How to Create a Minimum Viable Information Product

December 3, 2014 , 27 Comments

Some of the web’s most successful businesses swear by the lean startup method. I’ve also personally used this method and I’ve written about minimum viable products as one of the pillars of successfully starting an online business.

In a nutshell, the idea is to create the smallest possible version of a product, release it and then grow the product based on user feedback. This is an idea completely opposed to the usual approach of building the “perfect” product first and only then releasing it to the public.

Creating a minimum viable product is amazingly useful, will make your business more prosperous and yourself more attractive and intelligent… BUT what if your product isn’t suitable for this model?

Read on to find the answer…

Software Only?

Today’s post is based on a reader question that I’ll summarize here:

I can see how a minimum viable product is useful for software businesses, but I can’t see it working for information products. After all, an information product has to deliver a result and if I release an incomplete product, it won’t deliver that result, hence my MVP will be worthless.

What’s 100% correct in this statement is this: an information product’s value is determined by the result it delivers.

This applies to any kind of product and the misconception that is implied in the question above is that an MVP is an incomplete product. The software developer can’t afford to release an incomplete or broken product any more than the information marketer.

Let’s look at exactly how you can apply the lean startup model to information products (and even steps in your marketing of the information product).

Fractal Expertise

The nature of any topic you can think of is fractal and the same is true for your expertise in any topic (given that you’ve spent enough time building that expertise). To illustrate, let’s look at this hierarchy of topics:

  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Advertising on the Internet
  • Google AdWords

Each of these topics is a sub-set of the topic above it. In each step, we “zoom in” to a specific segment of the previous topic. Do you see how each of these topics is equally rich and diverse? Entire books have been written about each of these sub topics. And we could easily dig several levels deeper, into ever more specialized areas.

What does that have to do with a minimum viable information product? It means that you don’t have to provide everything and the kitchen sink before your product can be useful.

Real Examples

better-blog-cover_200Let’s make this more practical and look at two of my own products: my Build a Better Blog mini course and my RAPID Landing Pages mini course.

Each of these products was created and released in under 3 days and both of them only cover a sliver of a larger topic.

In the Better Blog product, I only talk about the 4 most essential things I think anyone who starts blogging should know about.

In the RAPID course, I teach one specific method of creating, publishing and testing landing pages as quickly as possible. As you can imagine, I have a lot more to say about landing pages, copywriting, testing and the way all this fits into a larger marketing strategy. In fact, I could easily create an expansive information product on this topic.

And as it turns out, if I had the intention to create such a product, the RAPID mini course would be the perfect MVP to start with.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]The important bit: these products both deliver real value, even though they are small in scope and cover a very narrow topic. And they were both created and released very quickly. These are the two major aspects that make an MVP work.[/thrive_text_block]

The Pricing Question

Both of these examples are free products. Does that mean your information MVP has to be a free product?

No. I could easily charge a small amount for these products and I’m certain customers would be happy with their purchase. I’ve been told repeatedly that my free mini-courses are more valuable and useful than some paid products on similar topics. Keeping them free and using them for lead generation is simply a matter of choice.

If you’re setting out to create a new information product business, I recommend you follow one of these two strategies:

1) The Pricecalator

Release your first MVP for free, but make it clear that it’s only available for free, for a limited amount of time (ideally with a countdown to a specific end date). This provides a nice urgency factor and also emphasizes the real value of your product (it’s not just something that’s free, it’s something that’s worth money, but it’s free right now).

With this limited free offer, you get your first batch of customers through the door and with their feedback, you start growing and improving your product. Once you’ve rolled out an update or two, put a price tag on your product, but make the updates free for all existing customers. This will make your existing customers love you and help generate buzz for your product.

The best part is that you can keep repeating this cycle many times: get new customers, improve and expand the product, increase the price. Every time you are ready to roll out an update, you can have another countdown to the price increase, which can help boost sales.

2) Freemium

Alternatively, you can keep the initial MVP free forever and use it as a lead generation tool. You provide some useful information to your subscribers and then make them an offer to upgrade to your premium product, which is where all your updates and improvements are released.

You can also combine both of these strategies, by keeping a free lead generation product while doing the Pricecalator thing with your premium product.

Value in Small Packages

giftbox_128-2Let’s look at one more example of delivering value while keeping things minimal.

Let’s say you run a site about health and fitness. A vast range of topics, no doubt. To deliver your MVP, you need to dig into some aspect of health and fitness and unearth something small, but valuable.

For example: you could recommend a healthy shake that can be made easily and that you recommend drinking daily.

This is simple advice, but it has real value. Your readers can go ahead and make that shake and drink it. In other words (and to address the original question again), you’re delivering a real and tangible end result, even though this shake recipe doesn’t cover everything there is to know about health and fitness.

