Four out of ten startups fall by the wayside because there aren’t enough people interested in using their products. In 2020, there were more than 800,000 new businesses in the US alone. Nearly half of them would have a better chance of being successful if only they started with a proof of concept or a lean minimum viable product (MVP). It’s cheap and fast to build. A mistake in reasoning identified at an early stage of startup development could help founders find a profitable niche for their ideas.
To save your time and money, we’ve come up with a five-step algorithm for building an MVP. It’s based on years of dealing with successful and not-so-successful startups accumulated by the Purrweb business analysts, project managers, and software engineers.
Step 1. Define the Problem
Before thinking of a list of features or plotting out user flows, you need to have a clear vision of a single problem your project will solve. Ideally, you should be your own early adopter and understand what the problem is. If that’s not the case, find at least a dozen people who could become your first users. Talk to them about the causes and effects the problem has on their lives. Ignore their descriptions of the features and solutions. Steer the users towards discussing the problem itself.
As you learn more about the problem, it will become broader and more complex. Besides, the potential users will shed light on its different aspects, and some will be opposite to your idea and each other. At this point, you need to focus on the problem’s single aspect. Preferably, conduct a comprehensive marketing research, determining how your creation can benefit your target audience.
Step 2. Document the Specification
If needed, enlist a help of a professional business analyst and a UI/UX designer. They will create a list of critical features and prioritize them by the value brought to your customers. You should be able to build and launch the MVP within three to four months. Set a minimal time limit, and you’ll notice the list of features dwindling until only the crucial ones remain.
In most cases, the specification will change once the development starts. However, with a complete SRS at hand, you’ll be able to keep track of changes. This changelog will also help you analyze the feedback you get and teach you to better plan future iteration sprints.
Step 3. Fast-track the MVP
With a defined problem and a timeboxed scope, building your MVP fast shouldn’t be a problem. Your goal is to get the project to its intended users and receive feedback. You do not need to create a multi-functional product on the first try. Even if it seems basic, you need to complete and release it. Whenever the urge to spend a bit more time and money on the MVP strikes, remember The Point. This project flopped hard after almost a year of development and thousands of wasted dollars. Luckily, Andrew Mason learned his lesson and used his experience to start a side project that later turned into Groupon.
Whether you use no-code solutions or rely on an outsourcing development team, don’t be tempted by an ephemeral ideal. Stick to the scope you’ve written down at the previous step. You will have plenty of time and opportunity to improve and rework the MVP in future iterations.
Step 4. Launch the Solution
Don’t treat the launch of an MVP the same way Apple treats a new generation of iPhones. In most cases, there will be zero press coverage. The only attention your product gets is the one you generate using your connections and a marketing campaign. There’s also no point in sinking thousands of dollars in online ads. You won’t get any valuable feedback unless you gain at least a dozen of first adopters, who aren’t the people on your team sharing the same vision.
Keep track of the users’ actions and reactions. These are the reason behind building an MVP in the first place. Even if your offer looks nothing like the vision in your head, talk to the early adopters. Listen to what they have to say, and keep a log of their grievances and suggestions. They will take you from an MVP to a unicorn if you’re attentive enough.
Step 5. Analyze the Feedback
While you might think research and development are critical for MVP, it’s the analysis stage that’s truly vital. It should answer a host of questions you’ve accumulated by this point, like:
- Does my product solve a problem?
- Is anyone willing to pay for my solution?
- Is there anything wrong with the solution I created?
- What’s the next value-driving feature I should develop?
- Should I iterate or pivot?
The full list of questions and metrics depends on the market and niche your product occupies. They evolve with every new iteration you release. After all, if you follow The Lean Startup approach, MVP will be a process, not a product. Every time you rework the existing version of the project, look for the fastest and cheapest way to test your riskiest assumptions. Implement the new iteration, collect and analyze feedback. Repeat the cycle until you’re the head of a successful business rivaling Zappos, Airbnb, or Uber.