Building MVP is like making a foundation for your house. The question is how to build a minimum viable product is where you start from and what defines the success of the whole project. Many entrepreneurs face difficulties here though.
You have a product idea in mind, and there is a lot of uncertainty ahead. We suggest that you start by ordering your thoughts into assumptions.
So we wrote a MVP development guide to cover all the main steps one should go through to build a MVP and lay the groundwork for a successful project.
It draws on the Lean Startup concept, which means you should not spend too much time perusing them. The idea of Lean Startup is to test a hypothesis before you develop an actual product. Invest a little bit of time and money in idea validation first. This should help you avoid wasting resources on building a MVP that nobody wants.
In other words, make assumptions and test them against the market until you find a fit. This is called minimum viable product (MVP). And we explain how to create a MVP step-by-step.
Let’s start the journey now.
MVP Development Process, Pre-Stage
Step 1. Problem assumption
Whatever the reasons behind your startup idea, make sure that it solves at least one major problem. At this stage, you are unlikely to know how to develop minimum viable product and what exactly the challenge is or how your target audience defines it. But you don’t need to. All you need to do now is get going. Use the following MVP development guide to write up to three definitions of the problem as you currently see it. You can go back to this point and start from here once you have collected more data.
For example, Tinder’s gap was solving the well-known problem of online dating being shameful, long and inconvenient by developing a mobile app, which is easy to use, modern, and fun.
Or Dropbox’s insight was that it is inconvenient to store everything on your computer with no ability to access it from the Internet and people would like to store and share their photos and documents from the cloud.
One of successful MVP examples is Volition, which was developed with the help of Rubyroid Labs Team. The gap there is that people would like to influence the products that are being developed and have a word in choosing the vector of company MVP development process. So Volition decided to offer its customers an opportunity to vote on what beauty products are to be developed next, which is a great idea and something nobody else offers.
Freaky Summer Party Festival
Freaky Summer Party Festival partnered with us to build an app. Although not a startup, our client needed to solve a specific business problem. Their problem sounds like “The festival’s visitors found it difficult to navigate the event program.”
It is extremely important to find in which way your product is unique. Otherwise, you are doomed to competing for those who are already in the market and have their audience. You don’t want your startup to die in the fight, so it is better to think what unique features you can offer. If you can’t think about the features, take into consideration design, region, where it can be used or devices it supports.
And it is no less important to deeply understand the problem you are solving. Since it will be the main question in figuring out which features should be included in the backlog and which should be developed right now.
Step 2. Target audience assumptions
You have made an assumption of what problem(s) your startup is going to solve. Now think of who will benefit from the solution.
If this is a business problem, narrow “company” down to “company’s CEO”, “HR manager”, or “engineer.”
You might be targeting a wider audience with a consumer problem solution. In this case, consider drafting a broader description (e.g. “Joe, a middle-aged man who wants to invest in Internet memes”). Here is a mind trick you can use: give each one of your user profiles a name. This will help you see them as a real person rather than a vague generic figure.
If you are feeling uncertain about your target persona, check out Hubspot
Layer Cake partnered with us to know how to build a MVP for real estate professionals. We don’t know what name they gave this persona, but their idea was clear enough to pair this user profile with a problem and outline the solution.
User profile example for Layer Cake:
2) Who they are (briefly)
A real estate professional
Step 3. Problem discovery
You have stated the problem and defined your target audience. The next stage will be checking these two against each other.
Go to the search engine preferred by your target audience. Enter the description of the problem in the search bar and browse the results. This will help you answer the following questions:
- Is your target audience aware of the problem?
- Is this problem one of the top three problems on their mind?
- How is your target audience currently dealing with the problem?
- How much is your target audience currently paying to solve the problem?
- If the problem remains unresolved, how does it affect your target audience?
- What is the key benefit of effectively solving the problem?
Step 4. Solution statement
By now, you must have a clearer picture than when you first came up with your startup idea. Look at it and outline the presumptive value of your solution to your target audience.
Develop up to three solution statements. Try to keep it as clear and short as possible.
Step 5. Market analysis and competitor discovery
Now that you have formulated your idea as a solution, you can look at your competitive landscape.
A. Identify your competitors
Go back to the problem discovery and outline competitor products in the row “How are they currently dealing with the problem?”
Now go to your favorite search engine and enter “[competitor product name] alternatives.” Look through the results and find more products that offer a solution.
List up to five such products.
