How Startups Should Build MVP Software Products
Start small, validate and iterate
Mark Ferris, Engineer
Aug. 10, 2020
Creating a business of any kind is going to come with its share of difficulties. When attempting to grow your business, among the first steps that you should take is to build a , which is the first step in bringing an idea to market. A minimum viable product is a type of product that has just enough features to properly satisfy a small selection of your customers.
These customers will then provide you with valuable feedback that will play a part in the remainder of product development. The end goal of making a minimum viable product is to eventually create a product that can be placed on the market. If your startup is looking to develop a software product for any reason, you might find it difficult to understand what it takes to create a minimum viable product for your application. This article goes into greater detail about what's needed for startups to develop minimum viable products for their software.
Benefits of Building an MVP Software Product
The main benefit of building a minimum viable product during software development is that it allows you to test and validate the concept of your product without sinking a significant sum of your budget into development. If you decide to forego this step, you could use up too much of your resources in creating a product that's doomed to fail once it reaches the market. When you provide early customers with a basic version of your product, the feedback that they provide to you can be used to dictate the remainder of the development process.
The many additional benefits that come with building a minimum viable product include:
You can test how viable your product concept is before you or your employees have spent too much time developing the product
The product can be placed on the market more rapidly while you continue to develop the software application
Once your minimum viable product has been successful, you can use the results to obtain more funding from investors
Building a minimum viable product should help your startup save money since you will only spend time on creating features that are absolutely essential
Building a minimum viable product gives you time to fix any issues with the product before the full software product is placed on the market
How to Create an MVP Software Product
When you're looking to create an application for a software product that you'd like to put out, it's important that you don't just throw together a minimum viable product. While this product will only have very basic features at the beginning of development, these features will serve as the base of your future product, which is why it's important that you get them right.
If you find that early customers who test your product find nearly every aspect of the product to be poor or undesirable, there's a good chance that you would need to start the development process over entirely. The success of a minimum viable product is more likely if your product has at least some features that early customers like. Before you create and launch your minimum viable software product, the following are some key guidelines that you should adhere to during development.
Determine the Purpose of the Product
No matter the kind of startup you're creating, developing a viable software product means that the purpose of the product needs to be clear. In the months to come, it will be important for you to conduct research to determine if the product you want to create is needed on the market. If you want your application to be successful, it must solve some kind of problem for a large portion of your target audience. The minimum viable product that you build should display to the customer what the product is able to do and why customers need it.
When building a minimum viable software product, you should focus on the basic features of the application. If the early customers who test the product can understand what the purpose of the product is when using it, their feedback should help you determine how you can improve the base product through iteration and refinement.
Identify Your Target Audience
Likely the most important aspect of developing a minimum viable software product is to identify your target audience, which is the group of customers that makes up your most valuable audience. While knowing your target audience is important for many aspects of marketing, it's also essential when you're attempting to build a minimum viable product. Once you have identified your target audience, some of these customers will test the MVP and provide you with feedback. Since the product that you initially create is only being provided to a small subsection of customers, it's important that these customers represent your main audience.
You don't want to shape further development of your software product based on feedback from demographics that would never purchase your products. Certain types of software products may require a focus on a specific location. If your application is centered around providing a service to people, your minimum viable product could be available in a single city while you collect feedback and shape future product development. At this time, it's essential that the people who use your minimum viable product are an accurate representation of the primary audience for the future product that you want to release to the wider market.
Select a Format
In order to build a minimum viable software product that will provide you with the kind of feedback your startup needs, you will need to select the right format for the product in question. Let's say that your company is looking to create a travel app that customers can use to book hotel rooms and rental cars across the country. Before building a fully functional mobile app, you should first understand that there are a large number of travel apps that can already be used by customers, which means that your app will need to have unique features that allow your startup to stand out when compared to the competition.
Even building a mobile app as a minimum viable product with only a few features can cost a significant sum of money, which is why you should consider a mobile web app, or building solely for iOS or Android, ideally leveraging React Native. It is more affordable and takes a far shorter time to build. If, on the other hand, your minimum viable product doesn't need to be an actual product, you could design a website that shows off a prototype. Users could provide feedback based off of images of the prototype as well as product descriptions. It's important that the format you choose is cost-effective.
Determine Criteria for Success
The feedback you receive from the minimum viable product that you put out isn't enough to determine how successful the product was. To measure success, you'll first need to identify the criteria for success. Some of the different criteria that you could use to measure success include:
How much time did customers spend using your software product?
How many visitors traveled to your landing page?
How many individuals signed up for a product beta that you held?
Which features were most and least liked among customers?
Did your target audience understand the purpose of the product?
Which features did users spend the most time with?
By asking these questions, you should be able to gather a comprehensive data set that will allow you to gauge whether the product was a success while also giving you the tools necessary to improve the product and get it ready for the wider market. If a couple of the product features were hardly used during testing, it's important to determine if low use was because the customers didn't understand the purpose of the feature or because they didn't care for the feature. The data you receive can help you identify which features should be discarded altogether and which ones should be improved.
Stick to a Minimum Number of Features
Effectively building a minimum viable product means limiting the number of features that are included with early testing. You need to reach a happy medium between having too many features for this type of product and have too little features to the point where the product becomes useless. By providing your customers with the minimum number of features that's acceptable for your software product, the feedback that they provide you will be highly valuable.
If these customers mainly like two of the features but dislike the rest, you could retool the product to focus solely on these two features as you continue development. In the event that early customers hate your product completely, you'll immediately know why. With too many features, it can be difficult to pinpoint why users dislike the product.
There's also a small possibility that your target audience will immediately be satisfied with the minimum viable product. With this feedback, you could release the product to all of your customers without making any changes, which means that you didn't waste precious development time and budget adding features that customers wouldn't have liked anyway.
Choosing a Tech Stack
Entrepreneurs often come to us with ideas and questions about the tech stack they should use for their product. Our advice? Don't worry about the stack until it’s time. Validate the idea first with an MVP and if possible, make a prototype using a no-code solution. Use spreadsheets...be scrappy.
If it is clear that your MVP does need a coded solution, the "best stack" is probably the one you already know. The most critical thing is to get an MVP out the door and get feedback. To that end, third party tools and libraries can be invaluable for your MVP. If you need some sort of admin dashboard for data input and editing, try administrate by thoughtbot or Forest Admin. For authentication, use Auth0. For booking, use Timekit. Don’t invest time and money reinventing the wheel!
When your idea has been validated and the time comes for choosing the stack that will take your MVP to market, these are some of our recommendations:
Rails: fast development
Nestjs: promising backend framework
Python: data science
Golang, Elixir or Node Frameworks: good if you're familiar
Gatsby for static marketing website or small e-commerce
Nextjs for Static Gen and Server Side Rendering
React (both Gatsby and Nextjs are based on React)
Angular or Vue if you have experience with them
React Native: for cross-platform
Swift/Kotlin: if you need exclusive iOS/Android features
Mobile Web: if you don't need notifications on iOS, PWA's are a solid choice, just make sure you figure out default caching doesn't interfere with updates
Consider Software Development Services
Software development is difficult for any company. Startups often avoid outside assistance when attempting to grow their business or bring a product to the market, which can lead to budgets spiraling out of control and costly mistakes.
Future Foundry can assist you in building any kind of minimum viable software product or app that you have in mind. We have extensive experience creating MVPs, responding to user feedback and bringing MVPs to market. Our clients include startups that have been admitted to TechStars as well as the innovation labs of Fortune 100 companies. Let us bring this experience to bear on your project.