Why every startup needs an MVP?
Every successful startup that grew into a well-known, established product or service was once just an idea. While there is an astonishing amount of dreamers and visionaries that dare to build another Uber or Airbnb, the harsh reality is that 90% of startups fail according to Failory. One of the biggest reasons for this unfortunate fact is the inability of owners to understand market demand. CBInsights claims that this reason is behind of failure of 35% of startups. How you can avoid this and increase your chances to make sure that your idea will make an impact and become the next “big thing”? It is a good idea, to invest in a proper Minimum Viable Product (MVP), built by an experienced team of software development experts.
If we talk about definitions, MVP is a version of a product or service with enough features for early customers, that will enable you to receive feedback and adjust your business strategy accordingly. Despite some projects neglecting it, MVP is a vital step for your product after the prototyping phase and before full-scale development.
The key benefits of having an MVP include:
- faster time to market
- the validation of the premise of a product
- testing the hypothesis about the actual market needs
- making adjustments to your product and processes
- helping you to understand where to focus your investments
Ultimately, having a proper MVP is helping early-stage startups to spend time and money wisely while focusing on building something that the market really desires. Additionally, keep in mind, that the main difference between startups and ordinary businesses is that startups have exponential growth, while businesses grow linear. Your investors might be interested in the ability of your project to double or triple in size in a certain amount of time. MVP can provide your investors with a clear understanding of the potential of a startup and help you to get more funding faster.
“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
— Eric Ries, entrepreneur, blogger, and author
7 Obvious and not so obvious mistakes while building an MVP
1. A poor validation of ideas
Let’s start our list with probably the most obvious step everyone is aware of: validating ideas. The time you spend in conductive research before developing an actual MVP is crucial to the success of your product. Some entrepreneurs skip the validation phase altogether and find out that the product has no place on the market after the launch.
To validate your idea, try to answer the next questions:
— Is the problem you're solving a popular one and relevant at the moment? (Example: Airbnb - the problem of lodging is relevant to everyone who travels).
— How often do people come back to you for a solution? Does your startup solve a problem that happens over and over again?
— Is the industry you're targeting growing or declining?
— Are you sure that you are validating your idea for the right audience?
— First, specify the problem, and then build the solution! You shouldn't create a product first and then think about how to market it.
— Does your startup solve the problems of customers well enough for them to pay for the solution?
— Why you will grow fast? You must have a detailed vision and explanation of how you will be going to achieve that!
— Why users and investors should prefer you over others?
— You must be the expert in your industry, and only you know how to solve the problem.
— Your solution must be 15 times better than the competition. Who needs another copy of Instagram? What new you can bring to your target industry?
Prototyping is another important thing that will help you to validate your idea. It is a common practice in app development, for example, when you could have a visual representation of your product and understanding how it works without even starting the development process. Additionally, a prototype can dispel the doubts, if your investors will have any.
You should also keep in mind that in some cases, Proof of Concept (PoC) is another thing that will help you understand whether your idea is viable. In software development, PoC tests particular assumptions from the technical side and verifies the feasibility of an idea. It is good to know beforehand that you will be able to build your product without blockers, with minimal possible failures or unexpected budget expenses along the way. PoC is another tool that will help you to gain the trust of the investors, add to financial viability and get seed funding. So, especially when your project involves big risks and large investments, leverage a proper PoC to make sure you will make the budget and schedule in further stages.
Finally, speaking of ideas, don’t rush signing an NDA with your development partner before you even talk about it. There is a misconception that an idea by itself could be priceless. While there is some truth to it, the chances are, that some people already had that same idea, but failed to execute it properly. Make sure that after rigorous validation, you will move to proper execution with the team of professionals, to increase your chances of success.
2. Overbuilding your MVP
There is a common mistake to spend more time and money on creating MVP than needed. Always keep in mind that MVP is not a complete product, you need to focus just on key features. Strip down your product to the bare minimum, leaving only features that are essential to its functionality. Hopefully, you've done the idea validation phase right, but still, you are uncertain whether the market needs your product: Why get distracted by low-priority features that you can implement later?
Once you understand the core features of your product, start the development of an MVP as soon as possible. An average time to deliver an MVP is 3 months, if you are stuck in the development longer than that, it means that you added unnecessary features and started to develop a full product too early.
How to correctly prioritize features in your MVP to separate core ones from the secondary ones? It will be a good idea to conduct a scoping session. You either can do it yourself, or get help from experienced professionals, if you are not sure about your level of expertise. Anyway, the most important part of scoping sessions are user stories. These are fairly detailed presentations of functionality and features for the end-users. In order for user stories to be a valuable tool in the decision-making process, it is crucial to attach a development time estimate to each and every function.
