How to Create a Winning Minimum Viable Product

One of the best ways to make money with your online business is to sell products from the pages of your website. But what product? That’s the million dollar question.

The worst thing you can do is spend time, energy, and money creating a product no one wants. To remove this risk, consider creating a minimum viable product to start.

Minimum viable products are specifically designed to help you test out your business ideas without pouring a lot of resources into the process.

This week on Hit Publish, I’ve invited three Copyblogger experts to share their best advice on creating winning minimum viable products.

Tune in to hear from Chris Garrett, Sonia Simone, and Tony Clark as we discuss:

  • The huge mistake many people make when creating a minimum viable product, and how you can avoid it
  • Why MVPs are a low-risk way to approach a new business idea
  • The specific technique for asking your audience to share their challenges that works every time

The Show Notes

How to Create a Winning Minimum Viable Product

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Pamela Wilson: Hi, it’s Pamela Wilson, and you’re listening to Hit Publish, where I cover simple ways to get better results with your online business.

If you’re running an online business — that is, if it’s a business and not a charity — you are using your website to earn money.

To earn money with your website, well, obviously, you’ve got to sell something from its pages. One of the easiest things to sell is some kind of digital product. By digital product, I mean something that can be purchased and downloaded directly from a website.

You may be in a service business, and you might be thinking, “Well, this episode isn’t for me.”

But don’t leave yet — even if you sell services, you can offer digital products, too.

My goal today is to give you lots of ideas for creating what I call a ‘minimum viable product.’ I didn’t make up that name. It’s been around for a while, and I’ll explain to you what it means.

In today’s episode, you’re going to hear about the huge mistake that many people make when they’re creating a minimum viable product and how you can avoid this mistake.

You’ll also discover why minimum viable products are a low risk way to approach a new business idea.

I’ll be talking about the specific technique that you can use to ask your audience to share their challenges, so you can create a minimum viable product that meets those challenges.

I want to thank you for downloading this podcast, and I want to thank Rainmaker.FM for hosting it.

Are you ready to create a minimum viable product with maximum impact?

Let’s Hit Publish.

Hit Publish is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, which handles all the technical elements of good online business practices. That includes design, content traffic, and conversion. To check out the Rainmaker Platform, head over to Rainmaker.FM/Platform. Get started building your online business now.

The Huge Mistake Many People Make When Creating a Minimum Viable Product, and How You Can Avoid It

Pamela Wilson: Our first guest today is Chris Garrett.

I know Chris is a big proponent of minimum viable products. That’s partly because he’s made so many of them himself. I think it’s also because he sees them as a good, low risk way to develop a business idea.

I thought it would be best to start things off by simply asking Chris to define what a minimum viable product is and to share why they’re useful.

Chris Garrett: Well, it’s both together because it’s very important that you have the correct goal in mind when you create a minimum viable product, especially one that’s paid for. The goal is to create a product that focuses on a minimal feature set, but in order to learn, get feedback, and validate your assumptions.

It is not to put junk out there. It’s not to put something bad out in the market just because it’s quick and easy. A lot of people fall into that trap. So a minimum viable product will have a reduced scope, but it is still intended to delight those customers.

Pamela Wilson: So the ‘minimum’ part of minimum viable product does not mean minimal effort. It just means you’re reducing the scope. It’s a minimum scope, and it has a specific reason for existing it sounds like.

Chris Garrett: Exactly. If you think of the first iPhone, it didn’t do all the things. It didn’t do half of the things that it can do now. I don’t think they even had the App Store until later, but it delighted people. It got good word of mouth. It gave feedback to Apple to say, “This is how we would like you to improve.”

I usually advise you to collaborate with your customers. Say, “This will be version one, but with your feedback, we’ll give you version two that will be more close to what you really need. We’ll keep improving it with your help.”

Rather than say “I just want to get anything out into the market in the next six weeks because I want a big payday.”

Pamela Wilson: Right.

Chris Garrett: It’s minimal features, minimal scope — not minimum quality.

Pamela Wilson: Right, and your baking that into the conversation basically. You are letting them know upfront that that’s how you plan to put things together.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. I always explicitly tell people, “You’re getting the best deal. You’re getting it the best price,” and also, “You get to help mold it. You help me course correct to make it exactly what you want and need.”

