Types of product MVPs to know about

11 min read
September 19, 2022

When you think of a minimum viable product (MVP), you probably picture a simple app with only limited functionality.

And while that’s the classic definition of an MVP, it’s not the only one.

It turns out that a mobile app MVP can come in many forms. In fact, you may even be surprised to learn that some MVPs don’t involve any product!

In this article, we’ll go through the common product MVPs that you can use in your project.

The fake door MVP

A fake door MVP is, strictly speaking, not even an MVP in the traditional sense. That’s because there’s no actual app, product, or service for people to use.

Instead, a fake door MVP is a website that works just like any landing page. It explains what the app does and then asks users if they’re interested in the final product.

But it stops there since there’s no product yet. Often, people are met with a coming soon or work-in-progress note.

The fake door MVP

Source: Chameleon

The goal of a fake door MVP is validation without implementation. It allows you to gauge market interest before risking time and effort creating an MVP or prototype.

If you get a positive response from people, it could signal a demand for your app. That’s the only time you begin development.

Now, while most fake door MVPs are landing pages (because it’s the easiest to create), they could take on any form.

Just look at Dropbox.

Founder Drew Houston realized that creating a traditional MVP for Dropbox was technically challenging and would require months of development.

So, Drew opted to create a video demonstrating how his app idea works. In other words, the presentation itself is the MVP.

DropBox Demo

Source: Tech Crunch

And the video worked exceptionally well. It became a viral sensation, causing more than 70,000 users to sign up as beta testers.

However, a big risk with a fake door MVP is that you could come off as scammy or untrustworthy, which could ruin your reputation.

However, you can avoid this by clearly communicating that the app is a work in progress. And, of course, by delivering a quality product once you launch.

Nevertheless, a fake door MVP is a quick, cheap, and easy way to test your idea almost risk-free.

Landing page MVP

A landing page MVP is similar to a fake door MVP in that there’s no actual app yet.

But a landing page takes things a step further. After explaining the app’s main features, it asks users to join a waiting or mailing list.

This gives you a ready pool of initial users when you launch your app. Those subscribers can even become your beta testers for usability testing.

Landing page MVPs are great for evaluating your app idea to the public to see if it resonates. You can even use it to test your pricing strategy, as Buffer did below:

Buffer test your pricing strategy

Source: RST

As you can see, Buffer’s landing page allowed users to pick between three pricing schemes. The founders then based their final decision on which option users chose the most.

The best thing about a landing page MVP is that it takes minimal time, effort, and cost to create.

Even people with zero coding experience can build websites using tools like Unbounce, Leadpages, and Instapage.

Email campaign MVP

An email campaign MVP is yet another variation of the fake door method, except that the main approach is—you guessed it—email.

This MVP involves sending an email to inform users of your potential app idea, including its features and benefits.

Like any low-fidelity MVP, the aim here is to gauge interest in your app before you develop it.

Email campaign MVP

Source: Business 2 Community

This approach has many of the advantages of fake door MVPs, plus more. For one, you can send emails faster than creating a landing page.

The users in your email list are much more engaged than random people in public, so you’ll often get better responses than a landing page.

And assuming you segment your list well, you can get hyperfocused in your targeting.

For instance, if you’re sending an email campaign of your guitar MVP to an email list of guitar enthusiasts, you’ll get more accurate insights.

Of course, using an email campaign MVP effectively means you need to have an existing mailing list first.

Thus, it’s not viable for startups with zero users. Instead, it suits established companies who want to launch a new feature or app.

Marketing campaign MVP

What if you combine the fake door, landing page, and email campaign MVPs and add paid marketing to the mix?

You get a marketing campaign MVP.

A marketing campaign MVP involves running a full-blown promotion on your app idea, just like you would any product or service.

The only difference, of course, is that the app doesn’t exist yet.

The process is roughly the same, in any case.

You still go through extensive market and competitive research.

Then, you also spend time building the marketing assets, picking media channels, and setting aside the budget for paid ads. You just stop short of selling the app itself.

Marketing campaign MVP

Source: Curiosum

A marketing campaign MVP can give you better reach than landing pages or emails alone, especially with paid marketing. It also gives you more user perspectives to draw insights from.

The drawback, of course, is that it involves significant time, effort, and money. This can be unsuitable for an MVP, which needs to be launched as quickly as possible.

Thus, marketing campaign MVPs are best for larger companies with bigger budgets and staffing or in situations when understanding your users thoroughly is critical for your app.

Pre-order MVP

A pre-order MVP is a specific marketing campaign MVP that involves asking interested users to order your product in advance.

Often, you can do a pre-order MVP through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter.

Kickstarter screenshot

Source: Kickstarter

The benefit of a crowdfunding MVP is twofold.

One, you can use the funds raised for your development. This can speed up the process or help you enhance your app further.

Two, you’ll automatically have users when you launch. And since these are paying users, they can be much more engaged than usual.

But of all MVP types, the pre-order approach is the riskiest. After all, you’re getting money for something that doesn’t exist yet.