Here is a quick example of user stories:
- As a user, I want to log in with my LinkedIn account — 1 hour
- As an admin, I want to change the permissions and roles on my platform - 26 hours
As you see it like this, you will be able to pick the most important things to make your time limit. Having other user stories laid out, you will have a chance to evaluate whether you actually need that LinkedIn account login in your MVP, or having a Facebook login is just good enough, and you can prioritize over it other features instead.
To conclude this section — your MVP doesn’t need to be perfect. Always have in mind to keep things minimal, receive market and user feedback to move on to the next iterations of the product development!
3. Having unfinished or too generic MVP
On the other end of the spectrum lies the less obvious mistake. You can go too far by cutting down features and eliminate the core features that reflect the concept of your product. With too generic MVP, you won’t receive the right user feedback and draw false conclusions about your product as a result.
Don’t be a victim of the fear of cluttering, and think about what features your users need to have in order to completely understand the value of your product. Yes, it seems in some way contradictory with the previous section, but it is important to strike a balance with cutting down features to keep your product viable. The word “Minimum” in the MVP doesn’t mean that your product should be generic or unfinished. User experience is a priority as well, so, even if your MVP has 15% of the features of the final product, they all should represent the idea of your startup and work properly.
This has become such an issue, to the extent, that the term MDP gained some traction. MDP stands for Minimum Desirable Product or Minimum Delightful Product. “Viable” sounds like something capable of working, while “Desirable” is more about being attractive to or wanted by the end-user. MDP sounds a lot better in terms of emphasizing user experience, rather than building software with a certain amount of features. Not all viable products will end up desirable for the target audience. The difference lies in the approach. When you will be in the process of cutting down features, rather than asking yourself “What the least we can do to achieve the goals of our product?”, ask yourself “What is the simplest product we can build with the maximum value for the end-customer?”. Hopefully, with this mindset, choosing what features will stay in your MVP will be easier for you. With this out of the way, let’s discuss the actual software product development process in the next section and find out what we can do to make it efficient in delivering results.
4. Slow iterations
A successful startup equals fast growth. The pace at which you test your hypothesis, make changes, and improve your product is a crucial factor in the success of your project. So, what exactly is meant by the term “speed of iterations”? Let’s say you have one hypothesis and one problem to solve. You need to build a landing page or an MVP as fast as you can to find out whether this hypothesis is accurate and can grow into something bigger. Whether your product will eventually become the “next big thing” is heavily dependent on your ability to move from iteration to iteration fast. The ability to change business strategies and business models easily is another thing that increases your chances to shorten your path to a product-market fit.
We need to mention another factor that influences the speed of iterations — the approach, a software development process you chose to build an MVP. There are basically two most popular and the most effective options: Agile and Waterfall. Agile methodology is far more suitable for the case of startups, because of its nature to provide results on a weekly basis. In comparison with more traditional Waterfall, Agile offers adaptability and flexibility that is so important for startups. With the Agile approach, you will be able to make changes on the fly. This is extremely important when you have to change the scope or direction of the project. Choosing an Agile software development methodology is one of the elements of quick iterations of your MVP!
“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.”
— Mark Zuckerberg, Co-founder, and CEO of Facebook
Agility is your key advantage over the giant corporations on the market. As a startup, you have the ability to test, fail, experiment with different concepts, learn fast, and ultimately pivot faster than big players on the market. You need to learn how to get traction and market feedback fast with small budgets, in order to adjust marketing aspects, rethink the hypothesis and move to the next iteration of testing. Make sure to do everything you can to achieve quick iterations in your project!
5. Collecting user feedback that does not provide you insights
When you don’t gather feedback from users or don’t ask important questions during the interviews, your startup is in trouble. Your iteration should not only be quick, as mentioned in the previous section but also based on meaningful user feedback. What can you do to get the most from collecting feedback? You need to conduct proper user interviews and keep your eyes on key metrics, let’s talk about it!
When conducting user interviews, try to avoid the following 3 mistakes, which unfortunately are quite common:
- During the interviews, focus on the real-life problems of people, and not your idea and how they feel about it
- Talk specific functions and features, that would be able to solve the problems of your interviewees, and move away from abstract discussions
- Listen more and talk less
Always keep in mind that customers are not buying the products, they purchase solutions to their problems. Here are four questions that will help you pinpoint the details of the problem you are planning to solve:
What is the hardest thing about this issue?
The most prominent startups, that turn into well-known corporations, focus on solving day-to-day or regular occurring problems of people. Answering this question will help you to evaluate the real significance of the problem you are trying to solve.
When you faced the problem the last time?
The answer to this question will help you find out the context and circumstances in which the user encountered the problem. Knowing enough information on the real-life examples of the occurring problem, it will be easier for you to envision how your idea can help in particular use cases.