B. Competitor discovery
To make sense of your competitive landscape, you will want to organize your findings on paper.
We suggest that you keep the following in mind as you take notes:
- How is the company performing financially?
- How big is their user base?
- Knowing the size of a competitor’s user base will give you the first impression of the market. If the market exists, this product is likely to have a decent amount of users. If the user base is too small, this could be another red flag.
- Which revenue generation models do they use?
- What do users love about this product?
- What do users hate about it?
- Which important features is it missing?
- Which of the problems you identified earlier does it solve?
- What characteristics does this product need to have to provide a [better] solution?
- What features does your product idea have that this product lacks?
- How could your product solve the problem better?
C. Learn from other’s failures
Get ready to test your startup idea on the market. You will need to present different product messages to your target audience and see what sticks. To begin with, pair one problem with one related feature. Once you get a sense of how this works, go creative and toy with different combinations and wording. You will end up with a bunch of product messages to choose from.
List your ideas and outline the ones you like the most.
Example of a startup failure
The company /Unicorn Scooters/ only lasted around a year. After completing the Y Combinator startup accelerator, they shut down. Here is how you might fill the template for this case:
|Brief description of product/service
|Why they failed
|Producing and selling e-scooters
|– they ran out of funding
– they did not have the
resources to deliver products
– the cost of “Facebook and
Google ads, payments for
loans, and other expenses”
ate through the company’s
funding quicker than
Step 6. Product message assumptions
As you find out more about your competition, you are likely to come across a few that have called it quits.Try to find out what went wrong for them. This will help you better understand your target market and avoid common mistakes.
Our client Chatchamp’s product message is: /More sales through digital product consultants./
|Online shoppers don’t buy because they can’t find what they are looking for, and online customer service isn’t available 24/7.
More sales through digital product consultants
Step 7. Figure out the vision, scope, and risks of the product
When we know what problem we are trying to solve, it’s time to get down to the vision of the product.
Defining your vision is basically thinking, sketching or prototyping what result you want to achieve. Be attentive, when talking about the vision, we are talking not only about the MVP but about the complete product you want to receive after everything is done. It is important to think about all the parts beforehand to reduce the number of things being redeveloped.
If you have an extremely big project, it might be useful to split it into a few smaller ones to reduce effort and speed up the time required for preparation and development.
Vision usually contains:
- Problem description
- Short description of the solution
- The audience you are aiming at
- Main features list with a short description of them
By listing the features to develop a MVP, you basically form the scope of the project. You might reuse some of them or add later. But at this stage, it is important to understand a general estimation of how much time and effort the MVP development process will take as well simply understand what it should do.
Drafting a scope is also very efficient for making sure your understanding of the solution is consistent and you haven’t missed anything. A list of features will let you ask yourself the questions of how the product will look like in future and make sure you have everything it takes to achieve success.
And one more thing you should take into considerations at this step is risks.
You should investigate competitors and think about the risks of getting into the market. This would let you add some safety cushions to the funding. Besides, studying the competitors might help you to get some extra ideas that will be helpful for your product.
These are only 2 first steps you need to take to build a successful MVP.
Step 8. Validate funding
By this step, you have already figured out a unique problem or unique solution as well as have a certain vision and scope of what you want to develop. You understand the risks and have some understanding of your final product.
It is a perfect time to take a step back, look your future product over and validate funding.
Many entrepreneurs are so inspired by their idea that they skip this funding step. And make a huge mistake. Of course, if you have an infinite amount of money, that is not a problem at all. But usually, the budget is very limited. So funding questions shouldn’t be avoided.
Since you already have already documented the vision and scope of your project, the best thing you to do now is asking the company that is going to develop a MVP for a general estimate of the cost of the project.
There’s still plenty ambiguity, so never ever ever ever judge it as the real cost of the product. The “ballpark” estimate or rough estimate you will almost never be the same as the final detailed estimate. Its only purpose is to provide general guidelines for the cost of the project.
Find out how much money you are ready to spend on the whole project and how you would like to allocate the money specifically. This will help you, later on, build you would later help you in building a milestone plan.
You should be realistic about the financial returns you expect from the product. Your current expectations might too high. It is better to plan for smaller financial gains than to unrealistically expect larger gains only to fail. If you earn more later, it would only be a pleasant surprise.
MVP Development Process
Step 1. Choose core features
Now it’s the right time to take your knife and cut out the redundant parts. Let’s first ask: What is MVP? MVP is a minimal viable product, which means that it is both minimum and viable.
