A Guide to Building an MVP
Looking to build a prototype Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for your new idea? Or are you looking to hire a web development firm to do it for you? You should understand what the proper steps are in turning your concept into a living, breathing application where customers can use your product. And you can gain the valuable insights to build your second iteration.
There are many options to get you to a live product. Some will cost you a pretty penny, while others will be a simpler, quicker solution to get your product to market fast. Your objective with an MVP is to maximize your amount of learning from potential customers while minimizing your cost and effort. Learn how to be okay with an MVP that isn’t functionally perfect. This can be a challenging obstacle for a first-time entrepreneur that has his sights set on world domination and taking on an industry Goliath. Just breathe. Launching your product is a never-ending process.
So, how do you build an MVP? Let’s go through the proper steps in building an MVP prototype so you don’t fall into the common pitfalls that other entrepreneurs do.
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
When I was building my first startup, I received some golden advice from a well-known venture capital firm. They said that I was trying to do too much by trying to solve too many problems. I was scatterbrained, wanted to do it all, and that eventually led me its demise. Creativity can be a blessing and a curse. A lack of focus can be a big warning sign to potential investors, and it’s a common trap that first-time entrepreneurs fall into. Heck, I still trick myself sometimes. But do one thing really good. And then do two things really good. And then three. And four. Get it? That’s what you need to do to build a successful MVP.
Popular music platform, Spotify, has the mantra: Think It, Build It, Ship It, Tweak It. When you’re at the infancy stages of your startup, time and resources are two things that you don’t have an endless amount of. You need to juggle them wisely or you’ll sink. At this stage, your best friend is momentum and speed. Product Market Fit is what you are seeking.
An MVP is a proof-of-concept prototype of your website idea or mobile application. You want to validate your idea and its market. Let me be clear, an MVP is not a product that lacks all functionality. It is a product with the basic features of what you are envisioning it will be in a year or two. Strip it down to its bare bones to include only the features and functions that are essential to your business plans.
Building Your Minimum Viable Product
For an MVP, you’re looking to get closer to a revenue-generating product that is craved by your users. Dumping endless amount of resources and time into developing a perfect mobile or desktop application will be detrimental to that process. A hired web developer is happy to take your money, or be put on a monthly retainer, to tinker around endlessly on your website or mobile app. And without direction, this could get you stuck in an endless website staging loop, never pushing it live. Web developers have a vested interest in keeping your prototype development process going on for as long as they can. More time, more money. But you need to get your MVP out the door.
Our advice is to avoid hiring a full-fledged web development team for your MVP. It is a waste of money for an idea that you aren’t confident will even work. Your MVP needs to prove your thesis that whatever you are building is something that people want and need in their life. Only then should you bring in a web development team to refine things. If you have programming expertise in the mix already, good for you. You won’t need to look for a reliable web development company to build your MVP. But be very honest with yourself at this stage. Does your current team have the experience and know-how to accomplish bringing a beta version of your company to market? If your answer is that you don’t know, find a company that has built MVP prototypes for companies before.
An MVP is an ongoing experiment. What you are looking to solve or enable your users to accomplish? And how can you doing it efficiently? So, keep that in mind when you work through these web development and mobile application steps:
- Do you have a technical founder? If you are a marketing whiz, that’s great, but you don’t know the ins and outs of building an application. You’re going to get caught up on a lot of needless tasks that will slow you down. This is a weakness for you, so recognize that. It’s nothing to be ashamed of! People are good at some things and better at others. Either…
- Find a technical founder with the expertise you need to build out an MVP.
- Hire an MVP developer that you trust to build it out.
- Understand your customer and market. What is your unique value proposition? Write down your reasons for beginning this process of creating a company or product. How big is your market? What do your customers look like? What makes them tick? And how does what you’re building fit into that demand?
- Limit your initial functionality. For your MVP, you should only focus on the bare-minimum functions that will show your proof of concept. Define the core features that are necessary with the first product launch. If you’re seeking investors, they will want to see that you can actually get a product live.
- Wireframing. I begin with a blank PowerPoint. Each slide represents a function that I want on my website or mobile app. Then I search the internet and grab available images that show that process. I storyboard my ideas and get a feel for the UI and UX. After that exercise, I have a good feel for how the mobile application or website will flow. Then, I begin wireframing it out.
- Development. Share your wireframes and PowerPoint deck. It’s also helpful to bullet-point necessities and nice-to-haves for your developers.
Many business ideas sound great on paper, but when you finally put it to work they flop. Either the demand isn’t there or the idea just isn’t a sustainable business concept. This is part of being an entrepreneur. It’s not the end of the world. You have learned an important lesson along the way, so get out there again and build your next one! One thing that you don’t want to do is look back at a big price tag for your MVP, a solid year of wasted development time, and no user feedback. That will crush you. So, focus on limited resources, limited time, and expert guidance for your MVP. The quicker you can get it to market, the quicker you can begin the learning process of what is and isn’t working.
Here are a few tips to avoid MVP failure:
- Monetization. You’ve officially launched an MVP that people are addicted to and using every day. Great! And your users are increasing, too? Even better! One big thing though. You’ve forgotten about the way to monetize it. When you’re building your MVP prototype, keep in mind how you plan to roll out paid features. Will it be a monthly fee?
- Constantly innovate. Alright, you’ve finally got your MVP up and running. Now is the important part. Listen to your users and customers. Do not have tunnel vision on your feature roll-out and only do what you think will work. What do they want? Test it! We’ve all had theses and concepts that we think will be successful and ultimately fail.
- Don’t let new ideas control you. It is extremely easy to constantly chase new ideas to make your company or application better. But you need to refine what is working before rolling out a bunch of features that you aren’t sure people even want. The worst feeling is spending a lot of time on something that no one cares about. It will happen, but try and limit it as much as possible. We all have creative ideas that seem like cool features, but sometimes there is a reason why those ideas never took off. Someone before you tried it and realized there wasn’t a real market for it.
- Test, test, test. Constantly have a back-and-forth conversation with your user base. Ask them what is working and what isn’t. What are the features that they never use? Maybe you should cut them and double-down on what is working.
- Road map it. Don’t scrap all of those creative ideas you have that’ll make your company a leader in the space you’re in. Develop road maps and upcoming developer sprints to roll those out. That way, you can revisit those ideas that you were once excited about. I can guarantee that after your MVP is launched, you’ll change your tune on a lot of those features that you were so attached to so early on. Why? Because your perspective will change once it’s launched and you start gaining insight on what people really want. Keep a running list of all of the suggested features and build-outs for later versions. Your users will appreciate that you listened to their input.
I can tell you from experience, your initial idea is going to morph into something you’re unfamiliar with at the moment. If you have a core group of dedicated early adopters for your product, website, or iOS app, leverage that as quickly as possible. Ask them what features they want to see, how they’re using it, and begin to create that stickiness. Stickiness is your key to success. Build. Test. Launch. Repeat.