And you know what? Such a shake recipe would make a nice blog post on a health and fitness blog, wouldn’t it?

If you want to create valuable content, each post you publish should be like a minimum viable information product. It should deliver real value and a real, tangible end result for your readers and it should tie into the bigger picture of what your business is about.

This is about the fractal nature of information and usefulness. Luckily, you don’t have to provide answers to everything in order to deliver a valuable product, you can zoom in on one aspect. As long as you extract some useful and actionable advice, the result is a product worth paying attention to. And whether you want to publish that product as a piece of free content, as a free report, as a video or video series or in some other form is up to you.

Principle & Execution

Once you see the fractal nature of all knowledge, all skills and all topics, it opens up infinite possibilities. You can always apply the same underlying principle: “zoom in” on a topic, extract some useful, valuable information and present it in a way that encourages your audience to get a specific result.

You can apply this over and over again and what form you publish the resulting “products” in is just a question of your marketing strategy.

Let me know i you have any further questions on how to apply this to your specific business model.

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About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Hi Shane,
    Thanks for the informative post, as always. You have a unique way of making things sound easier than what I often tend to make more complex. This post has given me an idea which was right under my nose.
    Thank you so much.



    • That’s great to hear, Greg! I’m happy this post was useful for you.


  • Hi Shane,

    These are really helpful explanations / tips. I have been always confused in what exactly should I do and perfecting product has never led me launch anything.

    I much appreciate your efforts for putting this for us.

    Thank you so much :)


  • As the person who raised that question; thank you Shane. It’s rare in the IM community to even read and comment on visitors comments, let alone turning them into blog posts!

    I’d like add another layer to this question if i may. Some people suggest creating product suites(a variety of multiple products for the same niche market) and some others suggest keeping it simple and lean, therefore having just one ultimate high price product(signature program), focus on making it great and put all your efforts to market and deliver that top notch program of yours.

    I’d love to hear what your take on that is.

    I’m writing from my phone so I’ll write again once i get access to my computer and tell you how I actually applied this MVP concept after reading your comment on my question a week ago or so.

    Thanks Shane.


    • As you can imagine, there’s not right answer to this question. I myself have done both of these things and both have worked very well for me.

      The shortest answer I can give you is that creating multiple smaller products is an excellent way to grow your skillset (market research, product planning and execution, marketing). There’s usually more long-term earning potential in one big project that you grow over time. But the only reason I can do this quite effectively now is because I built those product creation muscles for a few years.


      • Just to follow up since I promised I’d share how I recently applied the MVP concept;

        I was planning to come up with an online course(in my native language) teaching “how to write, publish, market and sell ebooks online”. Being a damn perfectionist and wanting to give people a definite result, this was my idea. May be I could sell each module of this course as a different course, but what good is learning how to write an ebook if you dont know how to market and sell it:) To me writing an ebook is not a result, being able to start selling it is.

        Anyways, I decided I could use a summarized version of “writing module” as an MVP. Kind of “how to write your first ebook in 14 days evenif you are not an author” or something along those lines.I don’t know if this will work since I’m about to launch MVP and I didn’t offer the bigger course yet.

        Do you consider this example as a valid application of your MVP concept or you’d do things differently?


      • Hello Chad,

        I think this is a typical case of “being too close” to your own topic. You think that knowing how to write and create an ebook is pointless if you don’t also know how to sell it, but that’s simply not true. If you went out on the street and asked random people whether they knew how to write an ebook, how many do you reckon would say yes? My guess is that you’d have a hard time finding anyone who knows how, especially if you look for people who don’t just have a vague idea of how to do it but actually know how, have a system and have done it at least once.

        The vast majority of people fail at this very first hurdle. They don’t know how to come up with a good concept, they don’t know what software to use, they don’t know how to properly format an ebook, they don’t know how long or short it should be, they don’t know how they should split the content up into chapters, they don’t know what makes a compelling title, compelling topic or compelling content, they don’t know what formats to export in, they don’t know where or how to publish the final thing etc.

        There’s about half a dozen ideas for minimum viable information products in just that last sentence.

        The point is: helping someone take those first steps and going from zero to having a finished, publishable and non-crappy ebook is a big deal. Most people won’t ever make it that far. So help them get there and worry about the marketing part later.

      • Ohh so you’re saying even an info product along the lines of “How to write your first ebook in 14 days or less” which teaches research, naming&pricing, structuring&writing content is too much for an MVP …and an MVP must be something much smaller like “How to come up with a compelling title and topic for your ebook”?

        Is that your point, Shane?

        If so, then how do we expect to get feedback which will shape our bigger course? Because we are focusing on a tiny bit of a big picture and all content plus questions we’ll get through the MVP will be around that tiny subject.