What is the minimum for your product?. Basically, you can learn this by asking yourself the same question, when looking at each feature: WILL THE USER BE ABLE TO USE THE PRODUCT WITHOUT IT?
For example, when we were working on Volition project, we knew that it wouldn’t be possible for an online store to get away without listing products, basket, payment system, user account.
Features like this formed the basis of the MVP. The same thing should happen to your product. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to any of the additional features you love, but can live without. This is not the end of composing MVP, we will pay special attention to them later. But if you put too many features as ‘must’, it will increase the final cost and postpone the first delivery.
In fact, this question is more complicated than it seems at first glance. There might be some features you are doubtful about. That is OK, no worries. Just put them into some kind of ‘Maybe’ column. If you have budget issues, they will be the first to be let go.
By the end of this step, you will have the list of ‘must’ features and maybe a few of ‘maybe’ ones.
Step 2. Choose a kick feature
OK, now you have the list of some boring product, which would work, but probably won’t win your customers’ hearts. So let’s make it a little more viable, which means let’s add some kick features that will help your product stand out among competitors.
Basically, this is where you get to the features you love. In the case of Volition of all the features, we enjoyed most was giving customers the ability to vote for upcoming products. This really made the company one of a kind. Of course, it was the first on the “kick list”.
You can have more than one feature, but we recommend keeping the list short. It is always hard to refuse from some great ideas, but basically, the fact that they are not included in MVP doesn’t mean that you won’t have them. It just means that you will be able to deliver the Phase 1 product earlier, so it will spend more time in the world and start earning money for you earlier.
Keep in mind that after you finish your MVP, you will be able to get down to all of the other features, just with some portion of work released. And by adding more features to MVP you are simply postponing release deadline and nothing else. It is much better to release a basic product and send updates every month than spend another half a year on features that can wait.
Besides, once the product is released, your customers might give you a hint on what they want most and their understanding might differ from.
Step 3. Choose Technologies
By the steps we will cover in today’s article you should have already figured out who is going to develop your project. Because here you will definitely need their help. Choosing technologies is extremely important for many reasons: it basically defines:
- How expensive the product would be
- How long it would be developed
- What are the limitations and risks
Of course, it is hard to decide it all yourself, so it is highly advisable to contact technical specialists, who will help you make the right choice. Besides, you should already know on what devices you plan to use your product and generally understand what it is: mobile app, desktop software or web-product. Or maybe all of them?
In the case of Volition, it was necessary to create a user-friendly online store within a short period of time.
And Ruby on Rails is well known for solving these kinds of problems So obviously it was selected. Generally, Ruby is a good choice, when one needs quick results. That is one of the main reasons we love it so much.
By the end of this step, you should know what devices you want your product used on and what technologies are expected to be employed to achieve that.
Step 4. Make milestones plan
As you know, good planning is the key to success. And MVP is not an exception. Remember, we were talking about funding stages and selecting features for MVP. Now when you take a few more steps and have a clearer understanding of what your product will look like and what technologies will be used for it as well as their approximate cost is time to settle down with MVP.
Again, you will need help from your technical specialists here, who will have a different view of the features and provide a better estimate of them. In 9 out of 10 cases, estimates will change (and unfortunately in the majority of cases they will be higher. So be prepared for that and understand that this happens. Since more details are available now it is better to agree to a longer development phase than to change your marketing strategy later when the team doesn’t meet the deadline.
It is often the case when you have to make MVP a little smaller to make the release earlier. There’s nothing wrong with that. Usually, one can always find a couple of features to hold off on and deliver a little later.
Taking all this into consideration it makes perfect sense to create a milestone plan. Split your MVP and Backlog into phases and rather than set strict deadlines set rough guidelines for when you expect this or that part to be delivered. Again, guidelines or deadlines are always set together with the team that is going to develop the project, otherwise, they won’t make any sense and will probably fail.
When setting milestones think of delivering separate parts of functionality that can be tested and looked at independently. If one part can’t be used without another one, it is better to put them all together in 1 milestone. The amount of milestones directly depends on the project itself, but generally, it is recommended to make short milestones 1-2 months each. This would help you to get better control over the product development and your budget.
This is the part where building MVP ends and the actual work on the project starts, but we will tell you about this at a later date.
If you need an experienced team to develop your MVP, contact Rubyroid Labs.
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