Examples of 10 businesses that started with a minimum viable product

Amazon robot in its mvp stage.

Many Minimum Viable Product examples exist across industries from products that started with a simple and affordable MVP. The most famous ones are:

  1. Dropbox;
  2. Food on the table;
  3. Amazon;
  4. Airbnb;
  5. AngelList;
  6. Spotify;
  7. Uber;
  8. Instagram;
  9. Buffer;
  10. FourSquare.

The approach of testing an idea with real users is a proven source of valuable user feedback and the best way of avoiding unnecessary developments.   

Wise entrepreneurs know that the time to launch their product is way before it achieves its ultimate shape.

1 – Dropbox

The team at Dropbox faced a challenging paradigm. The development of the integrations that would enable the sharing of documents between software and devices was complex and expensive. They would require funding to build a product that could perform its minimum tasks. To gather investors, they would need to show that it was technically possible and that those features represented a substantial competitive advantage. 

With the mentioned paradox in mind, Drew Houston presented a simple video to demonstrate the key features of the software and its usability. 

As a result of that approach, the product development team gathered the first feedback and sign-ups for the system and collected the necessary investment to build the working product.

Source: theragax page on Youtube.

2 – Food on the table

Food on the table is now a software application that automates the match of a food recipe with its lists of ingredients. Moreover, the application suggests the stores where those groceries are cheaper in the users’ location. 

In the MVP phase of the application, one of the founders, Manuel Rosso, have manually done the matching and suggestion process for the system’s early adopters. This type of minimum viable product example is entitled concierge MVP. 

In this MVP approach, a human replicates the tasks that can be further automated with software development. It is not scalable to many users, but the approach allows funders to understand better market fit and users’ needs without significant work.

Food on the table example of a minimum viable product.
Source: Food on the table.

3 – Amazon

The Amazon store that we know today that sells a little bit of everything started with only books. 

In the early ’90s, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was convinced that online shopping would revolutionise retail. He started by analysing all the goods that could be sold online and decided to start by selling books. 

By creating an online bookstore, Amazon proved that an online market existed for goods that were traditionally transactioned in physical stores. Apart from that, all the orders were processed and expedited manually in Amazon’s beginning. Also, for each order, Bezos needed to purchase the product from distributors after receiving an order from a customer. 

The mentioned manual process marked the beginning of the online drop shipping that we know today. 

The creation of an MVP was the best way to test the process and the idea before automating the massive processes that Amazon built-in in the 30 years that followed.

4 – Airbnb

Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky had the idea of renting their apartment as a way to combat their financial distress. 

They first created a web page to announce their apartment’s short term rental. This MVP was enough to realise that if other property owners could do the same, travellers would be willing to short rent beds and breakfast at a lower rate than hotels. 

Those kinds of key aspects of the business model can be acknowledged by launching simpler versions of the product. In the case of Airbnb, what the founders thought initially would be the end product ended up being just the start of a billion-dollar business.

5 – AngelList

AngelList is a disruptive example of how a business might be born from an MVP experiment. 

The initial goal of the founders, Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi, was to strengthen the gap between investors (Angels) and startups in the funding stages. Unlike many examples, they started by building the community before even starting to build the social application. 

The first contacts and intermediations between the investors listed at that moment and the startups were made by email and conventional communication streams. The community’s success triggered the need for a web application to facilitate communication between the interested parties.

6 – Spotify

Similarly to the previous examples, Spotify has also taken massive advantage of its first MVP. 

In their startup years, streaming was still a challenge due to the limitations of technology.

The assumption that guided Spotify’s team was that people didn’t want to own music. They just held it (instead of streaming) because it was the fastest way to access it.

One of the essential unexplored facts was compliance and how brands, producers, and artists would deal with the suggested ecosystem. 

They envisioned a service that would allow the streaming of all songs in seconds avoiding the “loading bar”. Before having a shiny version of the system, they launch a testing version to learn in the process both how to deal with the technology and industry challenges.

Spotify example of a minimum viable product.
Source: Spotify.

7 – Uber

Uber was born from the idea of creating an app that would enable ordinary people to hire a limo service. It could be ordered via a mobile application and for a unique ride.

In 2010, Travis Kalanick developed the first version of the Uber application hosted in their first domain: ubercab.com. 

The first test of the application was performed in San Francisco using only 3 cars. They demonstrated that it was possible to call a cab using a mobile device and a couple of clicks. As a result, the founders received $1.25 million in funding. The capital allowed the team to build from the expertise in that trial, the app globally used today.

Uber example of a minimum viable product.
Source: Uber.

8 – Instagram

Instagram’s minimum viable product example is one of the most effective. They only focused on instantly applying filters to photos. That was the feature that differentiated the app from all other competitors at the time. 

Before having all the other features like comments, likes, etc., Instagram launched the application without spending development time on components already available in competitors’ applications. 

Focusing on this distinctive and straightforward feature triggered the build-up of the first user base.

9 – Buffer

The buffer team realised that it was an issue for Social Media managers to publish on schedule. The timing is relevant to provide better performance to posts. Apart from that assumption, the team didn’t know in the beginning if people would be willing to pay for it and if they were facing a business opportunity. 

With those thoughts in mind, Buffer created a set of landing pages before even having a product. It was formed by different premium tiers to assess where users would click and understand how willing they were to pay for the service. 

After that experiment, Buffer developed a software application that provides automation to social media management.

Buffer example of a minimum viable product.
Source: Buffer.

10 –  Foursquare

Foursquare was a simple, straightforward application before the City guide app or the data provider business model. It allowed users to mark themselves in their current locations and share them with friends. 

The application increased in popularity when users started to be rewarded with “coins and badges” by sharing their experiences in restaurants, museums and other city activities.

The gamification model from an early stage enabled the application to grow the database and change the business model on the way.

FourSquare example of a minimum viable product.
Source: FourSquare.

Conclusion

As seen in the ten examples above, the applications and business models have changed significantly since they first launched. Your product idea is probably also far from the full potential of its business opportunity. That is the reason why you should find a way to test it as soon as possible in your development plan.

The standard approach to testing an idea is to start with a POC that can be a base for a prototype. After that, develop a minimum viable product that can put your idea in the hands of real users. This approach mitigates several of the aspects that lead to failure in new companies.