You did it! Months of hard work, planning, developing, and finally getting your early users and first traction.
But how exactly did you get here?
Well, it all started with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
This article is a step-by-step guide on how to build a Minimum Viable Product, its core features, and examples of some of the most successful MVPs ever created. It will shed some light on what is an MVP, its benefits, examples of when not to build a Minimum Viable Product, and the mistakes almost every entrepreneur makes when building an MVP.
Okay, let’s jump right in!
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
Eric Ries, the author of the book ‘The Lean Startup’, provides a methodology for developing a viable product in a shorter period of time. His Minimum Viable Product definition is as follows:
In other words, an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or else called Minimum Valuable Product is the first implementation of a product that has a minimum set of features that are still enough to create value to early adopters and gather customers’ feedback for further product development.
The difference between an MVP and a fully-featured product
An MVP gives enough understanding of your product potential at an early stage and at a lower cost compared to a fully-featured product.
Why do you need an MVP?
Every potentially successful founder believes in their idea. As one of our customers recently said, it isn’t even worth starting if you are not 100% sure.
But everyone makes mistakes. And a great idea might just not fit the market at that time. And if the project doesn’t solve any pains for your target audience, you might end up with a washed-up product.
The faster you get feedback, validate the idea, and realize the weak components, the faster you can fix them and pivot in another direction.
And it’s much more pleasant to see the full picture early on rather than when you have paid a fortune for a fully-featured product, right?
Time is a very important factor in launching a new and innovative project. As usual, the first is the one who creams money off the top.
Compared to developing a fully-featured product that can easily last more than one year, an average Minimum Viable Product development takes up to 6 months. Plus, you will obviously have a clear advantage among others since you’ll be the first one on the market to present your idea.
Is cheaper than a fully-featured product
People call the MVP cheapness a myth. And it’s true – Minimum Viable Product development is not about saving money. But let’s face it: MVP IS cheaper than a fully-featured product.
First, developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) involves fewer features. Therefore it is much quicker to build than a fully-fledged product. As a result, starting with a Minimum Viable Product software saves you half of a fortune.
Attracts early adopters
Early adopters don’t just bring you money – they are extremely important to your product. They are the ones who will:
- test your product
- provide you with feedback on the functionality
- actually tell if your product solves their problems.
Additionally, they’ll create traction that you can show to your potential investors.
How to attract early adopters?
From the inception of your idea to the MVP release, every post on social media, every speech about your soon-to-be product should warm up your target audience. And when it’s released your audience should feel a wave of excitement that the product is already on the market.
By viewing and analyzing data from customers that are already using your product, you should be able to confirm whether you’ve defined your target audience correctly or if it’s time to pivot.
When not to build an MVP
Though it is uncommon to start a project with a fully-featured product – it may be the correct approach if:
- Time and budget is not a question
- You are 100% sure in the success of your idea
It can happen if you conducted solid market research or you want to build a clone of the other successful product.
Typical Mistakes in a Minimum Viable Product development
1) No ‘V’ – Not a Viable Product
Users in the current marketplace know every popular product on the market in every niche. With so many options, users are unlikely to care about new products unless they offer unique features.
This implies that having ‘some minimal product’ is sometimes not enough for attracting customers. Having implemented the main features in your MVP, you need to focus on a Minimum Awesome Product (MAP). It means that besides building some basic features, you’ll have to present some unique features and impressive UI and UX. That is what will make your product ‘enough’ and hence viable.
2) No market need
Did you know that ‘no market fit’ is actually the first reason why startups fail?
According to CB Insights, 42% of startups failed because there was no market need for their product.
This happens because startups don’t have clear goals or don’t meet customers’ needs.
Despite a Minimum Viable Product being a way of validation, it is still worth paying attention to planning and analysis at the very beginning. Having a goal of building a Minimum Viable Product software is a must.
We’ll talk more about planning your MVP further ahead.
3) No clear goal
Lots of startuppers light up about their idea. They start creating their MVP without actually setting their goals. In most cases, they think of how to build a Minimum Viable Product more quickly rather than plan long-term goals. Our experience with developing startups shows that in most cases, this results in failure.
4) No ‘M’- Not a Minimal Product and the delayed launch
One of the advantages of an MVP is a rapid time-to-market. It never works in favor of startuppers when they wait too long to launch.
Why do some MVPs launch so late?
– MVP is not minimal
While thinking of how to build a Minimum Viable Product, keep in mind that the whole point of creating an MVP is to build a product with minimum yet sufficient features.
The difficulty here is that you need to maintain a balance between viable and minimum. The key is to focus on features that are significant and unique. Not all cool features should be included in your MVP.
We’ll have some time to talk about the features below.
– Founders do everything by themselves
You can’t do everything by yourself or with your partner in crime.
It is true that success starts with the founder. But usually, there are a lot of things on the founder’s and co-founder’s shoulders. But they can’t do all those things at once: development, marketing, pitching, general management.
There is a lot to go through. Saving on additional developers is an understandable thing, but sometimes time is more costly.
– Weak Team
As a famous proverb says “I’m Not Rich Enough to Buy Cheap Things”.
