Corporate MVPs: The Comprehensive Guide

What are corporate MVPs? Why are they important? How do you build them? And how do you successfully launch them? Find out in this comprehensive guide.

Table of contents

  1. Corporate MVPs: an introduction
  2. What is a corporate MVP?
  3. Why is the MVP phase important?
  4. How are MVPs different from corporate MVPs?
  5. Examples of successful MVPs
  6. How do you build a lean corporate MVP?
  7. How do you validate an MVP?
  8. How do you build a go-to-market strategy for your corporate MVP?
  9. How do you know when your MVP is ready to become a startup?
  10. The next steps

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1

Corporate MVPs: an introduction

New ventures often fail because they’re built based on untested assumptions. It’s easy to get excited about a promising concept, cutting-edge technology, or an innovative new business model, but without validation, there’s no way to know if your efforts will lead to success. 

That’s where minimum viable products or MVPs come in. 

MVPs enable you to partner with your target audience and leverage their feedback to fuel the creation of new products and services before making any big investments. In essence, they reduce risk by keeping you from spending precious time and resources launching an offering that might not have an audience.

To give you a better idea of how MVPs work and how to successfully build and launch them, we’ve created this detailed, comprehensive guide that walks you through the process. 

Let’s start at the beginning. 

2

What is a corporate MVP? 

The concept behind corporate MVPs is simple. It entails creating a basic version of your product or service with just enough features to test it among early adopters (it could be as basic as a 2D drawing). Then let the data roll in. The goal is to minimise development costs and risk by gathering customer feedback to improve future versions of the offering. 

‍Building an MVP is an iterative process that includes loops of the following basic steps:

  • Identifying your concept’s riskiest assumptions 
  • Finding the smallest possible experiment to test that assumption
  • Using the results of your experiments to course-correct

MVPs vary as much as the products and services they test, which means they can take various forms, including product demos, apps, landing pages, 3D mockups and even crowdfunding projects. No matter what direction you decide to take, it’s a good idea to ensure your MVP has the following characteristics: 

  • It should provide solid buying intent data (e.g. clicks on the “buy now button”)
  • It’s detailed enough to show customers the value of buying
  • It provides enough reliable data to guide your next steps

Building an MVP enables you to partner with your customers, involving them in the building process and ensuring the features they love are included in the final product. What better way to ensure a solid product/market fit? 

3

Why is the MVP phase important? 

Our corporate landscape is moving faster and is more competitive than ever before. So it’s understandable that companies want to get their new offerings out and on the market as quickly as possible. In essence, it’s the right mindset, but cutting too many corners can end up backfiring, costing way too much for way too little return. Case in point: the pilot. 

Yes, doing a proper pilot with an MVP and comprehensive validation can add anywhere from three to six months to your timeline, but consider the alternative. A scenario in which you pump out endless amounts of time, effort, funding and resources only to end up with a product or service that:

  • Has no market (nobody wants to buy it)
  • Is not profitable or has too small a profit margin
  • Isn’t feasible to produce
  • Might become irrelevant in the near future

Without a proper pilot you’re basically taking a shot in the dark and hoping to hit your target. Although you might get lucky with a winning concept, it’s always better to cover your bases and develop products and services based on a proven concept. That means developing an MVP, testing it and leveraging that data to take your offering to even greater heights.

4

How are MVPs different from corporate MVPs?

While both corporates and startups use MVPs to fuel product development with real customer data, each has adapted the process to fit the unique needs of its own environment. To give you a better idea of the contrast between MVPs and corporate MVPs, we’ve listed some of the key differences.

Corporate bureaucracy vs startup flexibility

  • Startups are small and nimble, enabling them to move quickly through the MVP process
  • Corporations tend to have long chains of command, making it challenging to get new ideas approved and developed at the same speed. 

Speed and focus

  • For startups, a successful MVP phase is the sole focus and a race against time during the first few months.
  • Corporate startup teams have a bit more room for planning, design and validation. In many cases, they might be involved in multiple projects, with a broader innovation focus rather than focusing on a single MVP.

The power of corporate assets

  • Most young startups operate with skeleton teams, limited budgets and steep timelines, putting them under enormous pressure to move from milestone to milestone.
  • Corporate startup teams have a myriad of assets to fall back on, including funding, networks, partnerships, equipment and industry know-how. These assets can be leveraged to fuel the development process, giving corporate MVPs a competitive edge over their startup counterparts. 