        I don’t know I might be overcomplicating things:)

        Anyways, thanks for all your sharings.

      • A product on how to write the first ebook can be a good MVP by itself, but you can go smaller and more specific than that, yes.

        The way it helps you form the direction of a larger product and business is that it gets people from your target market through the door. I you get an audience of people who want to know how to create a compelling title for an ebook, it’s safe to assume that most of them also want to write, publish and market an ebook, yes?

        This is where the Lean Startup model really comes into play. Instead of just trying to think about what should be added to a course for people who want to publish ebooks, you build an audience with an MVP first. The MVP’s purpose is simply to get the right kind of people through the door. Then, you can do things like offer 1-on-1 coaching or do a webinar training series or invite feedback in any other way and you’ll get real feedback about what should go into your full course. You’ll also see which parts of your system people understand and which ones they have trouble with. In coaching, you see what kind of advice people tend to actually take action on and which advice they hear, but don’t act on for some reason.
        These are all details that are impossible to figure out on a theoretical level, without some real world experience.

  • We are a marketing consulting firm representing among other clients a small 12-attorney law firm specializing in condo association management. This summer we produced 8 professionally-done videos on various topics of special interest to condo association– marijuana use, handicap pool requirements, insurance for the association, property liens when owners foreclose — that kind of stuff. It took a while to finish them because as you inferred in a post they thought they were awful. Each video is about 3 or 4 minutes in length. However they are now interested in doing video email to association clients. I’ve looked at CoVideo, BoomBoom, and Wistia. I also downloaded your “free stuff” advice on a/v equipment to recommend to them. They don’t use “video” per se but they advertise on radio, print magazines, very little web advertising. they do give away stuff like TVs etc at convention exhibits. I’d be interested in your thoughts around how they can better use video.
    Many thanks


    • Hi Dan,

      I’m afraid this is a question I can’t answer without more details. Not that your comment lacks detail – it’s just the wrong kind of detail. Perhaps there’s some value in this, then: it doesn’t matter whether they want to use Wistia or something else or use video in conjunction with email marketing or not. The most important question is: what’s the purpose of the videos? What value do they want the videos to add to their business and what do they hope video viewers will do (or do more/less of, compared to non-video viewers)?


  • I’ve been in business for myself for a few years now and on your mailing list for much of that time. I’ve also bought several of your software products (including Thrive Themes) and been very happy with them — they work well and as-advertised, and have lots of unusually good training & help tools built right in. But the ongoing and genuinely useful information you regularly provide with blog posts like this one, weekly video updates, and podcasts is an unexpected bonus. Learning is an ongoing and essential process, and you are now a fixture in mine. I hope that especially people who are still trying to work out what they are going to do to achieve financial independence recognize the true practical value of your tips. In a world of sleazy, dishonest, hard-selling marketers, you are an exception and one of the good ones. I never receive the “You’ve got to buy this groundbreaking product that everybody else is promoting with the same swipe file and that will make you rich as f*** with a click of the button” barrage of BS from you that so many other marketers constantly send out. You’re a great teacher and a great example. Thank you. I hope your business is making you (and your partners) a fortune!


    • Thank you very much, Eric! This is a very motivating thing for me to read. :)


  • Hi Shane
    I just had to add to Erics comment above. I am extremely grateful I found Thrive Themes, blown away by the support and value you guys give and YES really appreciate you don’t barrage us with sales crap. Your products work and sell themselves. I tell everyone I know about them :-)
    Keep up the great work.


  • I feel compelled to agree with Paul and Eric. Your advice and tactics are very valuable – the blog posts are a must read for an online entrepreneur. Inspiring and actionable.

    Thrive themes are simply the best themes available!


    • Thank you very much, Mark! It means a lot to me, to get feedback like this.


  • Shane, I’m still unsure about the best degree of “minimal” for the first version of a product. I’m a huge fan of yours, and have purchased many of your products. But I’m going to be very honest here, and share a couple of my experiences with some of your MVP’s.

    I purchased the Thrive Content Builder shortly after it first came out. I was very excited with the concept, but ended up being very disappointed with that first version. I felt that it was so incomplete and minimal that it was useless to me. One of the biggest initial problems was the total lack of warning that I was leaving a created page without saving it. After losing whole pages twice by forgetting to save them, I just quit using TCB.

    I couldn’t wait for your product to be improved over time. And I was irritated that a simple “warning” that I was about to lose all my hard work wasn’t included in the initial product. That, to me, should have been included in a minimal product. I ended up buying a different product that I thought could give me more of the features that I was looking for.

    Now, a year later, I finally checked out the status of TCB again, and this time I’m thrilled with how it has developed and all the features that it offers. I rave about it to anyone. But just a few months ago, I was telling people how disappointed I had been with TCB when I had tried it out.