The first people, the early adopters, instead of being crash test dummies, they’re actually getting the best deal. They’re actually getting to steer the ship — which is a really cool position to be in, just to participate, but also they’re getting the best price. They’re getting it first.

It becomes a collaboration rather than you dumping something bad onto these customers and them getting burned by it.

Pamela Wilson: I love Chris’s goal. He says to create something that will help you to get feedback from your audience. Create something that has a minimal scope but that helps you to understand what your audience really wants.

Be very transparent about it. Let people know, “This is version one. I want your feedback, and I’ll create an even better version two.”

Why MVPs Are a Low-Risk Way to Approach a New Business Idea

Pamela Wilson: Next up is Sonia Simone.

Sonia knows that creating a first product can be a daunting task if you’re a beginner and you’ve never done it before. But she also knows some ways to make the whole process a lot easier. A lot of it depends on what you decide to do for your first product, what form it’s going to take.

I asked Sonia what types of minimum viable products are easiest to put together for beginners.

Sonia Simone: Awesome. I love this question because that minimum viable product approach is such a good, low risk way to approach a new business idea — and not just for beginners. We do these all the time at Copyblogger. It’s just a really, really good strategy.

The way I look at a minimum viable product is I try and think about, “What’s the smallest thing I can create that’s going to solve a meaningful problem for a customer or for a client?”

When I say a ‘meaningful problem,’ it doesn’t have to be a major problem. It doesn’t have to save their marriage. Maybe it just cools off an argument. Or, a way to start talking again after you had a big fight.

It’s not saving the whole world. It’s just one little piece, one little step forward. That’s the first thing.

You have to craft your minimum viable product thinking about, “What problem does this solve that might be small, but it is meaningful to the person that I’m trying to attract, the person who I want to become my customer?”

From there, that will often tend to start to spark a lot of ideas for you. From there, there’s a lot of things you can do.

Some people do coaching calls. Coaching calls are a good one. It’s an hour of your time. You package it up. You have maybe some kind of a questionnaire that they fill out before they have a call with you. They fill out the questionnaire. You get on the Skype with them for an hour. You record the call. You have a fixed fee for that.

That’s a great minimum viable product because it takes almost no time to put together. You could implement it this afternoon if you want to.

Pamela Wilson: I have to say what I love about that product also is it gets you talking to your customers. You get this in-depth look at what’s going on in their lives and the challenges that they’re facing that you might be able to help them with.

Sonia Simone: Exactly. It’s not only a product. In some cases, it can be a nice way to get a little cash infusion. You just maybe make an announcement. If you have an email list, you say, “I have 10 of these. I have 10 that I can let you have for $75” — pretty short amount of time.

Even if your list is quite small, you’ll probably have $750 and a lot of market research, so that’s two good things. That’s a great one.

Another one that’s related to that are Q&A calls. I like these for people — I, trust me, made liberal use of it myself — who are having confidence issues when they’re getting started. They’re not sure they really can help. The best thing in the world that you can do if you are not sure you know enough to help, have a Q&A call.

You will realize how much you can help because you will get all kinds of questions. You can do these for free, or you can do them for a modest cost. It’s fun to do them as a group call. You can use one of the free conference calling solutions for that.

But when you get questions in — and I try and get them in advance, so if I need to, I can do a little bit of research — when you get questions in and then you answer those questions in a useful way, you realize, “You know what, I really do have something to help people with.”

That’s another really nice one. It could be low cost. It could be free. Sometimes a minimum viable product is free when you first release it because it has more of a market research role to play in your business. That’s another very nice one. You can also call them ‘group coaching calls.’

And that’s one that will help boost your confidence. Again, give you lots and lots of ideas about where people are having problems so that you can craft those products and services that are going to meet those needs.

That’s really what the minimum viable product is about. It’s more about learning than it is about necessarily making tons and tons of money, although if you happen to have $12 ebook, you might make quite a lot of money with that.

Evernote Essentials, it’s a little more than $12 — but it’s very reasonable — became a very respectable business from a nice ebook telling you how to get more out of Evernote. Sometimes those ‘small projects’ can end up being big winners in a business sense.

You always want to use this phase of your business for as much learning as possible, first and foremost. Then if you make some money, that’s also awesome.

