How to Make Your MVP Truly Cost-Effective
Before we delve into the details of an MVP, let’s take a step back and try out a simple activity. Imagine the following situation:
You’re a creative entrepreneur who has just found out that the people in your country are craving a dessert made of dough, that’s fried, soft and sweet.
You decide to cater to this customer demand and come up with an innovative idea: you could make a ring-shaped fried cake of sweetened dough and call it a donut.
You draw up some pictures, bounce off a few ideas from the pâtissier industry, and come up with the following vision for your product line:
Now you have two options. You could either invest an exuberant amount of time and money into creating the final version of this vision, inclusive of a line of different flavors, a variety of fancy toppings and the final packaging.
You could then release it to your customers, wait for their approval and take the risk of wasting all your resources for a product that your customers do not even end up liking.
Or… you could simplify your idea to its basics and make the following donut first:
You could then test the simple donut with your customers and see if this even satisfies the demand of the people in your country. Is this the kind of product they were looking for? Do they like the taste of sweetened fried dough? Do they like the shape? Do they like the texture?
You could then use their comments to improve your product idea.
Once you have received sufficient positive feedback, you could then develop the final version of your product, inclusive of the fancy toppings, flavors, and packaging that you initially had in your vision- but with the guarantee that your customers will appreciate your dessert line.
Now, doesn’t the latter sound like the more reasonable and logical choice? That’s because it is. And it’s entirely based on the development of an MVP.
SO, WHAT IS AN MVP AND WHAT IS IT FOR?
MVP, which stands for a minimum viable product, is a development technique that allows the production of a product version that is equipped with only the essential features.
An MVP provides the underlying core of a product in its most basic form. “You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries not everyone”.
The MVP is then tested on a set of possible customers, known as “early adopters” to receive their feedback.
The early adopters are sought as they are considered to be more forgiving and are more prone to giving valuable responses.
This allows the developers to understand the market segment better, understand the demands of their customers and seek beneficial information without wasting a lot of resources.
Based on their comments, the MVP process is iterated until the desired product/market fit is obtained.
The final product is then developed with its full set of features. Similar to the donut example given above, the MVP refers to the development of the simple donut version, which is first tested on the market, before launching the final donut line.
If the product doesn’t fare well in the market due to poor market research, then the product is labeled unviable and discontinued, saving the resources of the startup, as money is not wasted on developing the full features.
The classical startup strategy, was the idea of developing the final version firstly and then testing it on the market. However, this was revolutionized by Eric Ries, a popular startup consultant.
He defined the MVP as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”.
By saving effort, time and monetary resources, the most useful form of market response can be gathered, to ensure the success of the product.
This approach might seem simplistic, but it was the foundation of highly successful companies such as Uber, Dropbox, and Pebble, who all started by first iterating through the MVP process, before developing a final product that perfectly satisfies consumer demand.
These companies began receiving pre-orders and brilliant user reviews before they had even developed the final version of their applications.
The MVP process constitutes of three essential elements. Minimum product, which means the product is so glaringly simple that it doesn’t appeal to the market.
Minimum-viable, which highlights a product type that caters to the user demand in the simplest way.
And a viable product is the final product, that is optimized and well designed and satisfies the vision.
This might sound vague in theory, but the following example, encompasses the difference:
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF AN MVP?
Let’s start by answering a very simple question. How do you translate an idea into a successful organization?
Well, the first thing you need to do is find out if your idea is even a “good idea”. Does anyone even want the product or service that you’re trying to create? Does your implementation solve a problem that your customers are facing?
As quoted above in the donut example, you need to first gauge customer response to your idea. And that is the first benefit of an MVP. An MVP allows you to test the demand of your product and gain valuable insight into the prospects of success of what you’re trying to develop.
If your product is trying to solve a problem that the customers don’t even have, like a “Potato Parcel to write messages on a potato”, then your MVP can help you discontinue any further efforts into your endeavor. This allows you to avoid massive failures and save capital, time and resources.
But let’s take a different approach. What if your idea is a good one, but your envisioned implementation of the solution is flawed?
What if you’re trying to create a service to help people escape breathing polluted air, but come up with “bottled air” (literally air in a bottle) for your customers instead?
Well, the response you get from your MVP can help you receive consumer feedback before you invest capital into your incorrect assumptions about a viable solution.
Someone can tell you “hey, I want clean air to breathe but clean air in a bottle is the dumbest thing I’ve ever used” and help direct you to a better approach instead.
This helps you gain insight into what works and what doesn’t, allowing you to reduce implementation costs. It effectively helps you save thousands of dollars to process “clean air” into “plastic bottles”.
However, if your approach is well received by your customers, then you can proceed with the development of your application with the comfort of knowing that its idea will be successful, escaping yourself of any risk of the unexpected rejection.
