How to Build a Minimum Viable Product

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In this post, I’ll discuss seven ways of how to build a minimum viable product, steps to building an MVP, resources, and insights. A minimum viable product needs to fulfill a need of your target customers or solve a problem they face.

Rather than developing your entire product first, you should build an MVP. It’s cheaper and a more efficient way to get started once you’ve validated your startup idea.

Building an MVP after validating your ideas allows you to get to market quicker and build on top of it if it works, continually improving it.

What’s more, you can also test your startup idea with a MVP because it takes less time to build. This may require capital, depending on the type of MVP you build. Some can be very inexpensive and some can cost you thousands of dollars.

Either way, it’s cheaper than building a full-fledged product.

Did you know that 42% of startups die because they made products that their users didn’t have a need for them. They didn’t know how to start a startup properly. You don’t want to be one of those startups that does that.

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  • Places your ideal users gather

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Developing an MVP will help you know whether or not you have product-market fit, as well. But it may take several to numerous iterations, or changes, in your product or service before you find it.

Product-market fit is when your product/product vision aligns with your target customers’ needs by solving a problem they have, and they can’t live without that solution once introduced.

Alright — now that we’ve got that stuff covered, there are a few steps to build a minimal viable product, and that includes going back to the basics of the business or startup idea. This helps you build a strong foundation for your business and you’ll read more about it in the next section.

Step 1: Refining the Startup Idea So You Can Build a Good MVP

the very best startup ideas - paul grahahm

The purpose of refining the startup idea is so that there can be clarity with the business model and with how it will actually work. You want to have some sort of competitive advantage and a unique value proposition or else you’re not going to get users, nonetheless customers.

When there are so many choices for products and services these days, standing out (in a good way) is even more important than ever. And to present this startup idea to the public, it’s important to be able to relay it as simply as possible to them on your website and everywhere you go.

In the adjacent quote, Paul Graham has a great point. When it’s a product or service founders themselves would want, it’s often something that will work in the market. The founders just have to be the same people who would be in the target market — unless they are building something that is game-changing for everyone – a unicorn.

To build an MVP, make sure you know the following about your startup idea:

  • What is it going to do to solve a problem?
  • Who is it going to solve the problem for? If you don’t know who your target customers are, then that’s something you need to figure out BEFORE you create an MVP. Knowing a startup’s target customers is one of the most important things they have to know in order for their business to function. Check out this post on How to Build a Customer Profile and Buyer Personas to learn more.
  • How do you envision your idea working?
  • How will you make money from it?
  • What features will it have?
  • How about down the road – will you be adding additional features or expand in a different way? Where do you see it in 5 years?
  • Competition
    • Is your idea different than other competitors in the space? If yes, then explain how.
    • Is your idea the first of its type in an industry?

Be open to changing your product/service, because user and target-customer feedback is crucial and their ideas may differ from yours. They will be helping you improve your product.

However, failure to pivot (change direction) can be detrimental to you — and too many startups have failed because of it. If you see your target customers wanting something else from the feedback you get from them, take it seriously.

Step 2: To Build a Minimum Viable Product, First Develop Your Vision for the Startup’s Product/Service

In order for you to build an MVP, you need to develop your vision for the startup’s product or service. I imagine you’ve started already because you’re reading this. But to what extent?

  • Have you written down how everything works?
  • What you will have on the website or in your program and where will everything be?
  • Do you know what actions each feature would do?

The more you know helps but you don’t necessarily have to have every single thing.

Whichever way you go (programming/building it yourself or not), your MVP will represent and fulfill a few of the most important aspects of your vision of your startup idea.

When you are making a minimum viable product, you’re stripping down your product and startup idea(s) to their essential elements.

But in order to do that, you have to know what it would look like as the full version, because you have to differentiate between the two but also keep the most important things in both versions. When you are developing your vision for the full version of your product or service, it’s important to write it all down in an outline-like format, as well, so you can keep it structured.

When you do this in detail, it’s called a functional specification, and its primary use is for developing a product.

