful, and the company then built its voucher system and backend, driving it to a great success.
Cutting out the middleman and providing short-term renting is the key mission statement behind Airbnb. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia lived in a loft apartment in San Francisco and had difficulties with paying their rent. That's when they decided to give it a try and fulfill one of their dreams to start a business. To test the idea they provided accommodation for those who came to town to attend a design conference. Brian and Joe took a few pictures of their loft, created a simple web page and soon enough had 3 paying guests. Airbnb expanded organically, with founder Paul Chesky living exclusively in Airbnbs to dog food the product.
Games and social media sit easily together now, but were once two very different streams. Zynga’s original product was a poker game that almost anyone could have made. Going live on Facebook made the difference and helped the team raise venture capital to fund titles like Farmville, which would drive it to a huge success. This is a proof that sometimes your MVP isn’t about the product, but the platform it ends up on.
The smartwatch market is slowly gaining traction, but Pebble proved that cramming massive amounts of tech into a coin-sized space isn’t a prerequisite for success. Its e-paper-based original design raised $10 million on Kickstarter, with backers proving the concept was something people really wanted. The company demonstrated repeatability with the Pebble Time raising over $20 million in 2015. Yes, Pebble retired from the market last year, but it proved with millions of sales that not everyone needs the fastest and latest tech.
Amazon started off selling books online, challenging the Barnes and Nobles of this world who were largely stuck in the bricks-and-mortar age. Focusing on the books at a low prices angle in 1994 with a simplistic web design was all it took for the company to grow and branch out to become the retail leviathan it is today.
What if you can’t get inventory for your site? Zappos's founder Nick Swinmurn went into shoe retailing with no stock. He took photos of shoes he wanted to sell in stores and if customers ordered them, he then physically purchased the product and sold them on. That’s a great way to test a market if you don’t have access to the product, but have an MVP model you think will succeed.
This craft-focused site let eBay do the proof of concept and then found an audience that needed their own MVP to resonate with. Craft sales have boomed since, as Etsy focused on small bespoke crafters and their products. All based on seeing where eBay succeeded and where it let sellers down.
Dropbox decided to go even further and didn’t make any product at all. Instead, they pretended they had it ready by creating an explainer video. They wanted to check if their file-syncing idea is anywhere close to being interesting to people. They could've built a whole hardware infrastructure, develop apps and so on, but that was a risk they weren't willing to take. If the idea would have failed, Dropbox founders Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston would lose priceless time, a lot of effort and money. Overnight they attracted over 70k of people who left their emails and wanted to get the products as soon as possible. I don’t need to tell you how it ended, do I? ;)
For those who might not be familiar with Buffer - it’s a social media tool that lets you schedule posts on different social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ or Instagram. The CEO of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne, decided that he doesn’t want to build a product that no one's going to use. So they did something similar to what Dropbox did, just instead of a video, they created a landing page that would present the idea of Buffer product to visitors, show them different pricing and features. If someone was convinced enough to proceed with purchasing the product and picked one of the available plans - they’d get a screen informing them that Buffer was not fully ready yet, but they could subscribe to the waiting list. Later, Buffer used emails they received to talk to those people and ask them about their expectations etc. This approach helped them to build a product the market actually wanted.
Twitter, a widely popular social media platform, is a matter of completely different approach. After Apple released iTunes, a podcasting platform Odeo was going through tough times that forced them to organize hackathons in order to decide what to do next. During one of the hackathons they came up with an idea to create an SMS-based messaging platform. It was initially called “twttr” and was supposed to be an internal-use-only product, but employees were spending hundreds of dollars on SMS to post to the platform. That showed to the founders of Odeo that the idea of “twttr” might be exactly what they were looking for.
One of the great examples of a single-featured MVP is a location-based social platform - Foursquare. Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai weren’t new to the business world. Before they founded Foursquare they had developed another similar platform - Dodgeball, which was eventually sold to Google. So when they moved to a new project they knew exactly what they should be doing. Dennis and Naveen started building an MVP with limited functionalities. It allowed you to check-in into different locations and would award you with different badges as a part of their gamification process. Only after the MVP became successful they added more features, transforming it into a sophisticated city guide.
Spotify is another great example of how implementing only one core feature, instead of getting distracted by different cool features it would be nice to have in your MVP, can help you to succeed. They wanted to build the best music streaming service and for their MVP they concentrated on a single most important feature - music streaming. Spotify developed a desktop app and run a closed beta to test the market. While the MVP product and a freemium price model was proving to be exactly what people wanted, Spotify team spent time on signing even more artists, simultaneously developing mobile apps and going overseas to conquer the US market.
You might be surprised, but if you didn’t follow Uber’s history since the very beginning, you might not know that back in 2010 Uber wasn’t what you’d expect it to be. Uber’s MVP did one simple thing: connected drivers with iPhone owners in San Francisco who weren't scared to have credit card payments enabled in an unknown app. It was enough to fulfill their main goal: offer taxi services as cheap as possible. The Uber we know now is a result of a right approach to business scaling and a successful MVP test.
Surprised to see iPhone on the list? Well, you shouldn’t be. When Apple released their first version of the iPhone, it was lacking many basic functionalities. Copy-paste, for example. And I’m not talking about copying an image or a photo, you couldn’t even copy text. Next, search. Searching for your colleague's email address shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Just put their name in the search field and… wait… there’s no search field? Yes, that was a reality for iPhone users. More than that, if you’d like to send an email and would start typing your friend's address you’d expect some suggestions to pop up. Well… Not in your iPhone, tho. And I’m not done yet.
Do you like to be able to send a nice picture of a squirrel you met in a park on your way home to your partner? That would, of course, be really nice, but your iPhone doesn’t handle MMS… And iPhone 2G wouldn’t be able to help you either. Still no MMS... Okay, fine, since I’m not able to send an MMS, I’m gonna enjoy my walk home with some music on. And I really hate wires, so it’s time for my amazing Bluetooth headphones. Let’s rock it! Hm, how do I connect tho? What do you mean there’s no Bluetooth? Every smartphone has Bluetooth! Every, except your iPhone.
And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on Apple’s products. I love them, I really do. I just want to show you that you don’t have to build every single feature in your product’s MVP. Build the core, test if the market really needs it. If such titans as Apple are not willing to gamble, you definitely shouldn’t.
AngelList - a platform developed to help startups raise money and connect with investors, now also an employee recruiting platform. When Babak Nivi and Naval Ravikant founded AngelList in January 2010, they tested their service idea by doing simple email intros to investors using their broad network of contacts. After they saw there was a potential in their solution they were able to come up with a plan to scale it.
Ryan Hoover, the founder of ProductHunt, wanted to build a community for people who'd like to share their products and discuss with other members. But developing a fully-function web platform or app would require weeks if not months and Ryan wasn't even sure if people wanted it. Maybe he was the only person interested in having such a community. To test his idea, he decided to start with an MVP. Ryan used a tool called Linkydink - it allowed creating a group for link sharing among its members. he then proceded and added his startup friends and used a bit of PR and social media to promote his idea.
Withing first two weeks, Ryan's 20-minute MVP attracted over 170 people who wanted to share their ideas or discover new products.
There are many ways to achieve success in business, but MVP, in my opinion, is a go-to solution, especially for startups, due to a lack of huge funds behind their back. Small companies are also on the frontier of innovation because they don't have as much procedural or formal limitations as huge corporations.
That's why you shouldn't be scared of testing your ideas. Even the craziest one may be not that crazy after all.
If you know other examples you think we should add to our list, feel free to post them in the comments below.