The First Digital MVP in History

How do you build a minimum viable product (MVP). To bring everyone to the same level, a minimum viable product is a lean product with just enough features to satisfy a potential user base, while providing feedback on potential product updates and optimisations.

The basics of MVP can be found here in a compact summary.

Shoes can be used as an MVP example, that you may not have expected, and is potentially more interesting too...

The Birth of the MVP

Let's head back in time to 1998. Amazon and Google as we know them today are merely a dream, and your mobile phone was only good for calls.

The situation: You walk into a store in search of the perfect shoes of smart shoes for an event. You spot a comfortable yet stylish pair in the corner of the store, but they don’t have your size. You walk to the next store, and they have the same pair but they are brown and not black. You drive all over town in desperation, looking in what feels like every store in the country, but no one seems to have your desired size, colour, or style. What now?

How it all Started

Nick Swinmurn found himself in a very similar situation after looking almost everywhere in his area for a certain pair of shoes. He figured he probably wasn’t the only person who found themselves shoeless and frustrated with this lack in selection. This situation led to the beginning of his MVP: he asked a question.

The question was ‘would people be interested in buying shoes online?’ . At the time, it was widely assumed people would not buy shoes anywhere but the store for the simple fact that the physicality meant they could try them on, which made shoes absent from the online marketplace.

Research showed that 5% of all shoes sold in the US in 1998 were purchased from mail order catalogues, so from this Swinmurn developed the hypothesis that not all buyers needed to 'try before they buy'. Swinmurn had a hypothesis.

From the minimum to the maximum

From this hypothesis in mind, Swinmurn went to work building the first Zappos website to see if these catalogue shoppers could move online. His first shop was a lean, minimal-featured shop to study customer behaviour in order to see if there was, in fact, a need for online shoe shopping within the marketplace.

According to Swinmurn in an interview with Business Insider, 

“... [I] went to a couple of stores, took some pictures of the shoes, made a website, put them up and told the shoe store, if I sell anything, I'll come here and pay full price. They said okay, knock yourself out. So I did that, made a couple of sales.”

And it worked. Today, Zappos is one of the largest online shops selling and shipping shoes. The company is now listed on the stock exchange, employs over 1,500 people and has its own shipping centre in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, USA.

Until human evolution involves us no longer needing shoes, there will always be a demand. So, in many cases, building an MVP is not always about proving that your products have a demand, it’s about creating a working foundation to determine if digital is a viable medium for your business, providing an opportunity to build a shop based on customer insights.

And the Moral of the Story is ...

... the MVP should be the first step of your business.

This tactic of active learning through a minimal product can be used for almost every B2B, B2C, and even when expanding internationally, like Hiliti.

People act differently on different platforms, as well as in different geographical locations. Understanding this, Hilti used Spryker as part of their international expansion to help launch MVP's in each new location. This approach included introducing a new online store with only the bare necessities, using real-time user data to build out their shops with a full understanding of the different needs and behaviors of their consumers around the world.

MVP meets IoT

MVP’s are also extremely useful when launching on other IoT touchpoints, like mobile app's and smart devices. People use different mediums in different ways. You’re own behaviour as you scroll through apps on your phone tends to be different to your behaviour when you are sitting at your computer. When introducing a new medium for your shop, it’s best to waste your resources to build something people may not use in the way you designed it.

Find out more in Spryker's MVP-Guide!


The Business Transformation Network has shared this article in partnership with Spryker.