    You’ve recently released the Apprentice feature with some of your Thrive themes. Again, I was very excited with the concept, but when I tried it out, I discovered that the feature is so “minimal”, that it is pretty useless to me.

    I suspect that Apprentice will improve tremendously over the next year, but again I can’t wait for that to happen, so I’ve had to go ahead and purchase a separate LMS product for my online courses – because it offers all the features that I need now, not next year.

    I understand that your products improve rapidly, and in the direction that your customers need, because of all the feedback you receive on your MVPs. But I’m frustrated with the disappointment of how truly “minimal” the initial products have sometimes been.

    So, as I start to create my own products, I hesitate to make them very “minimal”, because of my experience with other MVPs. I don’t want my initial customers to be too disappointed, and walk away, and perhaps not come back to check on the progress of the products over time.

    Am I the only one that has dealt with disappointments with some MVPs? And how do you decide exactly how minimal to create an initial product? I kind of hesitated to be this honest about my experiences, but I’m hoping that opening this discussion would be beneficial to both of us. Thanks for everything that you and your team do!


    • Thanks for your comment, Debra!

      I can understand that this is frustrating and a problem from the perspective of a customer who doesn’t get what they’re looking for. However, from the business perspective, I’m still 100% in favor of the MVP approach.

      You frame the issue as a choice between releasing a minimal product now or releasing a better product later. In my experience, the reality is very different, however. I’ve seen this problem myself several times and heard countless similar stories: the entrepreneur who has spent three years developing a software application and never released it, the one who created a full product with 100+ videos and still won’t launch it and thousands of other examples of projects that are never even fully started, just because the circumstances aren’t perfect enough yet.

      In reality, the choice is usually between releasing something minimal or sitting on a product for months or years before abandoning it completely.

      Let’s take the Thrive Content Builder and assume that I had never dealt with the problem of my perfectionism getting in the way of my business. Would we have released a better version of it, but a year later? Hell no!
      I’m still not fully satisfied with TCB. There are still many things I want to add and significantly improve about it. There are parts of it I am completely and irrationally unhappy with… all while more than 5,000 people are happily using it to build better content and better websites.
      The reality is that without the lean approach, we would have run out of money for developing TCB by now and we’d have abandoned the project.

      Trust me when I say that I hate disappointing my customers (a trait that comes part and parcel with perfectionism). But even as much as I want to avoid ever disappointing anyone, I have to see that the tradeoff is in favor of a lean approach. Our numbers indicate that our first release of TCB disappointed a few people (maybe up to 50 or so) and delighted about 600 people. And it laid the foundation for a business that is making a positive difference in more businesses every day.

      So, the way I see it these days is that the loss of value to the world from people not using a lean approach is far greater than the loss of value to the world from people releasing underwhelming products.


      • Thanks for your response, Shane. Your comments have hit the nail on the head on what the single biggest issue is for my online business. I am far too much of a perfectionist. Everything single thing I do takes way too long to complete, because I’m always tweaking and making changes at every step of the way. I’m never satisfied with what I do.

        If I don’t find a way to deal with my perfectionism, I’m never going to accomplish the goals for my business. And my audience won’t be able to benefit from any products I have to offer, unless I can actually complete initial versions to sell!

        Thanks for reinforcing the value of using MVPs. Now I have to make it happen!

      • Monte Bertrand says:

        People have this impression that everyone needs to be happy with a product the first time you see it to make it a success. That’s just not true.

        The audience built in the lean stages creates the feedback that actually makes it a success over the long term. “Waiting” simply precludes the audience from giving that feedback.

        As a customer, you’re perfectly welcomed to wait a few cycles of development until the later stages. Some people are early adopters and some aren’t. Doesn’t make one better than the other.

        Now you have awareness of the process and you can choose the stage you want to participate in the product.

        But Lean is without question proving itself to work. It’s going to get more prevalent because it’s competitive, pragmatic and creates better products. It’s not going away.

        It’s just perspective. Businesses really can’t afford to do it any other way in my book … just look at the cycles of iPhones, Windows OS, and lots of other devices. Everyone has to be agile today.

      • You make a very good point about early adopters, Monte! As long as you communicate clearly that something is in beta or or early access or whatever, it will attract the right kind of people. Many will remain on the fence and you can win them over later, when you have a more polished product.

  • Glad I save all of your emails because this post gave me an idea about a useful MVP that I can offer to people. I have made an organic green smoothie every morning since 2010 and can only imagine how many people are interested in a basic recipe and short video showing how to put one together.


  • Hi Shane,
    Just a quick question. Is the MPV then another name for the “tripwire offer”?


    • Hello Olga,

      The two concepts aren’t really related, no. A tripwire offer is simply a low priced offer that you make to new leads, right after they sign up to a mailing list.


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