The validation process

  • For startups the MVP validation process is pretty straightforward: Map out the assumptions and find the leanest way to test them. They learn as they go. 
  • Corporations tend to have a body of learnings, industry expertise and a built-in audience with which to test new ideas and concepts. Many have dedicated innovation units with teams that are experienced and adept at validation, making their experiments more focused, refined and effective. 

However, it’s not all smooth sailing for corporates. When testing new value propositions, corporate startup teams have to be mindful of how it might affect the overall brand, avoiding any possible backlash or negative reaction from customers.

5

Examples of successful MVPs 

To give you a better idea of what successful MVPs look like, here are two real-world examples:

Airbnb

Founders:
Brian Chesky
and Joe Gebbia
Category:
High-Fidelity MVP
MVP name:
AirBed & Breakfast
Total funding:
$6B

Back in 2007, having recently moved to San Francisco, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia quickly noticed a significant customer pain point: In a city that frequently hosts highly attended conferences, it was extremely challenging (not to mention expensive) to find a place to stay. At the same time, the two founders were experiencing their own struggles paying the rent. Having some space to spare in their living room,  they wondered: would people be willing to pay for an overnight stay? It was time to test the theory.

Armed with a few pictures of their space and a website targeting the attendees of an upcoming design conference, they launched the MVP that would eventually become Airbnb. The offer was simple; an overnight stay on air mattresses in their living room that included free wifi, free breakfast and a unique networking experience with peers. The result: 3 guests that paid $80 each (a promising start).

That first website didn’t offer the features Airbnb has today; it was just a gateway to gauge user interest - Chesky and Gebbia did the rest. Since then, Airbnb has expanded to over 100.000 cities across the globe and boasts 4 million hosts and over 1 billion guests. 

Amazon

Founder:
Jeff Bezos
Category:
High-Fidelity MVP
MVP name:
Amazon
Total funding:
$108M

Back in 1994, Jeff Bezos started Amazon from his garage, trying to test if he could build a company by selling things on the internet. After creating a list of 20 items, he eventually settled on books as a starting point. The MVP was simple: every time someone would place an order online, Bezos would order the book from the distributor and deliver the package personally. As explained by the founder himself:

“What’s actually happened over the last 25 years is way beyond my expectations. I was delivering the packages myself; we were selling books. I was hoping to build a company, but not the company you see today”.

Within a month, Amazon was bringing in $20.000 in sales per week, shipping orders throughout the US and 45 other countries. As time went by, Bezos continued to make data-led iterations, adding new products and evolving his business model. By 2015 he had surpassed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the US.

6

How do you build a lean corporate MVP? 

While MVPs were originally designed for startup environments, corporations worldwide have adapted the technique to fit the vastly different needs and conditions in large enterprises. For the most part, the process remains the same, but there are some important considerations you should keep in mind when building an MVP in a corporate environment.  

‍To help guide you through the corporate MVP building process, we’ve broken it all down into five simple steps:

Step 1. Do your research

When done right, market research can help you better understand: 

  • Who your target audience is
  • What their pain points are 
  • What they look for in a solution 

It can also provide pretty concrete data on whether your potential customers are willing to pay for your solution and how much they’re willing to pay for it.   

‍The data can be gathered in various ways, using lean experiments (e.g. in-depth interviews, online surveys) and good old-fashioned desk research.

Step 2. Define your user journey

Now that you know a bit more about your target audience and what they’re looking for in a solution; it’s time to map out your user journey. The idea is to gather all your insights and learnings till this point and really see your offering from the perspective of your potential user. This will enable you to foresee and get in front of any possible challenges, issues or bottlenecks that might hinder the success of your venture.  

Step 3. List and prioritise your features 

Before you start building your MVP, it’s a good idea to list and prioritise the features it will have. Remember, building an MVP is an iterative process, so you won’t be adding in all your features at once. Instead, you’ll be adding them in stages, which is why you’ll need a prioritised features list. 

When prioritising your MVP features, consider some of the following questions:

  • What do my customers really need/want?
  • What assumptions do my features help validate?
  • What type of value does each feature add to my MVP?
  • What are the easiest/cheapest features to add?

