Stop Forgetting the “Viable” In Minimum Viable Product

I was searching through Twitter today for tweets regarding “Minimum Viable Products” and I came across something really strange.

There is an astounding number of people tweeting about how Minimum Viable Products are “wrong” or telling you that you should be building some other variation of an MVP. Here are a few that I found:


I think that the real problem going on here is that people don’t understand the multiple meanings of the word “viable.” The more words we throw into this mix, or the more we try to change the concept, the more confused people are going to be when determining how to truly build an MVP (no matter what you call it). Instead, I would like to argue that the word “viable” should have a more broad definition here, even though there may be specific definitions of the “viable” in MVP floating around the internet or in various books.

First off, let’s start with the actual definition of the word viable: vi·a·ble: capable of working successfully; feasible.”

Now let’s talk about how that relates to each of the three words that it was replaced with from the tweets above:

Desirable vs Viable

Nathan argues that you don’t need a Minimum Viable Product, you need a Minimum Desirable Product. I believe Nathan is definitely on the right track, his intentions behind changing the word from Viable to Desirable are correct, but we need not change the word, instead we need to understand the concept of Viable better.

A product that is “capable of working successfully” or “feasible” is a product that will gain some sort of market traction if released. Yes, an MVP is a great way to test whether or not there is actual desire for your product, AKA whether your idea is good enough. But, by the definition of Viable, I would like to argue that a product can only be conceived as viable if it IS in fact desirable to your target audience.

So, if your product gains traction, by definition, it is immediately considered desirable. However, if your product does not succeed, you technically have not built a Minimum Viable Product, you have built a Minimum Product. There was no viability in your product to begin with, because the traction and audience that you thought was there actually wasn’t there.

So, taking that into account, you are actually always building Minimum Products, and then you determine whether or not they are Viable. You must do research first to determine whether or not what you are building you would consider viable, and then test whether or not your market feels the same way.

Valuable vs Viable

In the article from the second tweet, Jason Henrichs argues that an MVP isn’t good enough, because customers only care about Minimum Valuable products.

Every product exists for a specific reason, and the reason that that product exists is the value of that product. There is value behind this Dr. Pepper I’m drinking because I find it refreshing, therefore I bought it.

A product that is not valuable will never make a sale, and even if it is free, it will never gain a user. The only reason anyone ever utilizes a product is because they find value in it. Even if they are buying or using something to prove it is NOT valuable, proving that point is the value that they are getting from that product.

Sounds pretty confusing, but it boils down to this: if you are out to build a product, it MUST provide value to someone, otherwise what on earth are you building a product for?

In fact, Henrichs argument has absolutely nothing to do with the word viable in my opinion, because by default you are building a product, which must have value. Value is what makes a product viable, it does not replace the word viable in MVP.

Sellable vs Viable

Jason argues that when building a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) that the term viable doesn’t matter, the term sellable does. However, I don’t believe this is always the case.

The point of a SaaS doesn’t technically have to be to make money. In my opinion you should always be selling your products if they are valuable to other people, however, for arguments sake lets just say that a Non-Profit organization wants to release a SaaS for free to help people volunteer.

In this case the products goal is not even to be “sellable.”

Now I would like you to think of the word Viable in terms of MVP, but think of it bi-directionally. Not only must the product be viable to the consumer, it must also be viable to you as a business. That viability can come in a number of forms. Perhaps the Non-Profit just wants to increase their volunteer count, that would make it viable for them if they can indeed increase volunteering.

If you are running a for-profit business, a product is only viable to you if it can make you money, hence, that product is viable to you because it is sellable.

So what does that all mean when you put it together?

Be sure to let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below, but here are the quick bullet points I want you to remember when you are building your MVP, or if someone is trying to dissuade you from building one:

A product is only viable if it is desirable.

You test your MVP against your target demographic to determine whether or not it is viable, it is only viable by definition if it is desirable to them.

All products must be valuable.

If your product creates no value, it is not a product.

MVPs Must Be Viable for You AND Your Customers

An MVP cannot be considered viable unless in benefits both you and your consumer.

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