A function specification explains what’s going where on the website. It also shows how each element acts and interacts with users and other elements of your website. Talk to your developer about using an agile development methodology so each object is independent and easier to edit.

Once you have your product/service vision, you then create your product development roadmap from this.

The roadmap is your startup’s course for product development into the future. You’ll need to create some milestones and go through phases to reach them.

In the next section, I’ll show you the different ways to create an MVP and I provide helpful resources to help you.

Step 3: Decide Which of These 7 Types of a Minimum Viable Products to Use

There are seven types of minimum viable products. In fact, there are ways to create a minimum viable product without really programming. It may not be what you initially thought an MVP could be, but are considered MVP’s because they provide the ability to see a proof of concept.

1) The Landing Page Method

One way to create an MVP is to create a landing page with an email list signup and a survey for feedback. Install Google analytics and track your signup conversion rate using event tracking in Google Analytics. Then you drive traffic to it and see how it goes.

The minimum conversion rate you should have is 5%. Ideally, you want to shoot for 10% and higher. If you’re not getting at least 5%, then you’re not driving the right traffic to your page or not giving them enough incentive to sign up.

The best way to go in promoting it is through social media, friends, relevant events, forums, and other places your target customers go.

The landing page method, however, is considered a vanity MVP because it doesn’t provide an actual solution to the problem and there’s no actual product for visitors to try and use. Rather, it just shows a possible solution to the issue(s) your target market faces.

This provides a proof of concept in numbers of email subscribers and feedback from surveys. If you get thousands and thousands of email subscribers and survey responses, then you know you are on to something and you can move forward confidently knowing that you will be building something that people really want.

Hubspot has a great article on 12 great landing page examples for you to get a good idea of how to structure the landing page. I encourage you to make it look cool, though. Seriously. Gotta have great design as presentation is really important.

I did a small mini review of landing page builder sites for you to check out. Only you can decide which option is the best for you and your circumstances, but they are all pretty good.

Landing Page Builder Sites

  1. LeadPages – Starts at $37/mo & no usage restraints. The more features you want, the more it costs, but it’s the #1 landing page builder out there because of the amount of features they have at competitive price points. The next price point is $67.
  2. Unbounce – Starts at $50/mo for 5k visitors. You can A/B test and get some other powerful features when you go to the next price point of $100.
  3. Pagewiz – Starts at $29/mo for 5k monthly visitors. Has unlimited A/B testing, professional integrations, and is not hard to use at all. They also have great customer service.
  4. Wishpond – Starts at $45/mo with no usage cap. A/B testing is offered at $65/mo. Nice templates and even has opt-in popups.
  5. Instapage – Starts at $29/mo for 5k monthly visitors. You can do unlimited A/B testing and has a simple GUI. They’ve a lot of nice templates. If you want CRM integrations then you have to buy-up to their next plan.
  6. Landingi – Starts at $29/mo for 10k monthly visitors but you need to pay for 6 months at a clip. Lots of templates and unlimited A/B testing.
  7. Lander – Starts at $70/mo for 5k monthly views. You can do A/B testing and will integrate with Paypal, Mailchimp, Salesforce, social media, and other services.

2) The Explainer Video

Another way to build a minimum viable product is by creating an explainer video and putting it on your landing page with your signup form and a survey. Dropbox did this and got 5,000 signups just from their video. However, this is considered a vanity MVP for the same reason as the former – it’s an idea and not a product.

Kissmetrics created this great blog post called 9 insider tips for creating a killer explainer video that you should check out and they made a helpful infographic about how to increase video viewership.

However, animated videos are perhaps the easiest to make because voice-overs are much easier to record than a video of a real person, and you can do it on your own. Sometimes people are just too nervous on camera or video — and that’s okay.

There are many animated video services which don’t require interacting with a video development team. However, you may want to if you are having trouble creating an animated explainer video for your MVP.

So I created this mini-blog post review of 2 explainer and 5 animated video services and some of the latter have free options. They all have many similarities in how they work, as well.

Explainer Video Services

Myevideo and video.explainers are two great services that will work with you to create a great explainer video. You have to request pricing for both but I think that’s because it’s project-based so they have to create a quote for you.