Why is it hard?
Finding out exactly why the problem is creating so much inconvenience for the user will help you to make your solution complete and cover the most important aspects.
How much will you pay to solve this problem?
This is an important question as well. You might have a brilliant solution to fix the problem, but, unfortunately, the final price of it may be too high for customers to pay for it.
Of course, there are key metrics of your MVP, that will enable you to figure out whether your solution is “working”. The key metrics you should pay attention to include revenue, the number of active users, and weekly growth in percent.
6. The lack of monetization strategy
While you must have a monetization strategy in your business model from the very beginning, fast iterations, which we mentioned previously, will allow you to find out which type of monetization suits your product the most. What’s the point of developing a groundbreaking product that will change people’s lives without any idea of how to generate revenue?
Finding a fail-proof, on-point monetization strategy should be your priority. The difficulty here lies in the fact that there are several proven monetization strategies. You will have a choice among such options as paid services, freemium options, in-app purchases, subscriptions, and ads. Which one to choose? With MVP, you will have enough agility to test which one is the best for your project and works the best with the target audience. The revenue model of your competitors might be a great place to start, but if you see that the startup doesn’t meet your expectations, there could be a problem with the model, and you need to adjust fast.
Building your product, you will have a lot of financial expenses to cover. Here are the main things you need to keep in mind:
Expenses for the hosting
Anything you put on the internet, whether this is a website or a mobile app, needs to be paid for. Let’s say you chose the freemium model for your app, and it became insanely popular among early users. You may not be able to cover hosting expenses and be far from breaking even. One of the other models will most likely work better in this case.
Consider lifetime value and the cost of acquisition
The cost of acquisition is the price for marketing divided by the customers you win. The revenue from each customer must be higher than your marketing expenses. Which model will allow you to achieve that in your situation?
Be ready for the future
The maintenance costs of your startup will increase over time, due to the growing number of users, and additional programming. You should plan how you will be able to raise the price for your product without losing customers.
7. Forming an ineffective team
You can’t build the product all by yourself. You need to find a team that will help you to move forward according to the vision, design graphics, and interfaces, write a code, conduct tests, market and sell the product, analyze the feedback and manage your startup. It’s a tall task that needs to be handled by a team of qualified professionals.
It is easy to fall into a trap and choose your friends and relatives as the heart of your team. On the bright side, you really can trust them. But the problem is, the people in this type of team are often good at only a limited set of skills. You can be surrounded by brilliant software developers that have no clue in marketing or design. Or have designers that need to spend a significant amount of time to learn how to code. Building a startup, you don’t have time to wait for your team members to learn an entirely new set of skills. Founding members are usually able to handle the overall vision, direction, and part of sales and marketing. In case, founders or one of the co-founders are technical experts, they may need an additional team for a certain task or phase of the project. When founders are not technical experts, CTO-as-a-service is a great option, in which you can delegate technical areas to a company with great technical and product expertise.
In some countries, building a team of in-house experts can be an expensive option that will take a major chunk of your budget. Consider the fact that you will need different experts for different stages of the development process. You will need to work with some specialists for three weeks and with others for six months. Not all startups can afford HR that will be proficient enough to find skilled people for the job, while recruiters often don’t have deep enough technical expertise to hire proper talent. Chances are that the hiring hassle will be an additional responsibility of the CTO, distracting from other important activities.
How to handle this issue? Partnering with outsourcing and offshore software development company might be a solution here. You may hire separate freelance experts, or join forces with a company that can offer you a dedicated team. Freelance experts are a good choice for relatively simple and short-term tasks, but if you are looking for a long-term partnership, a dedicated team might be the choice for you. One of the biggest advantages of the dedicated team over hiring separate freelancers is the fact that the dedicated team already has fine-tuned internal development processes and doesn’t need to be micromanaged.
Each company has a different list of roles. Here is an example of roles we offer to our clients at Visual Craft:
You or the Project Manager will spend additional time on setting up the processes, in case you hire individual experts and not an entire scalable team from the company.
The post-launch plan. How to get the first traction?
When you are ready to launch your awesome product, it’s time to attract the first customers. Hopefully, you got your branding aspects covered with a distinctive logo, tone of voice, website design, and social media presence. In your marketing strategy, you can combine organic and paid ways to promote your product. Make sure to let everyone know about your startup at websites like ProductHunt, HackerNews, and BetaList.
Reaching out to influencers of your industry or community is a must, to add to your presence on the internet. Keep in mind, that email marketing is still one of the most powerful tools that will help you to get traction. Partner up with other similar brands, host events to meet your customers, test different advertisement approaches, and dare to think outside the box!