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4 tips for startups to build an MVP

Startup Cover

It’s Friday night. You’re tired after a long week and can’t be bothered to cook. You make a snap decision to order out.

You remember a flyer you picked up from your letter box on the way up. The list of pizzas there is… really, really short. In fact it’s not even a list, there’s just one option: classic margherita. It’s the simplest pizza: pie, tomato sauce, and some mozzarella. Nothing more – and nothing less – than what you need. You decide to give them a call and 30min later a steaming pizza box sits on your table. The dough is crispy, mozzarella creamy and tomatoes smell of Italy. Full bliss.

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But why just one pizza? Well, the pizzeria started trading only a week ago and it seems to understand what a lot of startups don’t get. Its MVP has the bare minimum number of ingredients necessary to do the job it’s designed for. Unlike many startups who launch buggy bloated beta versions and then focus all their creative energy on firefighting, the pizzeria knows a great MVP is all about simplicity.

It’s important not to confuse simplicity with poor quality. Your product is the most important marketing tool for your business. It should help you learn more about your customers’ needs and win you repeat orders. Pitch your first MVP wrongly and you may never get a chance to build its second version. 

Your Minimum Viable Product should be designed to do exactly this: to solve the problem or meet precisely the need it’s been created for, and with a minimum of bells and whistles. Once you’ve got your functional but simple product into the hands of enough users, you’ll be able to gather feedback to prepare the next iteration.  

Remember the definition of MVP given by Eric Ries: 

“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.” 

 Now let’s take a look at 4 tips for actually getting your great startup idea up and running, even before you deliver your first true MVP! 

1. Start with… a landing page, not an MVP 

Before investing significant sums of money on developing a product or service, it would be a good idea to see if your value proposition is of interest. For a host of different ideas, you don’t even need to have an MVP for your startup ready to go, because you can use a landing page as a way to see if your idea will interest anybody. 

Let’s say your business idea is for a website with news about your community. Before you invest in developing a webpage, hiring reporters, etc., you can create a landing page with a Call To Action to subscribe to a digest of local news. 

Smart leveraging of social media by advertising your site on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and other portals will drive traffic to your landing page. Once you get a minimum number of signups, you can then turn to advertisers and say “hey, people want to read my content, I’ve got eyeballs to sell you!” 

Landing pages have a lot of advantages: 

  • They make it easy to do A/B testing and see how different product descriptions resonate with potential customers 
  • They cost almost nothing to prepare 
  • They allow you to harvest email addresses and other contact data you can use to build a database of people you can reach out to later 

The lesson here is simple: an important step for your startup on the way to an MVP is to learn whether there really is interest on the market for what you want to provide. 

2. Hold off building the MVP for a little longer – start with a mockup 

Keep in mind that your MVP isn’t the product you want to sell, it’s the first product you can sell. By selling, I don’t mean the transaction of money for product. Rather, I mean convincing people that you have a viable product they will want to buy or use.  

Let’s say you’re designing a project management tool. While this type of software tends to have a ton of features, the MVP should handle scheduling and assignment of tasks. 

So your objective when trying to get seed funding, which often requires proof of some interest in your product (customers or potential customers), should be to create a mockup that is clickable and takes the user through the process of scheduling one task within a project. 

The mockup should also make it easy for you to demonstrate your product in presentations. If it’s done properly, it will demonstrate the value proposition while letting potential investors and customers provide constructive feedback to get you closer to the goal of a working, sellable product. 

3. Do it the Wizard of Oz way 

Getting your startup’s MVP sometimes means… not developing anything yet. The Wizard of Oz approach is about “the man behind the curtain” making seemingly magical things happen, but without any real magic. 

A great example of this approach is the Zappos online shoe store. Nowadays, when we order from an online shop we generally imagine they’ve got inventory in a warehouse, and when we select a product and click the “pay” button, our order then gets boxed and sent to us.  

Zappos did it differently – they put pictures of shoes up on a website, but they didn’t actually have any shoes themselves. Instead, when a customer bought a pair of shoes, the founder just walked down to the shoe store and bought them off the shelf .This was a great way of gauging the interest in his idea for an online shoe store at minimal cost. 

Imagine your idea is preparing custom diets and recipes for people looking to improve their fitness levels. Ultimately, you want an app or a website that does this automatically. The beginning could be much simpler – a form for the customer to enter the necessary information, then you manually typing out and sending by email a set of recipes of meals they can cook for a week. 

Once you’ve got enough interest, you can develop the software to automatically process the information from your form and generate a PDF with meal planning and recipes automatically. 

4. Don’t build your own tech team – hire one and get up and running much quicker! 

At the beginning, you might be tempted to build a small core team of developers and sales pros to get off the ground. Don’t do this! You really don’t want the responsibility nor the overheads.  

For your startup to generate that minimum viable product, you don’t need to employ an entire crew of people. And you definitely don’t need to deal with employment agreements, payroll, sick days, office space, and all the other things that come with the territory. 

Outsource the work to a professional team of development professionals. Working with a competent business analyst will help you get a better grasp of your needs, and contracting out the initial development work will keep you from getting in over your head. Keep it simple, keep it lean, focus on your core idea and only do what you need. 

These are just a few of the tips that can help your startup to achieve a minimum viable product. Keep in mind that you need to do it with a minimum of fuss and muss, just like the new pizza store – put out the simplest thing you can using the least amount of resources, get as much feedback as possible, find funding and start preparing the next iteration. 

If there is anything else you’d like us to clarify, feel free to contact us directly and we’ll happy to help you make the right choice for your company! 

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