If you underdeliver, it can damage your reputation. Worse, you might be forced to issue refunds, which could derail your finances.

Thus, it’s best to use an MVP if you already have a proven idea.

You can even use another MVP approach beforehand (such as a landing page or fake door) to gauge interest before you crowdfund.

Nevertheless, when used right, a pre-order MVP can both validate and jumpstart your app development.

So far, we’ve covered low-fidelity MVPs, where the app itself is non-existent. We now turn to high-fidelity approaches, which involve a working (if limited) prototype.

Single-feature App MVP

This is an MVP that covers only one core feature. The idea is that you want users to focus on that central functionality so that they can evaluate it much more effectively.

The single-feature approach is the traditional kind and one that most people picture when they think of MVPs.

As such, many successful tech companies today, like Uber and Facebook, started as single-feature MVPs.

Thefacebook MVP

Source: Time

Now, single-feature can be defined loosely here.

For instance, many features were already included in the Facebook MVP, such as adding friends or editing your profile.

But as a whole, they still fulfilled one purpose – connecting with other people online.

It still didn’t have all the bells and whistles that Facebook has today, such as games and live video streaming.

Single-feature MVPs are great because they give you focus during testing and development.

It can also be a springboard to the full app if the MVP is well-received. You simply iterate with enhancements and new features before launch.

Piecemeal MVP

A piecemeal MVP is built using existing third-party tools instead of from scratch.

The top advantage is that it makes development much faster and cheaper. Relying on proven, stable tools can also make your MVP stable as well.

The best use of a piecemeal MVP is if your app idea has advanced functionality, but you don’t have the time or money to implement it.

One good example is Groupon.

Groupon Piecemeal MVP Minimum Viable product

Source: Techuz

The front of the MVP site was built using WordPress, while the back end employed a myriad of third-party solutions.

For instance, whenever people buy, the backend uses FileMaker to generate a PDF coupon, which is sent automatically to users with an Apple Mail script.

But piecemeal MVPs (or MVPs in general) aren’t just used for app startups. They can also be invaluable to established companies who want to pivot.

Consider BetterSpaces, an in-person wellness event company that needed to shift to digital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Piecemeal MVP

Source: Zinc

To make the transition, BetterSpaces relied on third-party tools.

For instance, they used MailChimp as their marketing platform and Zoom for virtual events. This allowed the company to reposition itself with minimal time and investment.

In summary, a piecemeal MVP enables you to have the look and functionality of an app without developing it yourself.

But if you prefer some manual bootstrapping, the last two MVPs are for you.

Concierge MVP

A concierge MVP is an app with a backend run manually by humans. This helps you achieve a great user experience without investing time and resources to develop it.

Our top-of-mind example of a great concierge MVP is Airbnb.

one of the more famous apps that started as a concierge MVP is Airbnb

Source: Logan Merrick

When the Airbnb founders wanted to validate their idea quickly, they created a makeshift website. They then put their living room as the first (and, at the time, only) listing.

There was no fancy backend involved. When people booked, the founders themselves replied manually.

But it was enough to verify that Airbnb had tremendous market potential. And they achieved it with nearly zero cost—their only big investment was their effort.

Another example is Food on the Table, a service that curates a money-saving shopping list based on your eating habits.

Concierge MVP type

Source: MVP Workshop

When it started, founder Manuel Rosso himself curated the list and sourced coupons for users.

But through his resourceful approach, he was able to validate his idea and implement a more automated process.

Wizard of Oz MVP

A wizard of OZ MVP is similar to a concierge MVP in that backend functions are done by humans. But the difference here is that the user is unaware of that.

The most famous success story of this MVP approach is Amazon.

When Bezos founded Amazon, his goal was to turn it into the biggest bookstore in the world. And he achieved that goal partly through bootstrapping.

Whenever someone ordered a book from the Amazon MVP website, Bezos himself bought it from a bookstore and went to the post office to ship it to the customer.

Amazon.com MVP

Source: Dittofi

It was a crude—but exceptionally effective—way of doing things. Within months, Amazon was earning $20,000 a week. In two years, it was already a public company.

The online grocery app Instacart had a similar start.

Founder Apoorva Mehta set out to validate his app idea, yet only had minimal funds. His solution was to build a functional frontend, but handle the backend manually.

It was just like what Bezos did. Apoorva would go to the grocery store, buy the customer’s orders, and ship them manually.

Grocery app 1

Source: Arkenea

And his rough approach worked. From those humble beginnings, Instacart is now worth $2.9 billion.

Which MVP do you need?

If there’s one takeaway you’ll get from this article, it should be this: an MVP doesn’t need to be fancy or feature-packed.

In some cases, it doesn’t even need to exist as a version of your product at all (like in the case of email campaign or landing page MVPs), so long as you can use it to validate your app idea successfully.

Of course, the traditional MVP app still has its place.

But if you want to go this route, you’ll need a competent development team to help you build it.

That’s where DECODE comes in.

With our track record of building successful apps, we can help bring your MVP from the ground up.

Schedule a consultation with us today, and let’s talk!

Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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