7 New Ways to Test Your Minimum Viable Product

Aja Frost

If you first heard about “lean methodology” in 2011, when serial entrepreneur Eric Ries coined the term, you probably thought it referred to Jenny Craig or the Paleo diet, not a set of principles for keeping costs low and delivering products as quickly as possible.

Now, of course, thousands of startups, as well as many big businesses, are “lean” (or at least, they claim to be.)

But even if you’re constantly iterating and innovating, don’t forget the most crucial component of the process: testing your MVP.

Here are seven new ways to see whether your product will resonate with the market.

1. Wizard of Oz

This test involves a little bit of trickery. Your customers or users believe they’re experiencing the true product, but you’re doing all the behind-the-scenes work manually.

Not only can you see whether you’ve got a desirable good or service before you actually build it, but you can also identify the pain points of that good or service.

Jason Boehmig, co-founder of Ironclad, relied on this strategy when developing the company’s eponymous software. Ironclad is an automated legal assistant, helping companies get paperwork and contracts completed much more efficiently. In the beginning, however, there was no technology; Boehmig, a former lawyer, was finding documents, requesting signatures, and filling out everything by hand.

He said this exercise showed him exactly what Ironclad’s software needed to do. Plus, the excitement of the original customers proved that Ironclad filled a real need.

2. Fake Door

If you’ve already got a customer base, using the fake door test is a fantastic way to gauge whether they’ll be interested in a new product or feature.

That’s what online marketplace CustomMade did. The team was thinking about introducing the option to save other users’ projects for inspiration. Instead of developing the functionality and then seeing if it was popular, they simply added the “Save” button. Just the button—there still wasn’t a save feature.

A vast percentage of site visitors clicked the button, so CustomMade built the entire capability.

The good news: You don’t need to have a website to employ this strategy. It also works if you’ve got a large social media following. Build a landing page for the product, share it on your networks using customized links, and track the click-through rate. This exercise will tell you how many of your followers would be interested in buying or signing up.

(Oh, and that landing page? Make sure you write something along the lines of “Coming Soon!”, so people don’t get too confused or frustrated.)

3. Audience Building

The most famous example of audience building is probably Product Hunt. After realizing there was no easy way to find the coolest new tech gadgets and products, Ryan Hoover started an email newsletter called “Product Hunt”.

It took him just 20 minutes. Even better? Only 14 days later, Hoover already had 130 subscribers, many of whom were Silicon Valley influencers.

Now, Product Hunt is valued at $22 million.

Copying Product Hunt’s approach is fairly simple. Pick a low-cost (preferably free) method of building a virtual community (Slack, a newsletter, a Facebook group, etc.) that’s tied to your end product.

For example, let’s say you want to build a platform that connects college students looking for portfolio work with businesses looking for freelance interns, as my brilliant friend Lauren Holliday has done with Freelanship. To test the market for Freelanship, Lauren could have first started an informal “matchmaking” service for millennials and startups. The more interest this service garnered, and the more people signed up, the more confident Lauren would be that she could make it a real business.

4. Micro-Surveys

The problem with surveys? They’re unreliable. Between survey fatigue, low response rates and sampling bias, and non-actionable results, it’s easy for a survey to go wrong, and hard for it to go right.

Luckily, you can avoid most, if not all, of those pitfalls with micro-surveys. A micro-survey is just one or two questions long. Thanks to the brevity, your users or customers are extremely likely to take it. Plus, it’s also very targeted, so your data will be relevant.

Let’s say you’re building your MVP for a cloud data security dashboard, and you want to know if your customers would like a Dropbox integration. When you’re running user tests, ask every single person who tries to upload a document:

“Do you use Dropbox?”

If yes, ask:

“How would you use a Dropbox integration?”

Make your micro-survey questions specific but open-ended. In addition to pop-ups, you can also deliver your micro-surveys via email or a redirect page on your website.

5. Competition Analysis

There are already people testing your hypotheses for free: your competitors. You should look at their product(s) and ask yourself two things:

  • What’s the rationale for X feature?
  • What’s the rationale for the lack of Y feature?

Imagine that you’re creating an app for listening, sharing, and discovering podcasts. You’d definitely want to look at the Apple Podcast app, Overcast, and Stitcher. After exploring these apps, your notes might look like:

  1. What’s the rationale for Overcast’s “Smart Speed” feature, which cuts out long pauses? Most likely answer: Dead air makes people more likely to stop listening in the middle of a podcast. This feature probably increases Overcast’s engagement.

  2. What’s the rationale for Apple’s lack of a playlist feature? Most likely answer: Podcasts are much longer than individual songs. Listeners probably don’t need to organize the specific episodes they’re going to listen to in advance. Plus, unlike music, you normally only play a podcast once.

This exercise will help you make educated decisions about what—and what not—to include in your own product. Of course, you don’t want to assume that just because your rivals are using a specific approach, you should use that approach too. If you identify a feature that’s not included but should be, you should obviously build it into your MVP.

6. Crowdfunding

Many of these tests require some capital. Fortunately, there’s a way to test your MVP that not only can be run with zero capital, it’ll actually generate you some cash: crowdfunding.

Choose a platform (Kickstarter and Indiegogo are probably your best bets), create a prototype or demo video, and see the reaction you get.

Unlike a normal crowdfunding campaign, you don’t want to do everything in your power to incentivize backers. After all, this is a test to see whether a market for your idea exists naturally.

7. Software Tests

There are tons of software options out there for validating your MVP. I’d use these to complement (rather than replace) your other testing mechanisms.

QuickMVP offers a one-stop shop, enabling you to record and analyze your customer interviews, build and test landing pages, and calculate metrics such as market size and profit margin.

OpenHallway lets you create test scenarios and record user results. This app is great for learning how your users interact with your MVP, if your user flow has any issues, and which features people find most appealing.

Five Second Test helps you gather first impressions of your landing page, brochure, logo, marketing material, or home page.

If you’re looking for a wireframing or prototyping tool, check out [Justinmind, InVision, or Balsamiq].

These seven techniques will help you test for product-market fit without wasting valuable time or resources.