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Creating a startup is a quite risky process. Lean startup development requires a huge investment of time, energy and resources. The risk is that you can very seriously invest in a product that ultimately will not perform well in the real market.
Perhaps the only way to reduce this risk is to create the minimum viable product (MVP). Such a product allows you to spend money as efficiently as possible: you don’t devote all your efforts to creating a product for a lean startup and testing it on the market, but invest the absolute minimum resources necessary to make it viable. In other words, you are only seeking the product’s functionality to withstand market testing and potentially help attract investors.
Of course, success depends heavily on the technical implementation of the MVP. The technological aspect of the MVP creation is described in our article, which we strongly recommend you to check out. And here we are going to focus on the role of a startup creator and the mandatory actions that he needs to take to create a quality minimal viable product.
However, let’s first deal with terminology. Before starting the implementation of an idea, many people say different names for the intended result. The most common terms in this case are:
- POC (proof-of-concept)
- MVP (minimum viable product)
Before moving on to direct recommendations, let's look at the cases in which it is most appropriate to use each of the above definitions in order to avoid misunderstanding.
PoC (Proof of Concept)
Approach: is this idea even possible?
Implementation: The main purpose of PoC is to demonstrate the practical feasibility of a method, idea, technology, in order to prove the fact that a method, idea or technology works. As part of the demonstration, a prototype, a mathematical or computer model is built, which are not necessarily full-fledged products (which distinguishes PoC from MVP). PoC confirms the fundamental possibility of lean startup products creation. An example of PoC is the program of the company DeepMind, acquired by Google in 2014. As a proof of the machine learning technology concept, the company introduced a program capable of playing a computer game, later this program did not have any practical use, however, the technology that it demonstrated was used in various Google products.
Approach: how will this product function?
Implementation: The prototype is a mock-up, draft, unfinished version of a program built to verify the suitability of the offered concepts, architectural and/or technological solutions, as well as to present the program to the customer in the early stages of the development process. Using a prototype for usability testing gives you enough time to fix critical design issues before it is too late (and too expensive) to make major changes. The main goal of creating a prototype is to help identify the feasibility of a products creation and reduce the number of errors in it. Most often, prototype creation is used to
- demonstrate any part of the system;
- detect errors in it;
- get users feedback.
This type of project is also intended for internal use and is not yet ready to enter the market. A good example of the use of prototypes is the creation of human-machine interfaces that do not require a lot of graphic elements and colorful design. In case of HMI, this solution allows you to clearly demonstrate the logic of software and the basic elements of user interaction.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Approach: what are the main functional capabilities of the startup product?
Implementation: MVP is a minimal and form of your finished startup convenient for release and testing in the application domain. MVP creation allows your team to find out how the target users of the startup work with it and whether the application fulfills its main business goal. Using the accumulated experience, you can allocate your time, efforts and budget to the areas that best suit your overall business goals. Creating MVPs is an iterative process designed to determine the proper functionality to meet users needs over time. It makes sense to use this solution when working with startups in order to bring the startup to the market and find out whether it will be in demand at all. Thus, if there is a demand, it makes sense to continue further work and try to get money from the first investors to develop the startup in the future. As MVP is sent directly to the market, it should be a stable version of software that works without errors. Vivid examples of MVP’s are the early versions of the Groupon and Spotify services, which had only one key function.
Recently, many startups began to build an MVP. The reasons for the popularity of this concept are as follows:
- You can release some small startup product, and avoid serious financial risks.
- MVP allows you to quickly enter the market and analyze it as accurately as possible, because real knowledge about user needs is formed only when real people use the real product.
- If the project has not shown itself, it can be closed, and if there is a potential - get invested.
MVP is a great option for lean startups and development teams, because this approach allows you to get the maximum amount of verified information about user needs as quickly as possible.
At the same time, a lot depends directly on the startuper and you should not underestimate the efforts that must be made to achieve success. Below we have compiled some helpful suggestions to help you along the way.
