With all increased interest in creating new products and disrupting markets via new technologies, bootstrapped startups remain rather an exception; most startup founders are looking for funding from angel investors, private equity, and VC firms. Their ideas, many of which are promising enough, need investment to implement them. Future shareholders need solid evidence of why to offer their money for new product development. Even when the proof of concept (POC) proves the realistic nature of the product and market potential for it, the ability to execute and deliver what’s promised is what matters the most. So, truthfully, any startup’s product is just an idea until MVP, the minimum viable product, is built. It allows validated learning about customers with the least effort and presents the first tangible asset for a potential investor to consider.
Many famous international companies like Dropbox, Uber, Groupon, Twitter, and Amazon have started their businesses as basic MVPs first. Examples of MVPs launched in health tech recently are, for instance, Plano and GoodSAM app. So, how to build an MVP for your startup in 2021?
This article explains how a startup should build their MVP correctly and elaborates on how to apply the MVP-based approach to software product development in the modern digital healthcare industry.
What does MVP look like?
An MVP journey begins no sooner than the founder fully understands what MVP is. Targeting the final MVP is helpful in both planning and building activities. The perfect MVP is a source of product knowledge attracting early adopters and providing feedback for the next software development stage. In other words, the minimum viable product is a combination of key features that create a unique and demanded product. Still, the list of these features is limited and the MVP itself is focused on the main product idea instead.
While in the software development field, MVP usually looks like a ready mobile app with a limited list of working features and with or without mockup data in it. The minimum viable product can have any of the following forms:
A functional or partially functional web app
A landing page, web page, or a small website
A video presentation
A prototype application
A minimum viable mobile application
A physical product
Its goal is to build a tangible and simplistic version of the initial product or service idea, measure how it performs, learn how it is perceived, and understand where it can be further developed.
For example, an MVP in the form of a functional website allows a small business to check demand and feedback on usability while postponing inventory investment.
Thus, the difference with the real products is that MVP saves money, efforts, and time because there is no full development initiated yet. While a full-featured mobile app can cost a software development team $25,000-$100,000 or even more, an effective MVP can be developed in the $5,000-$15,000 range and help attract investors.
Targeting the final MVP
To plan MVP development for startups, founders need to do a bit of preparation.
Do preliminary user and market research. Do small surveys, outline the few most promising assumptions, test them against what you think is your target audience. Find out what’s the perfect solution for a pain you’ve chosen to solve customers want, what they already have, how you fit into the competition, and what are unique features that separate your idea from others.
Have an end-goal and success criteria. Find out what you want in the long term and how your MVP has to perform for it to be considered a successful invention. Think in terms of attracted users, amount of app installation, engagement metrics, etc. Success criteria for MVP must lean towards your end-goal.
To attract investors, a good MVP should be functional, reliable, usable, and have an empathic design. In other words, you need to deliver a cut and optimized alternative of the future product or service while demonstrating all its critical characteristics for the customer.
Another reason why a startup needs MVP is the opportunity to calculate the marketing costs of user acquisition and the average revenue per user (ARPU) and client lifetime value (CLV), which are the keys to forecasting the general profitability potential of the business. Ultimately, this information is crucial both for the founder himself, who needs to understand whether it makes any financial sense to proceed with the startup at all and for the investors and VCs who want to decide whether this is a promising investment opportunity.
Before creating an MVP for a startup, one needs to have a plan. Planning MVP includes many dimensions and can be a sophisticated process just because the information technologies industry has developed significantly. It is the point when you choose your MVP strategy of testing assumptions about the market niche the company wants to occupy in the future. Use the roadmap approach not to be lost on the way. Two main and most commonly used strategies of building an MVP for startups are:
End-User Engagement Focus. Define all the end-user groups available on the market and choose one to focus on. The MVP should target their core pain point, and its first deployment should be about a clear message to this target audience about understanding it and solving it most comfortably and pleasantly for the customer. The mentality, the role, and the expectations of these users should be clear and agreed to from the start to make them engage.
Bare Bones. While still understanding the market structure and needs but without dividing the market audience into specific groups, build the simplest possible, most bare-bones product and focus on delivering great user experience/performance/main value of an app. In this case, MVP is less a message and more an authentic and crystal clear end-to-end scenario or thread of functionality. Its core feature is being demonstrable and of high performance. When accepted by a wide group of potential users, the MVP can be developed further, with the team incorporating user feedback into the next project iterations.
Usually, MVP is defined during project initiation and refined during subsequent planning periods. Today, companies and startups prefer the Agile development methodology because its continuous incremental delivery approach allows getting testers’ and user feedback on every stage. This methodology enables making adjustments flexibly and realigns with the market demands, founder needs, and other influence factors within each delivery cycle. Ultimately, a startup will achieve incremental value at the end of the project. Still, even if the investment is lacking, a partially ready product is available every month, which reduces the risk of missing the target of product outcome or having the project left unfinished.
The agile approach to MVP planning is associated with technical excellence, simplicity, self-organization, flexibility, efficiency, trust, and continuous improvement as per the Agile Manifesto. Regular tuning and adjustment are the agile philosophy elements, which means the startup owner can refine his core business idea through a series of reiterations coming closer to the best variant of fulfillment with each new cycle.
During the planning stage, you have to map out the customer/user journey: write down routes they’ll be taking while using your software or mobile app. Then, you have to prioritize features that will be implemented into your MVP: choose features that will help your user to get the value of your product as swiftly as possible; simplify and streamline the user flow. When in doubt over additional features, choose in favor of those that contribute the most to resolving user’s issues. For this tactic to work efficiently, you need to almost scrutinize the results of preliminary user research and have constant contact with at least some of your potential users to dig into their specific demands deeper.
