Fake Door MVP: what it is and should you use it

For the past two weeks, we’ve been learning about the benefits of developing an MVP and the common mistakes made by many new founders in the process. Before I proceed with how you should approach building an MVP, let’s tackle one more subject. Something that requires the least amount of resources and time but can provide an important feedback while testing whether the market actually needs your product. The Fake Door MVP.

What’s a Fake Door MVP

Fake Door testing is essentially an MVP before an MVP and is a powerful tool for testing the waters before investing into any kind of design or development works. It is exactly what the name implies. The embodiment of ‘fake it till you make it’, meaning you don’t actually build anything, but you make people believe you do.

Now, if you think that this is a little deceitful, then this approach might not be an option for you, although you’re not actually harming anyone, not taking anything of value from them. You are simply allowing them to show whether or not they have an interest in your product.

Fake Door MVP is usually just a landing page that describes what your app is doing, as if you have it already, and either asks for people to join a waiting list, which might be less effective, or shows them the pricing before telling them the product is not ready just yet.

Buffer is a great example of how to do Fake Door testing right.

They put up a landing page that showcased how users can use Buffer for Twitter automation and put a button that was supposed to lead to the ‘Plans & Pricing’ page, but didn’t actually do what it was supposed to.

Nowadays, the number of people willing to leave their email address will most likely be low, but what you’ll get is the clicks on that button, which can help you estimate the initial interest.

Next, once you can see there’s an interest, you can add pricing and see how people react. Besides the fact that you’ll see if people are actually interested in paying, you’ll also be able to test your pricing model.

As a result of using the Fake Door landing page, you’ll be able to gather very important data on the demand for your product as well as start building your brand, generating traffic and slowly building a user base of early adopters.

Another strategy for doing Fake Door testing is by using a zero code mobile app builders. Some of the products available on the market allow you to make a PWA app using a simple Google Spreadsheet. An app built this way isn’t capable of doing the majority of things that an actual mobile app does, but you can use it to show that the product is real and is in progress.

I used the latter approach when I had an idea for an app, but didn’t want to spend any money due to being unsure whether there was a market for it. After a couple of hours of clicking, I had an app that looked decent enough for me to go to my potential customers (restaurant and bars) and show it to them as if it was something built by an entire team. Turns out they liked it and were even willing to become my first clients when it’s ready. And although it was a good starting point, further market research proved it wasn’t scalable, so I dropped it. $0 was spent to validate the idea.

Which type of Fake Door works better in your case is up to you to decide, but nonetheless it’s an amazing tool for your pre-MVP testing.

Pros of Fake Door MVP

  • Little to no risk due to you being able to do the necessary work in a couple of hours
  • Helps you find out whether there’s a market demand for your product
  • Good for testing your pricing model
  • Simple way of attracting early adopters', so you can start building relationships with them straight away
  • Keeps you from wasting your resources on products that will most likely fail
  • Provides you with additional understanding of your business idea, potential opportunities as well as threats

Cons of Fake Door MVP

  • The gathered data won’t show a 100% accurate picture and thus badly interpreted can make you bin the idea that is essentially good but was just inadequately tested
  • Poorly executed can damage your brand and your credibility

Companies that used Fake Door MVP approach

Zappos Fake Door MVP

Buffer wasn’t the only well-established company that used Fake Door testing. In my article on 15+ examples of successful MVPs I mention Nick Swinmurn’s approach to building Zappos (one of the largest American online shoe and clothing retailer, later purchased by Amazon). He wanted to build a shoe-selling website without having any stock at all. Nick would take pictures of shoes in random retail stores, put them on the website as if they were in stock and when someone made a purchase, Nick’d go to the actual store, purchase it there and then send it to his customers, often making a loss instead of a profit.

Dropbox Fake Door MVP

Dropbox is a pure example of a Fake Door MVP, because they didn’t even sell anything. They created an explainer video, showcasing how their in-development app is supposedly working, put it on their landing page and gathered over 70 thousand emails overnight. Overnight! The rest is, of course, history.

Here’s that video, if you’re curious:

Product Hunt Fake Door MVP

Product Hunt, an extremely popular platform for discovering new products, also didn’t start with as a full-blown system. Ryan Hoover, its founder, used a tool called Linkydink to create a simple group for link sharing, added a few of his friends, promoted it on social media and voilà, after two weeks he had 170 active users who wanted to share and discover new products.

Epilogue

As this goes to show, using Fake Door testing for your MVP could be a simple yet efficient way of testing your idea in order to decide whether it is worth investing more time and money into it.

Next week, we’ll dive into failed MVP examples and try to learn a few lessons from someone else's experience.

And as always, if you’re working on an MVP right now and have questions, feel free to drop me a line at ross@softwarebrothers.co. I’ll do my best to help you untangle your case. Cheers!