Analyze the market and draw up an action plan
First of all, increase your chances of success and select a specific audience. Make an ideal client profile (ICP) of person who would like your startup product and will be ready to buy it. You should know how old this person is, what kind of education they have, where they works and what is their income. Description of specific habits, hobbies, values and interests will complement the portrait of a potential buyer. Ideas about the lifestyle of an audience that interests you will help you understand whether your future startup will be able to solve the problems of potential buyers that they regularly encounter.
Next, be sure to analyze competitors. Find out their strengths and weaknesses to determine the functionality of your future startup. Classify competitors based on how they compete for market share. For example, you can analyze the three main players. Find out how long they exist, what products and services they provide. Determine if they have competitive advantages and evaluate your ability to offer something better.
Actively use analytics software. Various online competitive analysis tools will make your life easier. Services like Similar Web, Ahrefs, Quantcast, App Annie ot AppFollow collect data about web sites and applications. With their help, you can learn about the popularity of the competitor’s application/service, their monthly traffic, the interests of the audience, the geographical location of customers, as well as similar startups. Some of the existing tools provide basic information for free. Others, like Moz and SensorTower, are on a subscription basis.
Read more about ways to analyse the market in our article 10½ True Tips for Startup Success in 2019.
At this stage, focus on the word “viable” in the MVP abbreviation. After you have decided on the target audience and the place of your startup on the market, begin to plan further actions, the architecture of the future product, etc. In this case, one of the most optimal solutions will be to turn to professionals who are able to conduct high-quality IT consulting.
During creation of MVP for a startup, it is important to concentrate on the main things, postpone the secondary and provide a clear demonstration of the startup’s initial idea potential and possible ways of its development. After all, there is still a word “minimal” in the abbreviation.
So, you need to list the required functions for the future product and the best way to do it is to perform SWOT analysis.
This is a method of strategic planning, which is based on identifying factors of the internal and external environment. This structure is commonly used in strategic planning. However, it is also quite simple to use in ranking MVP ideas.
The purpose of the SWOT analysis is to focus on strengths, identify and minimize weaknesses, avoid threats, and use existing opportunities for further development. However, to correctly determine all of the above, one way or another you need a good technological expertise and if you do not have one on your own, it makes sense to contact specialists in this industry.
Estimate and distribute resources
Does your startup have people who can do at least part of the job of quality MVP creation? If the answer is no, you need to attract third-party contractors, otherwise there is a risk of the entire startup collapse due to a lack of resources and expertise.
Useful tips for finding a contractor can be found in our article How to choose software development company for a startup.
Finally, we got to the word “product” in the MVP abbreviation, because at this stage we are talking about creating the product for a startup, albeit in a minimal configuration.
As follows from the pyramid above, for each product you can build a hierarchy pyramid based on labor costs and importance. To put it simple, here are four main stages:
- Usefulness for people
- Attractive design
- Convenient way of delivery to the client
- The essence of a good MVP is to cover all levels of a given pyramid but in a minimal amount
- Improve your future product
Creation of MVP is a cyclic process. It has an entry point and several iterations. After each iteration, you need to be prepared to carefully analyze the result before proceeding with further work.
Ask yourself “What can we implement in a decent form, efficiently and quickly?”.
At the MVP stage, the basic logic of the product is laid out, its place in the business model, therefore it is important to conduct several releases, and then carefully analyze the feedback.
For most lean startups, the most risky assumption is the presence of a demand: for example, Dropbox tested the assumption of the need for a file synchronization solution, Zappos determined whether people would buy shoes online, and Airbnb validated the willingness of travelers to stay in strangers' homes. All MVPs of the companies mentioned above were built in order to obtain the data required for the creation of the final offer. Remember, the principles of creating a minimum viable product are the same for both the world's leading corporations and for an entrepreneur who believes his idea is revolutionizing.
You should not dwell into development by investing all available resources - conduct a detailed analysis, add functionality moderately, and don’t forget the simple formula: test, implement, and test again. Follow these simple rules and you will gain invaluable experience, the opportunity to speak with investors not as a dreamer, but as a business partner, a chance to form a dedicated user base, and create the foundation for a complete product.