Fill a Need, Fast: Creating Your Minimum Viable Product

Editor’s note: You’re about to read an extract from our new book “Product Mindset”. You can get the full book here.

You’ve probably heard the word “MVP” before, it’s a popular buzzword, but this article seeks to disperse some of the fog that hangs over this concept. An MVP or “Minimum Viable Product” is the quickest and most efficient way for you to fulfill your value proposition, normally used for the purposes of gathering feedback and testing the effectiveness of your concept. MVPs are subjective, and it’s not always clear where to start, or what principles your team is going to use to guide your product along with these roadmaps to its ultimate destiny.

As a Product Owner at Spotify, Jori Bell has extensive experience building and shipping a range of MVPs that add to Spotify’s suite of features. As with everything, building MVPs begins with knowing the customer. It’s also important to prioritize, narrow down, and use your customer knowledge cut through the clutter and get a sense of what actually matters.

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If We Can’t Build Everything, Why Build Anything?

This question was put to Jori by the director of a non-profit client who demanded a complete website and interface within 6 weeks. 

Unwilling to compromise on their list of demands and accept a smaller solution, eventually nothing was delivered.

Why? Because building everything isn’t effective. There simply isn’t enough time, money or brainpower in any organization to build everything. 

Even the biggest companies have limited resources, and to please your customers you need to ship quickly, you need to hustle. This is why we need MVPs.

Minimum Viable Products

An MVP is the smallest piece of passable product you can create. It helps solve your user problems in the cheapest possible way. It’s the first stop towards your goal.

A user problem is your customer pain point. It’s the problem that your product solves for your customer. User products keep us customer centered. They can be expressed from the user’s perspective as “I want to [Insert Need] so I can [Insert Goal].”

Spotify is obsessed with understanding user problems

Before the iteration phase begins, it is absolutely essential to understand the core of the user problem. When you rally around user problems, you prioritize in more useful ways:

  • Needs over solutions
  • Outcomes over output
  • Mission over quick wins

When you prioritize high impact work, your MVP begins to take shape. As you’re creating yours, you’ll begin to understand that MVPs are subjective. They will vary from company, and even within companies based on the style of different PMs.

colorful shapes on a paper

Spotify’s Creator Mission

Spotify’s mission is “To unlock the potential of human creativity – by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their work and billions the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.”

Your mission will be orientated towards the market that you serve. As a PM, it will be to your advantage if you can find a market segment to focus on with whom you have natural empathy. Jori’s work focuses on the segment of creators, rather than the listeners specifically. As a creative person, Jori finds it easy to empathize with this group.

Spotify’s creator mission was introduced quite recently in the company’s history. It introduced a lot of specific user problems for the company to focus on, such as:

  • Managers who want to monitor the performance of their artist’s catalog.
  • Musicians who want to promote their music and build an audience.
  • fulfill

Thanks to the creator mission, Spotify decided to prioritize this list of goals and focus first and foremost on artists, because artists are the core of Spotify’s product.

Through data, Spotify learned that artists had struggled to quantify success on their platform. So Spotify decided to invent new Key Performance Indicators, thereby reinventing the definition of success as an artist in the 21st century.

They didn’t start with everything

Spotify’s pivot towards delivering meaningful data to artists began with simple stats focused only on audience, song and playlist data. These three buckets formed the core of Spotify’s initial data offering. 

Artists also wanted to know where they were appearing and when. These are simple stats that led to Spotify Fan Insights. It was a small fraction of the amount of data Spotify collects. Had they given everything, they would have scared the user away. Sometimes, less is more.

This new platform led to further insight into what artists want, for example, the ability to sell merchandise through the Spotify platform. With these new insights into what is actually important for the artists, Spotify upgraded their simple Fan Insights into Spotify For Artists.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) by Maciej Nowak
How to build an MVP

MVPs Are Negotiable

Time, effort and value are constantly negotiable. As a Product Manager, it’s down to you to shine a light on these three pieces and show the gains and the costs of each segment. You are the spokesperson for your team. You have to constantly think about their requirements and their restraints, while staying focused on the mission.

When your team puts all their cards on the table, you have to shine a light on the costs/benefits and decide what trade-offs need to be made based on your knowledge of the user, your industry, the pulse you have on the competition, and the user data that you have.

Everything begins with your insight into your user and your knowledge of user behavior.

Use the following tools, and the advice elsewhere in this book, to get you started:

  • User research: To understand user behavior. Refer to Ben Babcock’s chapter above for more advice on this.
  • Roadmaps: Your MVP is version 1 of your product. Where are you heading from here?
  • Prioritization: What matters most, and what comes first?

Meet Jori Bell

photo of jori bell

Jori Bell is a Product Manager at Spotify. Prior to Spotify, she was a Product Manager all over New York City. She has worked at SoundCloud, Rolling Stone and AOL, Inc. She hails from Chicago and has a soft spot for deep dish pizza. Bell has spearheaded “Spotify for Artists” that allows independent musicians to upload their own music to the platform – a true innovation for a globally leading platform to connect with more users. 

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