Pro tip: It’s not uncommon for some of your favourite features to test on the low side. Make sure to keep your decisions data-based, and don’t be afraid to toss any unnecessary features. 

Step 4. Build and launch

Now that you’ve covered your bases, it’s time to start building! Make sure your first iteration is functional enough to engage customers and validate your venture idea:

  • It should provide solid buying intent data (e.g. clicks on the “buy now button”)
  • It should be detailed enough to show customers the value of buying
  • It should provide enough reliable data to guide your next steps

Once that’s covered, you’ll be ready for your first launch. The goal? To gather enough customer data to design your next iteration.

Step 5. Measure, learn and iterate

Be ready to go through several “build-measure-learn” loops before you hit your sweet spot. Make sure to review your data thoroughly and heed the feedback your customers give you. ‍Each data-fueled iteration you make will get you closer to your finalised product or service.

7

How do you validate an MVP? 

The best way to validate an MVP is through lean experimentation. Start by asking yourself the following four questions:

Question 1: What type of assumption are you testing?

Each one of your assumptions will be related to the desirability, feasibility, viability or responsibility of your offering, e.g.:

  • Desirability: Do customers need and enjoy this product?
  • Feasibility: Do you have the operational capabilities to provide the product?
  • Viability: Do you have a profitable and sustainable business model?
  • Responsibility: Does the concept address social and ethical concerns?

Some experiments are better suited to test desirability, while others work best for feasibility or viability– our list of lean validation experiments covers them all. Make sure you validate all four aspects across the entire assumption validation effort.

Question 2: How much evidence do you already have for a specific assumption?

If you don’t have much initial evidence about a particular assumption, your goal should be to get just enough data to point you in the right direction (e.g. is this worth further testing?). For these types of assumptions, cheap and easy is the way to go. 

It’s normal to know more about some assumptions than others. A good rule of thumb is to put more effort (e.g. more complicated and expensive experiments) into the assumptions you feel strongly about.   

Question 3: What type of data will give you the right insights to validate the assumption?

Knowing the type of data you want beforehand will go a long way in helping you design your experiment:

  • Qualitative data: delivers insights on how your customers feel about the product, how they interact with it, how context affects their behaviour, etc.  
  • Quantitative data: delivers numerical insights like how many people hit your “buy” button, how they rated your product on a scale, or what percentage chose a feature, etc.

Qualitative data is better for understanding “why” your customers make certain choices, while quantitative data is better suited for “calculating” how you could transfer your findings to a larger group.

Question 4: Which aspect of the concept are you trying to validate?

Figuring out which aspect of the concept you’re trying to validate will go a long way in helping you choose an experiment.

Once you’ve done the preparation work described above, you’ll have all the information you need to start choosing your experiments. To help you do that, we’ve created a practical and easy-to-use guide listing over 50 tried and tested experiments used by our own expert Venture Builders.

You’ll find everything from Smoke Testing, to Scoping Sessions, to Stakeholder Mapping, just to name a few. You’ll also find out when to use each experiment, the average cost of running it and some pro tips we’ve discovered during our years in the field.

8

How do you build a go-to-market strategy for your corporate MVP? 

These five steps will enable you to develop an effective GTM strategy for your corporate MVP:

Step 1. Understand the “who”

Understanding who your buyer persona is, what they’re looking for and what they value will enable you to build emotional connections and market to them more effectively (e.g. find them, connect with them, engage them, etc.). Creating “customer personas” is a good exercise to help you understand their needs, values, pain points and challenges.

Step 2. Define the “what”

Make sure you have clearly defined goals and targets you want to reach with your marketing strategy. This will make it easier for you the gauge its success later on.‍ Here are just a few examples of success factors you might want to consider:

  • Number of waitlisted customers
  • Number of downloads
  • Number of video views

Step 3. Identify the “where”

Knowing the best way to reach and engage your customers is a crucial part of your GTM. After all, no matter how compelling your value proposition is, it won’t take off if your target audience can’t see it. Using your customer persona(s) as a starting point, map out the best places (“the where”) to connect with your potential customers. Some examples include:

  • Online ads and email
  • Seminars and tradeshows
  • Webinars
  • Contests

Knowing where your GTM strategy will unfold, will enable you to shape your messaging, targets and overall strategy more effectively. 