Ultimately, the MVP building’s planning stage is about outlining the steps of how you will develop and measure your MVP to evaluate the solution to be offered, obtain results, and reduce risk before committing to the investment of the entire system.
Avoid deciding to build multiple MVPs simultaneously until your market is very specific and the startup has enough resources to cover the product development without delays and quality mistakes. Often, the second MVP becomes just a learning project, and most ideas can be combined into the same product in the later project stages.
Building MVP for your startup
MVP can be presented as a side of the pyramid representing the final idea of the startup’s product to be delivered. The slices of the pyramid (as demonstrated in the figure below) are characteristics of the product demanded by the market and addressing an existing customer’s pain. These characteristics always include functionality, reliability, usability, and empathic design.
Functionality lies at the bottom because no one wants something attractive but not serving his needs and wants. The functional layer is about solving the core problem of the customer.
Reliability means building trust in the product and the service being available when the end-user needs it.
Usability means the customer can use it comfortably and without extra effort or emotional burden such as irritation. Ideally, a mobile app saves users time as it doesn’t require spending hours to find out how to set it up and apply. High-usability is also associated with easy-to-remember and/or intuitive steps to be made in the user flow.
Finally, the empathic design is the fact that the user likes how the app looks and demonstrates a positive reaction. It’s also a design/app flow that cater to the target audience emotional and sensory needs - it’ll be worth your time to check out rules of accessible and inclusive design to not overwhelm users, and to provide them with options that will allow them to interact with the app in the way that is comfortable for them.
Based on the pyramid visualization above, what does the term MVP mean for a startup business? Often, when building their MVPs, startups focus on the functionality layer only. It means that the product creates an extra symbolic pyramid layer at the very bottom. A functional solution lacking attractiveness and usability has low chances to be liked by a potential customer, neither by a VC investor.
So, how to create an MVP for a startup? The process of a startup minimum viable product building should base around the build-measure-learn philosophy. Whether outsourcing the task to an external professional software development company or hiring their team, the approach should be the same - going from a minimal set of features to an improved version with one step at a time.
At each stage, the team should recheck the feedback from testing customers and use the experience to make the necessary enhancement. Here, the user feedback should not be just technical, as in the case of traditional software development on its testing stage. It would be good to check the marketing feedback - whether the mobile app looks attractive to try, whether it is clear what pain it solves, how its usability is perceived, and whether the user flow is clear and comfortable at all.
It is recommended to follow these principles during the building stage:
Communicate product goals on each development cycle and inform everyone if they have changed.
Review the technology roadmap frequently and work with your Product Owner, elaborating and decomposing the high-level capabilities and features to the emerging system design after each iteration and feedback/experience gathered.
Ensure smooth communication between team members to deal with all sorts of issues and failed assumptions.
Keep the product’s target audience in mind and avoid diving too deeply into technology choices and technical refinement.
Distinguish between qualitative and quantitative feedback. Classify user feedback and prioritize what and when should be refined and addressed and what should be ignored at this stage of business development.
Remember about market competition but don’t focus on it too much.
Don’t forget about timeframes and deadlines, as well as stick to the budget.
Continue promoting the agile corporate culture, even if you are outsourcing your software development.
At the final stage of MVP building, don’t forget to measure its market success and spread word of mouth about the minimal viable product by inviting the maximum number of potential customers, engaging users to provide their feedback, and sign-up/subscribe for updates, etc. Check the number of active users for the launched mobile app. Calculate the final Client Acquisition Cost (CAC) to plan your marketing budgets and to forecast the Break-Even Point in the future.
Once you are done with launching an MVP
After the MVP is completed, the next 2-3 months should be spent on some routine tasks to finalize the project. These include:
Final feedback gathering through surveys, mobile app ratings, and user metrics;
Preparing to scale both financially and technically;
Decide on pricing, marketing promotion strategy and start spreading word of mouth;
Plan when your test the next business hypothesis;
Find one or several investment opportunities and launch the full-fledged product development.
Concluding the above, understanding the MVP concept may vary across industries and take many forms. The minimal viable product creates a baseline set of capabilities to test startup and market assumptions and helps the founder align his ideas and resources and stay on the same page with his potential investors. MVP explains the motivation, or its absence, behind the purchase of the potential product or service to be built. It is also about a smart way of using others’ best practices when creating MVP for startups because of learning from positive experiences instead of making mistakes.
Creating MVP is a way to launch a bare-bones system and attract the first customers by offering a simplistic product or service whose idea is clear and plain. Having saved resources and having tested its business model early enough, the founder will mitigate most of the risks and give his startup a chance to become profitable.
Correct planning of MVP is crucial for its building. When making the plan, one should imagine how to show the final result to potential investors and customers alike. Planning also includes choosing the software development methodology and assigning resources for the project.
With all different options to build it and possible founder’s opinions about it, MVP’s marketing purpose remains the same. The minimum viable product aims at creating the full visual form of the planned product or service, including User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX) design creation, leveraging technologies, testing the market, gathering real customer’s feedback, attracting investment, and has a solid basis for further product development. It makes sense to turn your MVP into a sophisticated product, including advanced and customized capabilities, only after its viability is fully checked and resources are available for the startup to scale.
Ultimately, building MVP for startups is nothing else but a minimum viable go-to-the-market step. The goal of MVP development is to get more knowledge of the market, customers, and their behavior, and to test all available hypotheses. When building MVP, founders often get a reality check on their idea, understanding that it needs refinement, real-work crash-test, and endless perfectionist-ish iterations to get where they want it to be.
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