Every startup begins with a great idea and a greater vision. However, the journey from ideation to becoming a working startup is a long and hard one. One of the principal reasons why many startups fail to take off is that they pitch only their ideas to investors, without a functioning model to make the picture clearer. In other words, they underestimate the necessity of a minimum viable product(MVP) and are the worse for this oversight.
Since you are here, we get that you are an entrepreneur who realizes the power of a minimum viable product and are now looking to build one for implementing your idea. Which is why here we shall discuss the entire process of converting your idea from paper to prototype and the factors you need to take into account while doing the same.
We’ve divided the complete journey into two phases – one, where you articulate your idea completely and test its viability in the market; and two, where you begin with the actual MVP development.
Phase 1 – The Ideation and Validation Process
Although the journey of every startup is unique in its own way, there are a few common stages that all of them pass through. This gives us a fair idea of how the overall process works and also warns us about the potential pitfalls along the way.
The ideation and validation process starts once you have a unique proposition that you want to bring forth to the market as a product or service. The most important part of this process is making sure your idea has an existing demand in the market. This helps you identify your exact target audience, giving you a starting point to define the core features of your product/service. Once the features have been shortlisted, you can allocate capital spend accordingly.
Let us explore these stages in more detail.
Market Research – Understanding the Need and Analyzing Competitors
The first and most important step is market research. A lot of startup owners hit upon what they think is a great idea to find out that somebody has already worked on it before, or even worse, there is no actual need of the product/service in the market. In fact, according to this study by CBInsights, 42% of new startups fail because there is no market need for their product. Consequently, all the money they invest in building a functional model based on the idea is wasted and the startup goes bankrupt.
You need to do some solid groundwork before you can progress to the stage of actually building an MVP. This includes conducting customer surveys, talking to people to see if your solution is solving a problem they face, and finding out if there is, in fact, an audience for your product/service. Once you have determined the need and scope in the market, start analyzing your direct competitors, to see what they offer and determine how your product will differ from the others. The USP of your product/service should be clear in your mind and convincing enough that you feel like going ahead with prototyping the idea.
The data collected at this stage will help you identify your niche audience.
End-use Platform Identification (The Web or Mobile Dilemma)
Now that you have identified the audience you plan to target, it is time to decide the platforms for which you want to build your MVP. It is better to choose a single platform initially, instead of simultaneously focusing on all platforms. The point of an MVP is not to have a full-fledged product that people can use from the get-go. It is only to give your investors an inkling of how your idea will function in reality.
Hence, investing in developing the MVP for multiple platforms does not make sense. Instead, you can identify the platform that will be used most frequently by your niche audience and build the MVP accordingly.
‘Which features should I include in the minimum viable product?’, is a question asked by every entrepreneur who wants to build an MVP. If you see the term MVP, you’ll get the answer; it is not called ‘minimum’ viable product for nothing. The idea is to prioritize the features you plan to offer and work only on those that are absolutely essential in the solution. Any feature that makes you think ‘Do I really need this?’ has to go right away.
In the feature shortlisting process, ensure that you think from the customer’s perspective, not yours. As the architect of the idea, you are bound to find every feature of the product useful, however, your audience might not always find it so.
Budget Planning and Capital Allocation
Hammering out all the details of your idea now takes you closer towards building the actual MVP. You have identified your niche audience, your core product features, your unique selling point, and the platform you intend to target at present. You can now decide whether you want to build the MVP yourself, get an in-house technical team, or outsource MVP development.
There are generally two principal channels that are going to feature in budget allocation – product development and product marketing. At this point, your MVP takes center-stage, however, you need to allot some part of your capital and resources for marketing the beta product down the line as well. However, make sure you don’t work the other way round. A good MVP can tide over with bad marketing, but no amount of marketing is going to sustain an inherently badly-designed product. That’s why a major chunk of your capital ought to be dedicated for building your MVP.