Don’t take it the wrong way. We are not saying it is worth hiring Silicon Valley developers when you are just starting out. But it IS worth calculating the possible time needed for debugging when you are paying the lowest market rates.
– Wrong Technology
Any technology is just a way of achieving your business goals. We have to admit that some developers recommend the technologies they are actually selling. And that’s not a problem until it’s the wrong technology for You.
Some languages and frameworks bring projects to life much faster than others. For example, a large number of startups choose Ruby and PHP because they have many in-built solutions that reduce time-to-market tremendously.
However, other technologies like C# and Java are not focused on speedy development. So, they wouldn’t be a smart choice for your Minimum Viable Product software.
If time-to-market is a crucial point for your Minimum Viable Product development, then choose a technology that would save your time and of course money with it.
Related: How to choose a startup technology stack?
5) No budget for marketing/poor marketing
Everybody knows that having launched an MVP doesn’t guarantee you immediate success.
We’ve emphasized the importance of a solid plan and here is why: lots of novice startups don’t allocate funds for promotion. And that’s where they make one of their biggest mistakes.
Or even worse – they just don’t have any money for promotion after development.
Why Startups are Left with No Marketing Budget?
– Costly/Cheap team of developers
Startups either pay extremely high rates for development and run out of money in a matter of seconds or they pay too low rates that lead to redoing the project and eventually running out of money before even launching. We recommend finding that sweet spot in the middle.
Want to build an MVP?
– Lack of funding
Bootstrapping is a great way to be in control of your project. Until you realize that your budget won’t cover your idea implementation. Seek some external investments. That way you will have a solid ground for your Minimum Viable Product development and for marketing.
– Off-target features
At first, many choose the wrong features. What they do next is come back and make the essential ones. Having spent on building all the necessary features, they start to get the picture that there is no money left for promotion. Decide on your MVP features in the very beginning. A good development team should help you make wise choices.
What Tasks Does an MVP Can Solve?
One of the main reasons for a Minimum Viable Product development is product validation. By getting honest feedback from your customers, you’ll find out what things to change and what to improve.
You might want to fundraise in the very beginning or later when you have traction. Whatever your plan is, it is going to influence the type of MVP you develop and what features you gonna need.
For instance, if you are going to seek investments in the very beginning of a closed beta stage, your implementation might need to be more simplistic and the UI & UX much more basic as you just need to show your idea.
At the same time, this approach won’t work for the later investment stages.
Attracting initial customers
When your goal is actually to attract customers, it won’t be enough just to show your idea. Such an MVP has to:
- cope with lots of requests /high load
- have an appealing design.
How to Build a Minimum Viable Product: 5 Core Steps
Step 1: Discovery & Research
Sloboda Studio has been focusing on MVP development for almost 10 years. Thus, we’ve seen the number of pitfalls waiting for founders at the very beginning.
A standard dialogue at the beginning of the project is often like:
- I have an awesome idea. Is it possible to implement it?
- Yes, it is. But let me ask you a question: what problem does your idea solve? Who is your target audience?
- I haven’t really thought about it. Is it that important now?
Surely, we can create great code without this information. But we do not want to – we aim to build successful products.
During the first step of an MVP development, we recommend you find answers to the most crucial questions about your project idea.
Want to build an MVP?
Step 2: Conduct market research
Market research refers to a comparative analysis of direct and indirect competitors.
Here, researching your competitors will give you a sense of the market. Plus, whether there are analogs to the product you are about to build. Additionally, by doing market research, you’ll be able to study the main features of your competitors that you’ll have to beat.
Step 3: Map a customer journey
Customer journey mapping is a way to visualize the customer experience and their potential interaction with your product.
It will provide you with the best user experience on your platform and help you retain your users.
To map a customer journey, you need to know:
- Your target audience and buyer personas
- Actions that your users are going to take
- The target actions for your users
Buyer persona – a girl in her 20s wanting to fly to Paris. Actions – check available dates and prices – book a flight – register – pay. The end result – buy a ticket.
Step 4: Come up with a UX concept & build wireframes
The previous step will significantly help you in building your UX (User Experience). By outlining the UX on your project, you’ll be able to lead your customer seamlessly through the platform to the end result.
Wireframes will help you understand how the content will look on the platform. After building wireframes, you’ll move over to the UI (User Interface) and mockups.
Related: The Project Discovery Phase or How to Avoid Failure
Step 5: Define core features
The key concept here is maintaining the balance of minimalism and viability.
You need to have some minimal set of features in order to call your product ‘viable’. Read below how to decide what features to include and what to leave out for now.
How to come up with your MVP features
Here are some factors to take into account:
You might have some budget limitations. We get it, most startuppers do. And you’d better let your developers know in the very beginning.
Because your budget limitation will inevitably result in a limit on features. You and your development team will have to consider the budget when choosing the most important features.
What should you do if you need more core features than your budget can allow?
Sometimes it’s possible to reevaluate the features or even replace them with more budget-friendly solutions. Below you’ll find some of the available options.
MVP features are the ones that your product can’t live without. Without them, your MVP just won’t make sense.
