MVP App Development
March 23, 2022

5 Things to Do BEFORE You Build an MVP

Startup MVP development can be fun and innovative- but it is also a very risky and potentially expensive loss if done poorly. As an MVP app development agency, we’ve seen numerous clients come to us at different levels of preparation and confidence. When we pair that with our own experience in the tech scene and business coaching, we have some key tips on how best to prepare before you build an MVP. This will minimize wasted time, wasted money, and failure itself. Let’s get to it!

1. Find your Riskiest Assumptions

When building an MVP, you typically start with a hypothesis. For example, “people need affordable access to use nearly anything, so we offer a marketplace to rent anything from anyone.” Great idea in theory (I know because that was ours on our first tech startup). You can say this is a “6B a year industry”, that Airbnb popularized it and the timing is perfect, that you have nearly unanimous excitement from people about it, etc... and investors may eat it all up. But is it true?

Taking your hypothesis, you need to ask- what is the riskiest assumption our team is making? What do we have the least evidence for that, without it, this idea doesn’t hold up?

For our “Airbnb for household items” idea, our assumptions would have been:

  • People will feel safe renting out their items to strangers if they are paid for it
  • People will want to rent items often enough that it generates substantial value for us
  • People will find it worthwhile to rent instead of buy for a lot of items
  • We can find enough supply such that people could find “anything” to balance supply and demand, keeping both sides happy

From here you should conduct user research to test these ideas. Then you also have to say- how best can we solve it?  You may still need to test these with an MVP itself, but do as much as you can first and you may want to have your MVP focus on those riskiest assumptions as a means of testing what could significantly impact your business model.

2. Interview Your Customers- But Don’t Mention It

If you’ve ever read “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick, then you know that talking about your product when doing user research is the worst thing you could possibly do.

”Hi, this is my MVP mobile app idea, would you use it? Do you like it?””Sure honey. It’s great.”

Most people don’t like conflict or to hurt your feelings, especially strangers. So how could you get anyone- even your own mom- to give you honest, genuine feedback? Don’t make it about you. Make it about them.

Statistically, 30 interviews gives as accurate of data as 100 as a minimum sample size. So you’ll want to contact at least 30 people who match your hypothetical customer persona and ask them about their problems. As much as you can, make it open-ended and ask follow-up questions. Let them vent. The bigger the pain, the more frustration that comes out, then the more likely you are to have found gold.

In our case, we found it was less of a pain and more of an inconvenience and one that most people had numerous other ways to solve. Our solution was maybe slightly better, but not enough to create a change in their habits. It takes effort to change people’s default behavior, so your solution has to be several times as good and targeted at a real pain point. MVP software development for startups relies on real feedback.

We need to cut through our imaginings fast, before our sunk-cost bias sinks us. If your hypothesis appears weak, don’t pursue it. Change it. Chances are, you can find an opportunity or a big pain with a relatively untouched market if you search. But don’t pick something just because it seemed like a good idea. Use evidence that is honest.

3. What’s the Minimum Value You Can Offer For Maximum Usefulness?

While we often call minimum viable products the goal, a more accurate term is “minimum useable product.” In this case, think of the 80/20 rule- that you will typically provide 80% of the value that matters with 20% of the work and features. For example- Facebook’s ability to create a profile, add friends, share posts, and have a newsfeed are their core value. They do A LOT more than this- but that alone is what caused them to grow like wildfire in their early years. This is going to be informed by your user research that you did earlier and will be key in the next step as well.

We recommend listing out all the core features you believe have value, and then creating a priority and dependency list. Something that has level 1 priority is built in phase 1 (the MVP). Then you may have something that feels like level 2 priority but depends on a difficult and complex feature, so it may be dependent on a “round 3” of building, for example, but is not the initial core to the product.

Part of MVP product development is narrowing down your niche audience to ONE value offering. You may have a vision for a robust “one-stop-shop” app but NOBODY starts there. Amazon started with just books- the easiest thing to ship and resell. Then they added one adjacent market at a time until they became the most valuable company in the world.

Niche down your value offering and your target market, this will help you stay small, lean, and adaptable as you test your MVP product idea.

4. Create a Customer Journey with User Stories

Now that you have an idea of core features for a core audience with your riskiest assumptions and some research to back it up, you can get to planning your MVP build. There are numerous ways to do this and we believe it matters more about how your brain best processes information than an exact formula, so feel free to be flexible here.

You want to imagine and plan out every step the user will take in using your app and how they are connected. This could be in a list or diagram on excel/sheets, or it could be a visual flowchart on Miro or Figma.

A simple version to start is imagining each page and step a user might take to leverage the core value of the app. Then any side features that might also matter or be considered standard (like forgot password, notification settings, terms & privacy policy, etc...).

Then diving more deeply, you can add details into each section with the following format “as a __________ user I want to _________ so that I can _________.”  For example, “As a renting user, I want to be able to search of items so that I can easily find what I am looking for.” This lets you put the development into plain English for the app development agency to translate afterwards. Thinking in layers of depth, you may then add to this: “As a renting user who is searching, I want to be able to filter by category.” And in so doing add more detail to that flow. If done in something like Google Sheets, it is helpful to have these in categories based on the page or action flow.

This process may end up being very detailed even at sign up like the one below:

article_when_to_hire_a_software_development_company

Or a bit simpler and more fun like this one’s initial steps:

article_mvp_development

Both of these examples are part of a much larger document and list of steps, but the point is that you want to understand the flow of your product and how it adds value to your clients. The designers and developers will worry about how to make it happen and may add helpful ideas when collaboration begins.

5. Wireframe Your Idea Before You Build

Now you’re ready to get designing what you app will look like. If you jump straight into developing without designing it will cause needless delays and confusion for the app development team. It helps to clearly explain and visualize your idea and expectation without significant cost investment, is usually relatively quick to build, and can be made an interactable prototype so that you can do user testing with an early product version. It alone is sometimes enough to even raise funding to pay for the MVP product development. And when you go through the process of wireframing, you often come up with great new ideas and believe more in what you’re building when you see it tangibly come to life.

No matter which step you’re on in your startup journey, we’re always open to connecting.

We’ve connected with clients 8 months before any development starts and helped them through ideation, and some clients come to us with their wireframes built or even their first MVP version already, asking for a phase 2 rebuild. No matter where you’re at in your MVP development, we’d love to help and connect you with resources, apps, grants, and our designs and development team to help you build and go to market up to 5x faster.

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