Pamela Wilson: Sonia recommends something similar to Chris. She said focus on getting information with your minimum viable product, not on making big bucks from selling it.

The Specific Technique for Asking Your Audience to Share Their Challenges That Works Every Time

Pamela Wilson: I also asked Tony Clark to weigh in on minimum viable products.

When we’re talking about creating digital products on our websites, one of the first questions out of people’s mouths is, “What should my product be about?”

It’s not easy to figure that out. It’s a very important question to answer because you don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy, and maybe even money, coming up with a minimum viable product about a topic that it turns out your audience isn’t even interested in.

So I asked Tony what’s a reliable way to come up with a good topic for your minimum viable product?

Tony Clark: A reliable way to come up with a good topic is to look at your audience, but as somebody who’s almost researching from the outside. That’s going to sound a little strange.

Your particular audience has a unique quality about it, unique membership, but you’re used to it. You’re used to being in that group. So you may think something is a great minimum viable product when, in fact, it’s something that’s probably a little bit either too much or not enough.

Aside from going with a survey, one of the things I like is using just a typical Q&A session. Using a Q&A session is a great way to determine the pain points for your audience without making it too survey-ish.

You’re providing advice. You’re providing some guidance as an expert. They’re going to tell you the real problems they’re having. That becomes a sort of informal survey to start to determine where the pain points are that you can build a product around.

This is a good approach versus what a lot of people do. They try to guess — based on what they’ve seen in their marketplace or from their audience — what is a good product. A lot of times it may be on the mark, but a lot of times it’s not.

By going to your audience, having them ask questions, and you answer those questions, it’s an easy way to determine what it is that they need that you can build a product around.

Pamela Wilson: Running a Q&A in this case could be like a teleclass, something that you do by phone? Or what’s the best format for that?

Tony Clark: You can actually do a webinar designed around a topic. You pick a topic. Then at the end, you just open for questions and answers. Or you can just tell your audience, “As a bonus or as a way to kind of be a little bit more available to my audience, I’m going to offer a question and answer session. Here’s a place for you to post your questions, and then I’ll answer them for you.”

Essentially, what you’re doing at that point is providing an open-ended survey. Then you choose the questions you want to answer. If you’re doing it live, you can actually get follow-ups on it that’ll help better define the types of products that you’re looking at building.

Pamela Wilson: That’s a great idea. It’s a great way to find out what’s really going on in their minds.

Tony Clark: Exactly, yeah. Because a lot of times, you’re too close to it to be able to guess just what’s out there. If you ask, they’ll tell you, but also, it’s better if they ask you. You can draw out from those questions where their pain points are.

Pamela Wilson: The other thing about that I’m thinking is that you’d be able to use some of the same language they use to describe their problems when you go to sell this minimum viable product, right?

Tony Clark: Exactly. You can use the same thing throughout your entire funnel — from your advertising, all the way through to the landing page, to even the thank you page. Here is this product to solve this problem that I know my audience has.

Pamela Wilson: That’s the kind of thing that, when you do it, people say “I feel like you’re inside my head and you know exactly what I need.”

Tony Clark: Exactly. It allows you to not have your minimum viable product be too minimum, more viable. That’s the thing. People tend to focus too much on the ‘minimum’ part of that phrase rather than the ‘viable.’

This allows you to pick out those really valuable pieces you can provide to start off with the basics that is the ‘minimum’ part of the minimum viable product.

Pamela Wilson: That’s exactly what Chris Garrett talked about — make sure it’s viable. I’m glad you mentioned that.

Chris, Sonia, and Tony all recommended keeping it simple.

They all agreed that your focus should be on gathering good, usable information at this stage of the game when you’re creating a minimum viable product.

Here are my questions for you this week.

How can you use this minimum viable product concept to develop a small product for your audience?

Remember, keep it simple. Think of it like an experiment. That will take some of the pressure off you.

You can think about the good information you’re going to gather from doing this experiment.

Find a topic that’s in demand. Plan to put something small together, so you can use it to test your next business idea.

This is Pamela Wilson. I want to thank you for being a savvy Hit Publish subscriber.

Help others to find Hit Publish. Head over to iTunes and just leave a rating and a review so others can find the information that we’re sharing here.

Bye until next time and remember, take action and Hit Publish.