The Minimum Viable Testing Process for Evaluating Startup Ideas

Gagan Biyani, co-founder and CEO at Maven:

The traditional dogma in the startup ecosystem is that you can’t predict whether people will want your product. Instead, you do some customer research, throw an MVP out there as fast as possible, and hope it hits. That’s not my approach.

So far in my career, I’ve been early at four startups: Udemy, Lyft, Sprig and Maven. Three of them achieved over $1M in run-rate in their first six months of going live. I don’t think this is an accident. I generally think this early success could’ve been predicted before a single line of code was written.

That’s because we didn’t start by trying to build the product and test it in the market.


What is a Minimal Viable Test?

An MVT is a test of an essential hypothesis — something you must be right about, or else the company won’t stand a chance. For example, with my current company Maven, it’s essential that people find 10X more value for a cohort-based course than for a self-directed asynchronous course. (A bit further down, I’ll explain how we articulated and tested this hypothesis — for now, stay high level with me.)

Minimum Viable Testing involves identifying hypotheses you have about a market and creating tests that only focus on those hypotheses, not the long-term vision, the customer’s opinions, company or product building. This method forces you to be even more minimal in your initial tests, so that you can save time and have higher accuracy on your eventual initial product.

This philosophy works for technical founders, non-technical founders, and even non-startup companies. Perhaps most attractive: It means you can build a successful company without being technical. In fact, I’ve almost always tested out my ideas before bringing on my technical co-founder. This is valuable because technical team members are extremely hard to attract, and it is far easier when you can say: “I have already run tests and proven that there is demand for my product” instead of “I have a vision for something big.” Engineers like data and proof, not pie-in-the-sky vaporware.


The whole point of the MVT strategy is to give you more confidence so that you can forego short-term growth for long-term growth. Run a number of MVTs, create a product vision, and then execute on that vision while getting feedback from your customers.

The goal of this framework is not to prevent failure. That’s impossible. The goal is to increase your chances of success. You’ll still face long odds, but if you run the above process well, you’ll be able to tip the scales more in your favor. Best of luck and happy testing!

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