If you are an entrepreneur or want to be an entrepreneur, you have probably at some point said, “There should be an app for that.” However, going from an idea to a final product involves many steps. Not all entrepreneurs are the same – some have the experience and technical skills to handle most of the work themselves, while others are great at spotting niches in markets but aren’t able to realize their creative ideas without some outside help.
Either way, you still need to initially actualize your idea into a concept and then validate its need in the market in a resource-efficient way. There’s no point in spending lots of time and money on building a product that people don’t want or need. Prototypes and MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) are the most common ways of validating your ideas and concepts.
Prototype vs. MVP
Prototypes come in many different forms. It could be a pencil sketch, a clay model, or even a fully working version of your idea. Its essential purpose is to communicate your ideas and designs to your investors, engineering teams, partners – anyone who’s going to help you build your product or service. For software development, there’s a whole range of excellent prototyping tools out there that don’t require any coding knowledge to use and instead rely on visual drag-and-drop customization.
The benefit of taking this step before plunging deeper into your idea is that you can see very quickly (and cheaply) if your idea will make sense from a user perspective. In software, prototypes often focus on the UI and UX aspects of the designs, not the back-end components.
An MVP is the bare minimum version of your product or service that still solves the problems your stakeholders face. It bears the minimum set of working features to bring value to early adopters and offers a way of getting feedback so that entrepreneurs can learn as quickly as possible about what to do next. It’s used to prove the market opportunity beyond hypotheticals and speculation. Another name for an MVP is a Minimum Value-Producing Product because sometimes there is more value in, for example, the data produced or other value than actual revenue generated.
Example: Back in 2012, I heard a story about a guy in San Francisco that wanted to see if he could make a way of selling beer and booze. He built a basic web form so people could order alcohol from him and he would arrive in a Viking suit with beverages in hand. There were no backend integrations of payment systems or a mobile app. He just wanted to find out if someone would pay to have him bring beer. He kept orders on a spreadsheet and collected data to see if this business would work.
Why do I need an MVP?
The webform in the example above was this business’ MVP. It is easy to get caught up thinking you need all the bells and whistles before you launch, but it saves lots of money and energy if you have something proven to build on. So the advice is if you can’t validate, don’t build. Collecting data can help you understand if you can build a successful business, and an MVP is a great way to do that.
As there are so many unknowns and so many assumptions about the market, customers, and response to our service during the early stages of the concept, it’s easy for unconscious bias to creep in – building what we think they need, not what is actually solving their problems. This is especially true if you’re targeting multiple stakeholders. Things can get complicated if we try to create value for all of them right from the start. Building an MVP can help us narrow down the most important values as a starting point. After all, businesses only work in the long-term if it’s a win-win-win situation. So your MVP is a test that helps improve those chances without sacrificing or committing lots of resources.
What are the best ways to start the process of making an MVP?
- Map out your business proposal and stakeholders. You can start by dreaming big, describing the service value, and creating personas for everyone. Then narrow your focus to the ones that you feel are most important.
- Map out the service and how it works. The main question you should be asking is, what features and operations are required to create value for our customer personas? What do I need to get from the customer, and what are the ways that I get paid? How will it work in its most raw level? (i.e. tracking orders on an excel sheet.)
- Consider the most effective way to realize this service. What kind of tech is needed? How secure does it need to be? Is it enough to test with a bunch of friends, or do we need real users to prove it?
- Get feedback on your MVP idea from other people. Talk to others and see if they buy into your idea about how to make the MVP a reality. Listen to people who can provide both honest positive and negative feedback. Find public market and behavior data that helps you understand your stakeholders better. This can be data from inside or outside of your company.
After exploring these ideas, you can begin getting ready to build a working app or service.
What are the problems that people have when making their first MVP?
- Digital experience expectations have gone way up. Users expect the best interfaces and no bugs. Users want top-notch digital experiences from the start – especially when it comes to consumers, even if the service is somewhat otherwise limited.
- Making decisions about what to include and what not to include is hard. You need to create the right hypothesis and create limits that help you decide what will really prove your business case. What’s the path of least resistance towards solving your stakeholders’ problems?
- Understanding what aspects of the service are needed at a production-grade level. Choosing what to spend time and money on is always a challenge.
- If you have a coffee business for increasing your delivery reach, you might not have all the bells and whistles in your app, but you better have great coffee.
- If you have a restaurant finder service, you might skimp on the scalability of the app at the start, but you must have the app provide real locations.
- If your solution plans to use AI for recommendations, manual information can be used in the MVP to validate if people would be interested in the recommendations in the first place.
- You probably can’t satisfy all your stakeholders in the MVP. A lot of founders come up with a new app and service, but it has five different stakeholders and the MVP is unable to satisfy all of them. To solve this, a good example is the Nordic food delivery company Wolt, which launched by having self-pick as the only option to get your food. However, it was an MVP with a beautiful design, great customer service, and well thought-out user experience. After this idea was proven, they built the delivery carrier network. So the advice is to do your best to validate one crucial aspect of the service and then use the information to build the next. They had an open Facebook group to talk to people instead of having it in the app at first. Great customer support made a difference. Then they were able to scale based on the realization of the first primary assumption.
- Don’t build an app that is so big that you can’t iterate or make changes fast and build on top of it. If you build the app too big in the MVP phase, it’s harder to remove the things that did not work. Sometimes you have to start all over from scratch, costing time and money. Build fast and agile, so that tweaks and iterations can be made in short sprints.
What are the main things to remember when making an MVP for your business?
- Can you limit the number of things you are trying to prove?
- Can you make it so people can pay for it?
- What does your app need to have the right user experience?
- How will you roll it out? Releasing an app is more than just putting it on the App Store.
- What are the metrics that you will consider for success? And what decisions will you make after the data is in? How will the data affect your decisions?
- Be open to surprises. Let the data and facts have a major role in what you do moving forward. You can estimate or set limits for yourself, but also be ready to find things that you were not expecting. This is sometimes painful if it turns out your idea was not valid, but it can make better business decisions in the long-run.
- Build for agile iteration. Find a way of working that enables you to build on your app/idea rather than rebuilding it from scratch every time.