Myevideo is purely animated. However, video.explainers have six different styles: 2D cartoon animation, whiteboard animation, motion graphics, infographics, cut-out animation, and kinetic typography.

Animated Video Services

1) Animoto has a 14-day free trial of their professional package without any credit card required, which is their middle-tier package. Their first tier is the “Personal” plan and allows 720p HD, 70+ design-rich video styles, and 500 music tracks. That’s about it. The professional plan is really where the fun starts and you can have square or 16:9 videos, use your own logo, get advanced text control, do voice-overs, get pre-built storyboards, 2000 music tracks, and more.

2) Animaker has a free option where you can produce 2-min videos, get 5 exports/mo, have SD quality video, create unlimited video, get a small number of animated maps, charts, characters, and props. They have some sound effects and soundtracks, but not many. You can, however, import your own images and tracks. Their next tier is the “Personal” plan with expanded features, up to 5 min in video length, but still SD video. To get HD video, you have to buy-up to their “Startup” plan. But it has considerably more features.  Their next pricing plan is the “business plan” and it has all of the bells and whistles.

3) PowToon has a completely free version, but you’re not going to be able to get HD video. You can create up to a 5-minute video, get free soundtracks, styles, collaborate with other users, and get up to 100mb of storage.  It’s a good way for free users to buy-up to their pro plan with more features including HD video. You can upgrade to their team plan or business plan, with of course, more options.

4) GoAnimate‘s first plan allows you to produce 720p HD videos, make unlimited amounts of videos, export to YouTube & other sites, import audio/video/image files, get use of 40 premium soundtracks, and get automatic lip-synching.  The next plan has 1080p HD video and 70 premium soundtracks and all the features of their low-tier plan.

5) Wideo starts with a basic plan with only 1-minute videos 10 downloads/mo, and 20 video templates, but has a free 7-day trial. The next option is the pro plan with unlimited downloads, up to 10-minute videos, and 80 templates.

3) The Wizard of Oz MVP

This is also known as “Flinstoning” because the website looks like it is a full version of your product, but instead of the functions being carried out by a computer, you manually carry out the back-end functions.

However, the user doesn’t know that. This can get “sticky” if you gain a lot of traction because demand might outweigh the ability to supply the service.

Remember, it’s harder to scale up when your startup is limited by the actions of people. Eventually, this type of minimum viable product will have evolve into an application so actions don’t have to be done manually.

4) The Concierge MVP

The concierge MVP is similar to the Wizard of Oz MVP because it also manually carries out the functions of the value proposition. But instead of the user not knowing the back-end functions, the user knows and they’re catered to by the business like a concierge would do.

Be ready to do a lot of one-on-one legwork with your customers. In today’s economy, people are very demanding and crave things to be done instantly. You might want to set limits on hours available like any normal business does.

However, you want them to know that eventually, you’ll be supplying them with their services digitally in an automated fashion instead of having to do everything manually.

5) A Piecemeal MVP

This type of MVP is created by using a combination of existing software and tools to achieve your value proposition and unique selling proposition.

WordPress may allow you to piecemeal your MVP with its vast array of plugins, but don’t count on it.

Research whether or not there are actually the plugins that can allow you and/or the user to perform the functions you want.

It’s also possible to use a combination of multiple services that a user won’t get to use, but you will use them in order to fulfill your value proposition.

Zapier is a great service that allows you to integrate many different services into its suite so you can automate tasks and be more productive.

Other alternatives to Zapier are:

This is really specific to each startup on a case-by-case basis.

6) A Barebones SaaS MVP

If you’re not a programmer and want to have a SaaS developed, the cost of having an MVP built versus a full version of your digital product is of significant difference.

Full versions of digital products can often range from approximately $20,000 USD to $250,000, depending on its complexity.  Sometimes more and sometimes less.

Yes, it’s a huge range, but we must acknowledge that there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to developing digital products.

Jack Dorsey of Twitter quote on product development

Based on conversations with founders, I’ve found that cheap MVP’s can range from $1,500 to $5,000 USD. This range is much easier to digest than the former, don’t you think?