Now, even with seed funding, most startup owners do not have a huge amount of capital which can allow them to invest in a team of resources, right from the beginning. However, bringing in a technical team at this point can be tedious and cumbersome, delaying your project by several months. Instead, you can think of hiring a developer or outsourcing your MVP development to a trusted technology partner.
This completes the initial phase of ideation and product idea validation. You are now ready, with sufficient capital in hand, to start building your minimum viable product. Let’s see what that phase entails.
Phase 2 – MVP Development Process
Coming to the actual MVP development process, we start talking about the type of MVP you want to build, the technology you intend to use, and the way you plan to design it.
Let’s discuss each of these steps in detail.
Finalizing the Type of MVP – Mobile/Website; Desktop/SaaS; Android/iOS;
As we’ve seen before, finalizing the type of MVP you want to build is the first thing you need to do, so that you can focus on developing it for that particular platform. There are different types of MVPs, such as no-product MVP, concierge MVP, software-based MVP, etc. Speaking of software-based MVPs, you can further have a mobile or website MVP, a desktop application or a cloud application, etc. Diving deeper, if you decide to go with a mobile application, you can choose to build an app for Android or iOS, depending on your target audience’s tendencies.
Finalizing this helps you home in on the technology you can use for building the MVP.
Choosing the Technology
Say you have opted for a website application, which is cloud-based, like an e-commerce solution. Now the question arises, what technology do you use to build the application. You have a lot of options available – WordPress, Magento, Laravel, Joomla, Drupal, etc. The choices are overwhelming, but there are ways in which you can narrow down your options.
At this point, you have your niche audience in mind as well as the scope available for your product. Based on the estimated scope of the product, choose a platform that is robust and scalable. This will give your actual product room to grow. Finding the right technology for developing the MVP can be difficult for non-technical startupreneurs, in which case you can take the help of a technical advisor to understand all the pros and cons of the various platforms with respect to your product.
Also, don’t be worried if you are not sure of the technology right from the beginning. The platform you choose for your actual product can be different from the one you use for your MVP. For instance, say you build your e-commerce MVP using WordPress+WooCommerce but decide to deploy the actual product using Magento. That’s fine. The only reason for taking technology into account at this point is that developing your main product from your MVP is easier if you have a functional design ready on the same platform in the first place.
After finalizing the technology stack, you can start coding your MVP. Now whether you do it yourself, hire a freelancer, or outsource your MVP development, there are three things you need to ensure – excellent code quality, focused product development, and strict timelines. Maintaining these parameters for your MVP is a must because that is going to be the foundation of your product.
As Steve Blank says, “The MVP is not a cheaper/smaller version of your product.” Rather, it is what your final product would look like, with all the frills and furbelows removed. Hence, it is important to pay particular attention to the initial design of the prototype and set fixed timelines to complete the project within a limited duration.
Frontend and User Experience Design
As for the back-end so for the front-end! The point of building an MVP is two-fold; one, you have a ready module of your idea to show your investors, two, you get real-time feedback about the advantages and drawbacks of your product as you start testing it amongst beta users.
To this end, you need an MVP that has well-designed frontend wireframes and a good user experience. We’re not saying it needs to be extremely rich at the moment, but nevertheless, it should be functional and intuitive from the beginning itself.
Once your prototype is ready, investing in a few rounds of beta testing is always a good idea. This helps you get first-hand insights into how potential customers will react to your product and the problems they might face. Beta testing is an iterative process, which can be repeated until you build a complete, fully functional minimum viable product that you pitch to your investors.
The Last Word
This covers the complete process of building your MVP, developing it from an idea to a full-fledged, pitch-ready product. The advantage of following this method is that you have a functional product to show your investors, as opposed to a castle in the air.
Building a minimum viable product is a must for serious startups and one of the most efficient ways of doing so is by hiring a technical partner. The process of building an MVP is simplified to a great extent when you have a technically-sound advisor guiding you through the process.
What are your thoughts on building an MVP? Drop a comment to let us know!