Step 4. Know what you want to say

The right messaging will help you attract and engage potential customers to test your MVP and enable you to validate assumptions with more data (leading to more reliable results). Engineering your messaging requires:

  • Describing your unique value proposition (UVP) 
  • Choosing a tone of voice
  • Designing your brand 
  • Deciding which “calls to action” to use

A good way to start is by doing a deep dive into how your competitors tackle their marketing. This will inspire your own efforts and enable you to learn from their wins, avoid their mistakes and pinpoint marketing channels they might have overlooked.

Step 5. Choose your success metrics

The last step on your journey is choosing which metrics will best help you measure and track the success of your MVP GTM strategy. The information your metrics provide will feed your decisions moving forward, enabling you to:

  • Assess whether or not your efforts are focused on the right activities
  • Evaluate how your organisation allocates resources and spots areas for improvement
  • Align your efforts with broader corporate goals
  • Set a baseline upon which to show your progress moving forward

Although metrics vary from case to case, here are some valuable standard GTM metrics you might want to consider:

  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
  • Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) 
  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
  • Lead conversion rates
  • Pipeline coverage

When choosing your metrics, make sure to go beyond the typical financial and vanity metrics to really get a complete and detailed picture of your progress. For more details on how to choose your metrics, check out this handy report: How to effectively measure corporate venturing success.

9

How do you know when your MVP is ready to become a startup?

These are some of the tell-tale signals to look for before taking your MVP to the next level:

Signal 1. It’s gone from MVP to Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)

Most MVPs have the functionality to engage early adopters, with just enough detail to show customers the value of buying. For example, Whatsapp was started with only the basic capability to show a user's status to a wider network of people using push notifications (that was the MVP). 

It wasn’t long before users started speaking to each other via status updates, which gave co-founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum the idea for Whatsapp 2.0. The new version allowed users to:

  • Login with a phone number
  • Send messages to contacts
  • Use the internet instead of provider SMS plans

Another popular feature included the “double-check”, which let users to know their message was received. The new features showed Whatsapp was well on its way to becoming an MLP. The proof? In just a few months, the app boasted 250.000 users, leading to a seed funding investment of $250.000 - and just like that, Whatsapp went from being an MVP to being a minimum lovable product. A green light on its journey to becoming a startup.  

Signal 2. It’s scalable

Before your MVP can become a startup, you have to make sure it's scalable. In other words, you have to be able to meet your customer demand as it increases. For example, Adwords Express (now known as Adwords) started off with one core function: To generate ad copy for customers. 

Although the service seemed automated, in the beginning, the copy was actually being written up by students. It was only after initial testing that the automation process began, ensuring that the offering was scalable and could meet growing demand. A great sign that the service was well on its way to becoming a thriving startup. 

Signal 3. It’s reliable

Another great sign that your MVP is ready for the next phase is its ability to reliably delight and satisfy customers. To do this, your offering has to consistently deliver on its promise and do what it claims to do. When developing the MVP for Spotify, founders Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon had one main focus, to enable users to stream music faster and with higher quality. As explained by Ek:

“We spent an insane amount of time focusing on latency when no one cared because we were hell-bent on making it feel like you had all the world’s music on your hard drive. Obsessing over small details can sometimes make all the difference. That’s what I believe is the biggest misunderstanding about the minimum viable product concept. That is the V in the MVP.”

The focus on quality and customer satisfaction clearly paid off. The founders ensured their offering delivered what it promised (i.e. high-quality streaming), enabling Spotify to grow into the company it is today.

10

The next steps

Transitioning past the MVP phase is a sensitive time in the life of a new venture. Moving forward too quickly can waste valuable funds and resources, while moving forward too late can mean competitors beat you to punch. And the process is more of an art than a science, leaving many entrepreneurs struggling to find just the right time to take their next step.

‍While there are no real guarantees of success in the startup game, the information provided above will help you navigate the process, enabling you to:

  • Attain a solid customer base
  • Develop your features and capabilities based on real customer data

Both critical factors in your journey to becoming a thriving startup and eventually scaling your venture to achieve real profitability. 

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Are you a corporate innovator looking to design, build or launch a corporate MVP? We can help you build a customised strategy that leverages cutting-edge growth marketing and customer acquisition techniques to validate your MVP with real customers.

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