What is an MVP? We hear people throw this term around a lot, and often might nod our heads in understanding without truly understanding this critical step in your app’s success and longevity. An MVP is simply the first version of a product, where the larger idea has been stripped down into its most simple form. It will have the least amount of features necessary to be deployed in the market.

Building an MVP is critical to your app’s long term success. An MVP can be used as a tool to pressure test your idea and gather feedback, to see if your product truly works. It will allow you to test your hypothesis in the market with limited resources. You will gain important insights about your product and how it is used. This will enable you to go through the initial stages of iteration without spending tons of money. Think of this phase of product development as a learning experience. Moreover, the faster you can build your product and get to market, the sooner you can stake your claim and stamp your name on the market.

It all started in 2008.

The MVP is a core component of the Learn Startup Movement, a method that was first introduced in 2008 to help startups develop and deliver better products, faster.

Rather than spending more time (and a lot of money) on research and development and then building out a product and releasing it, this approach suggests that you first find a problem that needs to be solved, and then build a scaled down product— your MVP— and release to a small population of users. Here begins a process of continuous innovation, using feedback to both validate your product and inform your decision making. Each data point gathered will help you iterate on your product until it is ready to be distributed widely. As Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup Movement, states, at this point you will already have an established customer base!

A proven approach. 

Some of the biggest Unicorns today started out as an MVP. Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox and Snapchat all started out with an MVP which was later utilized to gather feedback, grow, and iterate their product to build the massive brands they are today.

Uber

Let’s start with Uber, or UberCab, as it was called in 2009 when it was founded.Initially, the company started as fleet of cars and an extremely simplified mobile interface that was only used by the founders and their friends. In order to gain access, you had to email one of the founders. Over time, this list of users grew and grew. The product went live in San Francisco in July of 2010, then New York in May of 2011 and then to Paris in December of that year. Since then, Uber has released a bunch of new fleets and improved features, including a standalone food delivery app just recently.

Uber, has expanded to 395+ cities across the globe and is worth upwards of $60B (the most valuable private company.) The company has gone through multiple major re-designs and has added many new features, making its transition into a full-on logistics company. With the help of an initial MVP, Uber was able to get their name in the market, build a loyal base of customers, and work out the kinks in both their interface and logistical planning with minimized risk.   

Airbnb

Airbnb, or Airbedandbreakfast as it was first called began when the founders realized that hotels in San Francisco had been overbooked during the Industrial Design Conference in 2007. The founders set up air mattresses in their living rooms and even offered breakfast to three paying guests! In August 2008, the website airbedandbreakfast.com was launched and within three years, had one million bookings!

Today, Airbnb holds over 2 million listings in 34,000+ cities and the company is valued at a whopping $25B. It has gone through multiple major re-designs, though, its focus has largely been on expansion and reinforcing its core experience rather than adding new features. The AirBnB MVP allowed the company to gather design feedback and nail down their customer path to purchase in order to optimize their workflows. Now, the app is easy to use and has a massive market-place accessed by a loyal customer base!

Dropbox

Another brand we all know, Dropbox, used their MVP to determine market size and fit while nailing down their business model. Dropbox was first founded in June 2007 as part of Y Combinator. Initially, the founders made a short video demoing how easy it was for anyone to share files across different devices. After sharing the video with their network, and around the web,   their beta sign-up list grew from 5,000 to 75,000 overnight. Talk about validating your product…

In September 2008, Dropbox was officially launched. Within 7 months, they had acquired a million users. And in 2013, Dropbox expanded into enterprise by announcing Dropbox for Business. Today, Dropbox has over 500 million users, who are saving over 1.2 billion files daily. There are also over 150,000 businesses on Dropbox for Business. The company is valued at $10B. Instead of adding any major features or re-designs, the company has focused retaining its reliability and simplicity.

Snapchat

Snapchat is a powerful example of how a simple app, with one feature, can turn into a social juggernaut. Snapchat, or Picaboo as it was first called, was founded in 2011 at Stanford University as an ephemeral photo sharing app. The founders gained initial validation after the app spread like wildfire across the campus. Also, more validation came after the same occurred at one of the founder’s cousin’s high school. They knew it was a hit. By October 2012, users were sharing 20 million photos a day. In December of that year, they introduced video sharing. In October of 2013, they released their first major feature update with Stories — 24 hour lasting photos and videos that are shared with all contacts. In 2015, they released Discover — a daily feed of content from major brands.

Today, Snapchat has over 100 million monthly active users who are viewing 8 billion videos a day and sharing 9,000 photos a second. The company is now worth $16B. Snapchat has strategically rolled out multiple key features one by one, allowing the company to explore various models of monetization without alienating their strong user base.

Making an MVP work for me

Looking at the success of these companies, the message is clear, start small and simple with an MVP. Know what problem you are solving and only include the necessary features to solve it. With an MVP built, validate your concept within a small, close community and then expand out to the larger market, iterating along the way. Expect potential changes in direction as you learn from your MVP: functionality, design, and as we can see, even your name might change based on user data. To keep users engaged as you grow, plan to incorporate and roll out new features and product extensions along the way… though make sure it doesn’t happen too early! 

Finally, don’t be discouraged by the companies today and their beautifully designed apps with interactive interfaces. Remember, they started out as an MVP too. No one remembers what UberCab is —or what it looked like— but they do know what Uber is now.

If you would like to see more old forms of today’s apps —visit uxtimeline.com or startuptimelines.org