Basically, there are 2 types of features for Minimum Viable Product development:
- must-have features
- your unique features.
Say you’re building a blog. One of your unique features is for users to see the person who wrote an article. Thus, user registration is a must-have feature.
Your Unique Features
These are the type of features that set you apart from others. Think of them as benefits that your customers get while using your Minimum Viable Product.
How can you simplify the features of your Minimum Viable Product?
As we discussed above, your project budget imposes a limitation on your MVP features.
But what if developers claim they need 700 hours for development while you can only pay for 500 hours?
You can try to keep the feature but simplify their implementation.
There are 2 ways to simplify your core features:
Use out-of-the-box solutions
Using out-of-the-box features is a common practice for startups that want to launch faster. For an out-of-the-box solution, you install a minimum viable product software that comes with the basic functionality needed for a feature.
Usually, to remain viable, such a solution will still require some customization.
For example, various programming languages have libraries you can install that will serve for a specific purpose. E.g. Ruby on Rails framework has a library that helps to create an admin panel (Active Admin) or authenticate users (Devise).
Build more simplified features
A couple of examples from a variety of options:
- Subscription. For example, you want to implement recurring billing. But you lack money. What you can do is to manually send a notification once a month to remind your subscribers to pay manually.
- Worldwide transactions. E.g. you’re thinking of working with different countries, that’s why you want to have different payment providers. In order to save a penny, you might want to start with a single provider and add others later.
Another case of making features cheaper. you plan to implement an Elastic Search on your blog, which is a good choice. At the same time, it could take more resources than you can afford now.
Solution. if you don’t have a lot of data to work with, you can create a very simple search with a few filters. In this way, a request will be sent directly to the database.
Minimum Viable Product Examples
Obviously, you are not the first startupper to think of building a Minimum Viable Product. There are some truly great examples of very popular companies that started their journey with an MVP.
Zappos’ MVP is one of the greatest examples we can review. It is an online retailer for shoes, clothes, handbags, and other items. But initially, the company only focused on selling shoes.
In order to validate his idea, Nick Swinmurn, the CEO of Zappos, went to take photos of shoes in different stores. Then he uploaded them on a simple website he had created to see if his idea would take off. When a customer clicked the button to buy a pair of shoes, Swinmurn would go to the local store, buy that pair, and ship it. Customers loved his idea and more orders started coming in.
That’s how he validated his idea, built more features, and broadened his product range.
Currently, Zappos’ estimated annual revenue is $2B. In 2009, the company was acquired by Amazon for $1.2B.
Spotify is another example of how a Minimum Viable Product with only one unique feature can get you ahead of others.
Music streaming is what makes Spotify so special. At a time when buying CDs or paying for an album on iTunes seemed pretty expensive, Spotify decided to launch a website with a cheap monthly subscription for music streaming. While the platform was engaging early adopters, the founders of Spotify had multiple meetings with different music labels in order to broaden their music services. After its initial release, customers were immediately hooked on Spotify.
Spotify raised $2.6B and has $6.8B in estimated annual revenue.
Our Expertise in MVP Development
Sloboda Studio has been building MVPs for startups since day one of its existence. The company has been on the market for over 10 years. We have broad expertise in building MVPs for startups in such industries as:
- Food and Beverages
- Marketing and Advertising
- Media and PR
Here are a few examples of the longest projects that we’ve been working on which started from an MVP development.
Salita, a B2C platform that connects interpreters with customers across Norway, also started out as an MVP.
In fact, It was one of the first marketplace MVPs that Sloboda Studio created. The founder came to us with an idea to solve the language barrier for immigrants in Norway. After releasing a Minimum Viable Product, we received a lot of feedback and developed a fully-featured online marketplace.
Since then Salita has raised over $1M, and we are still working with them to polish the platform.
CityFalcon is a financial news aggregator. When we met their Founder he had a goal of creating an MVP that had a clean and simple UX to show the huge potential of his idea of an aggregator.
After our team had launched the CityFalcon MVP, we got feedback from clients and realized that users required even more unique features. So we started working on adding even more cool features. Little by little, CityFalcon grew bigger and its scope grew wider.
Currently, City Falcon posts over 1M articles daily, has raised more than $2.5M and recently won the Amazon Growing Business Award.
Minimum Viable Product Template
We have prepared an awesome Minimum Viable Product Template for you to download for free. It has many questions and useful tips for you to go through step-by-step.
The bottom line: Nowadays it is almost unprecedented to release a product without an MVP. Examples of Minimum Viable Product from such giants as Spotify, Zappos, Dropbox, and Facebook show that even large companies can start their journeys to success with pretty limited products.
And even though an MVP is a very popular concept, there are still many myths and misconceptions about it.
Some think that MVP is about implementing all the features they like, as long as they have a budget for them. Others treat an MVP mainly as a way to save costs on development and aim to build a product of high quality, in a short timeframe and very cheaply.
After developing the MVP projects for almost 10 years, we have 3 key recommendations for you:
- DO NOT start your MVP without a solid plan
- DO find a balance between minimal and viable features
- BE wise with the choice of your future team.
Whatever challenges you might face with your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), you are welcome to contact us for a consultation.