Sometimes, when you want to launch a new product, feature or service, you won't have the time or money to perfect it before sharing it with customers. That’s okay (and sometimes, it’s even a good thing). Many companies, particularly those who create web services or computer applications, release a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to test the waters and gain initial customer feedback before they finely tune their product or service.

Essentially, an MVP meets the basic requirements and functionality necessary for customers to be able to use it. It isn't polished; glitches and flaws are present, and it may need a major quality overhaul and quite a bit of refining before it becomes a success. While you might worry that deploying a work-in-progress will doom it from the start, it's often a risk worth taking.

Here are some circumstances in which releasing an MVP may be preferable:

  • You have forgiving customers. Most experts would recommend that you release an MVP to a segment of only your most open-minded and loyal customers—often called “early adopters”—who will be willing to work through the glitches and mistakes with you. Even if you don't think you have forgiving customers, consider rolling out an MVP to just a portion of your list rather than to everyone; this should minimize your chances of backlash. You might also want to tell those customers that your product is still in testing mode and ask for their unabashed feedback. They'll essentially have a stake in helping you mold the product, which in turn should help you take it from good to great.
  • You need guidance. You thought that you knew what your customers wanted, but have discovered that you were totally wrong. Sending out customer surveys to get feedback on current features and functionality can help to pinpoint the problem. However, all the data mining in the world won't offer you what simple hands-on experimentation can, because many customers don’t know exactly what they want until they try it. When you offer customers a chance to "play" with your product and really learn the ins and outs of it, they can point out real problems and provide feedback you can use to finish the product. Consider offering your MVP in “beta” mode for free or at a discounted rate, and use that opportunity to analyze how customers interact with the site (see where they engage and where they lose interest), and improve upon the product based on your findings.
  • You're taking a big risk. If you are stepping outside of your comfort zone or creating a product that is new to you and your customers, releasing an MVP can help you gauge whether the product even stands a chance within your customer base. You'll learn if customers are willing to buy something (or even to engage with it) before you invest the time and money into perfecting the product. You may quickly learn that if you want to keep moving in a new direction, you'll need to expand or change your customer base, potentially moving into new verticals and changing the original concept of your product altogether. Being this flexible can be stressful, since it requires pivoting your focus and sinking money on rough, unfinished versions of your product. For riskier endeavors, however, it’s much more affordable in the long run to iterate on several different MVPs than to sink a lot of money into one version that’s bound to fail.
  • You need to make money now. The needs of a business can't get more fundamental than that. While it's not the best-case scenario, you may need to stop sinking money into a product and release it in order to generate enough revenue to keep the business afloat. If the product or service works and can provide some benefit to your customers, release it in beta mode and make improvements as needed once you start receiving feedback. However, don't risk ruining your reputation by rolling out something that is too broken or far from being finished.