Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

What is a Minimum Viable Product?

3 min read

It’s a tool for finding product market-fit (AKA when people love your product and/or want to pay you for it) Wikipedia some great info on when you’ve achieved product market fit.

It’s something you can change quickly.

According to Steve Blank “An MVP allows you to gain maximum amount of learning in the shortest amount of time”.

It’s a tool that helps you discover your early adopters, get early revenue, and gather data on the viability of your business. Whether you’re building a business to business application or a consumer facing app, an MVP is a critical tool for helping ensure you nail your startup’s business model before you invest in scaling.

Here are important aspects for discovering and building a useful Minimum Viable Product.

The prototyping team.

If you’re in a startup, chances are you’re burning through cash and that you need to move quickly from idea to revenue. Perhaps the most important aspect of any startup is it’s team. In the earliest stages, this team should consist of three types of people, the hacker, hustler, and designer. I won’t go too deep into each of these roles but it’s important to note that skills in sales and rapid prototyping are key to being able to move quickly and iterate on the design of your product during MVP development.

Build things that don’t scale.

Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, wrote an excellent article about the idea of building things that don’t scale. A common mistake entrepreneurs make is writing code too early and trying to build out a fully functional product. Depending on the market you’re attacking, you may be able to build a high-fidelity MVP that is really just a bunch of interconnected and clickable mockups. This could be enough of you to pre-sell early adopters without actually writing a single line of code.

Another option is to leverage existing services like WordPress and Google forms and create a version of your service that looks automated on the front end while in reality, you’re behind the curtain manually making the service run. The point here is to try and test whether someone will pay you to actually execute your value proposition.

Know what you’re measuring.

When I’m testing a B2B Saas business, I often use a version of the High-fidelity MVP to try and get early adopters to either sign a letter of intent or pre pay me to build the service. In this case, I’m measuring the number of customers I talk to who are actually willing to pay. However, when building say the next Twitter, you might be testing ways to drive traffic to a landing page where you’re asking people to give you their e-mail to get on a waiting list. In this case you’re measuring conversion rates and you have a pass/fail metric that will help you determine whether the MVP is a success or not.

If you aren’t measuring and capturing data with you’re MVP, you’re going to have a tough time demonstrating the evidence for why your business will be viable.


It’s important to remember that the MVP is not a final version of your product. Whether your MVP is actual code or clickable mockups, you’re not intending to keep any of the work you’re doing. You need to have mentality that the MVP is just a prototype that can be changed at anytime. This is why the prototyping team is so important at the earliest stages. You need people who move quickly and don’t get stuck in building something that’s perfect but rather something that gets you maximum learning in the shortest amount of time. When the evidence dictates you need to pivot, they’ll be ready to pull an all nighter and pump out the updated version.

But wait, How do I even decide where to start? and Can I start now with just a one person team?

In my work with startups, schools, and corporations, these are a questions I get all the time.

Start by talking to customers. If you’ve got an idea for a specific market, reach out to target users and ask them to tell you about the challenges they face. Try and focus on their pain points and then sketch out your first MVP on the back of a napkin. Then get feedback from the user. Repeat this ten times until you have a good understanding of the pain you’re trying to solve. This will help you have a much better understanding of what MVP you should try to build first.

A huge part of being an entrepreneur is being able to recruit talented people to join you. You’re constantly selling your vision and mission to potential partners and employees and asking them to give up cash and opportunity to follow you into your startup. That said, it is possible to start building your startup with just a one man team. In our One Month MVP course, I’ll dive deep into the steps you need to take to help sell, design, and build your first MVP without writing a single line of code. If you’re working alone or with the ideal prototyping team you’ll be able to use the evidence you gathered and the prototypes you build to help sell your vision to investors, partners, and you’re first customers.

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Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.