You might get lucky to get an MVP developed cheaper than $1,500, but don’t count on it.

However, be ready to pay that developer or team of developers for additional debugging services when there are bugs. And, the more users using your product, the more likely they are to encounter bugs.

Moreover, if you can fulfill your startup idea this way, then you’re much more likely to be able to obtain seed-funding.

Or, you might get enough money (if you’re charging with your MVP) to get more features developed.

Jack Dorsey says it all. Don’t go crazy with your product by adding a million features, especially in your MVP.

7) A Mockup MVP

This is the most inexpensive option. You can create a mockup MVP that looks like it’s are real from the outside, but none of the functions actually work. Startups usually use these to help them get seed investment. So what you’d use are mockup and wireframing tools. Below are several options for you to check out.

UI/UX Mockup Tools

  1. Balsamiq – Balsamiq is a rapid wireframing tool that helps you work faster & smarter. It reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard but using a computer.
  2. Mockingbird – A wireframing and mockup tool to quickly mock up apps and websites.
  3. Flinto – A Mac app used by top designers around the world to create interactive and animated prototypes of their app designs.
  4. Gliffy – Web software which allows you to make diagrams, flowcharts, wireframes, organizational charts, network diagrams, and more.
  5. Justinmind – An all-in-one prototyping tool for web and mobile apps through wireframes and prototypes.
  6. MockFlow – A collaborative whiteboard for brainstorming mobile, web, and desktop apps, interfaces, UIs, and websites. It’s a super-easy wireframing and UX suite for designers.
  7. Moqups – A streamlined web app that helps you create and collaborate on wireframes, mockups, diagrams, and prototypes.

You can use these tools to make mockups of unique applications and show your design to the world in a demo video.

They have extensive information on each one on how to use them, so don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.

To help you along your way, the following are some resources I think you might find helpful in this department on UI/UX.

Step 4: Preparing for a Build

Building a Lean Product/Service

You and your developers should build the MVP and product/service with a “lean startup” approach because it’s scientific in nature, which allows you to have a less biased view towards developing and keeping elements of your product or service.

Additionally, you can achieve this by building, measuring its effectiveness from your user acquisition efforts, learning from that information you’ve gathered, then getting more feedback, and finally repeating the process to re-build/change elements based on feedback. Below is a model for lean startup development.

lean startup feedback loop

This model reflects the most basic and essential form of growth hacking. It’s talked about in greater lengths via this post How to Growth Hack a Startup. You can start out with a technical minimum viable product and keep building on top of that, incrementally building and testing each new element you introduce on to your platform.

Outsourcing Development

Outsourced development is one of the easiest ways to get an MVP built if you don’t have a developer on your team.

A lot of people outsource from countries outside of the United States because they’re looking to get services at a cheaper cost than from labor within the United States. But that doesn’t mean that you have to go outside of the US. It really depends on your situation.

Regardless of where you want to find one or more people to build and grow your product, via the following link, you can find 13 of the best freelance websites to hire top talent.

Finding a Business Partner/Co-Founder to Work with You and Build the MVP

While there are ways to build an MVP without a developer, having one would certainly be advantageous for you. Most startup accelerators require you to have a developer on your team. This shows the importance of having one. It’s much easier to grow when you have your own dedicated developer. You may hit the jackpot and find someone great quickly, or you may not. What’s more, it’s important to know how to go about the process of bringing someone on board. So to help you learn that process, check out this post on How to Find, Vet, and Get Startup Co-Founders.

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Making your own minimum viable product doesn’t have to be a product, per say.

While a few mentioned here are vanity MVP’s, they can still be used as good indicators to see if your target audience finds value in it.

And that’s a great start if they do.

If you go that route, then you can have a multi-staged MVP starting with a vanity MVP, then go to a non-vanity MVP, and evolve from there.

What matters most in the end is that you are doing a meaningful and purposeful MVP.

What type of MVP do you think you’ll do and why? Scroll to the bottom of the page to write your comment!

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