Furthermore, until a product is developed, there remains a gap between research and actuality.
You can predict your market segment, your user base, the response they will have, the sales you will get- but you cannot know for sure until you get the product into the hands of your users.
And an MVP allows you to receive that milestone, whilst saving you the wastage of time and monetary resources. It lets you gather data on the usage.
An MVP provides you a platform to interact directly with your users so that you can use your analysis on their behaviors and usage, to better cater to their needs.
For instance, Bumble found that many of its users were using the dating application for business networking, which helped them develop Bumble Bizz, a personalized portal to help professionals connect. In this modern economy, you want to make more and spend less.
And an MVP essentially caters to that. It helps creators and developers to find the best course of development without wasting enormous capital and resources into a product. It provides a step ladder to success.
You gather real-life data at each step of the way, to make sure your building doesn’t collapse when you’re at the top.
KEY TYPES OF MVP’S
The great thing about MVP’s is that you don’t always need a coder friend to help you out.
Through the concierge method, you can create a successful MVP by presenting a manual implementation of your idea.
This helps you gather data on finding validation for your idea, without investing a lot of money into the technicalities.
You don’t even need to build your product. You can find a set of people who are willing to try your product, provide a manual implementation of the idea, receive their feedback and then analyze that data.
Once you’re confident with the idea, you can then invest in developing a proper platform for your service or product.
Food on the table, an application that generates meal ideas and grocery lists, based on the users’ food preferences, started without a website! The CEO would initially manually generate recipes and grocery lists, and even accompany it’s customers to the stores.
The piecemeal MVP is a smart way of developing an MVP with a low amount of finances. Instead of developing everything from scratch, the piecemeal method is a way of putting existing tools and resources together to create your product (hence the name).
An example of the Piecemeal MVP is Groupon, a service that helps users find coupons for different retailers.
They initially started by using ‘Wordpress’ blogs and “filmmakers” to present an initial version of their product to their customers.
Once their idea was validated and they received positive feedback, they then developed their development team and streamlined their technical process.
Wizard of Oz:
Ever watch “Wizard of Oz?” No? Ever heard of “fake it till you make it?”. No? Well, now you have.
This MVP approach is founded on that. It works by creating an illusion that your product is finished when it’s still under development.
It’s similar to the concierge method, however, you hide the fact that your system still isn’t automated. Under the cloak of a fully functional system, you have manual workers doing all the work instead.
Aardvark is a good example of a company that practiced this illusion.
The Q&A service which directs user questions to experts initially would manually find experts and direct user questions to them.
There was no magic algorithm at the beginning, although there appeared to be.
Once they received customer validation, they developed the appropriate algorithm.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR MVP COST-EFFECTIVE:
So, you understand the myriad of benefits of a good MVP, but how do you ensure that your MVP is effective, efficient and also doesn’t drain your budget?
Well, worry not.
Here a few tips that’ll help you create a truly great MVP, that’s easy on the budget and a star in the market.
Understand the scope of an MVP:
Before you get excited about creating an MVP, it is essential to revisit the purpose of the minimum viable product.
Many organizations misinterpret the scope of an MVP and either waste resources into developing a highly developed product, or a supremely simple product that users are not impressed by.
The first thing to do is to remind yourself that while the vision of your product/service might be detailed and expansive, your MVP doesn’t need to be.
The purpose of an MVP is to reflect the core functionality of your product, without the extravaganza.
The primary goal is to maintain minimum functionality. It might seem daunting to not present the entire picture of the product, but there is no need to waste resources and effort in adding unnecessary functionality.
The second thing to keep in mind is to maintain a high-quality product. Instead of creating multiple features that work in a mediocre way, it’s important to maintain quality instead.
High quality doesn’t translate to ‘beautiful’ and ‘flashy’, as that contradicts the purpose of minimum functionality.
Instead, the MVP needs to be intuitive, easy to use, devoid of bug and errors and needs to deliver the underlying functionality in the simplest but most efficient manner.
Do market research:
Market research is the backbone of starting any new initiative. Understanding market demographics, consumer demands, and competitors are a few factors that help streamline the development of your market.
While one of the benefits of MVP is to understand the market better, it is not sufficient to rely simply on the outcome of your MVP to gauge market demands.
An MVP will require a certain capital, even if it’s small. To ensure that resources are not wasted, it is important to be prepared for the consumer nice.
To make the most of your MVP, it is also essential to create it while keeping market demands in mind.
Entrepreneurs should first test the vitality of their ideas by conducting thorough market research and analysis. The following elements provide a starting point for your market research:
- Do people need this product? What is the demand for your service?
- Who are your competitors and how are they faring in the market?
- What kind of market segment does your product cater to?
- Is the target market segment large enough to thrive in your business?
- Is your target market and cost price compatible?
Plan an effective market strategy:
Since an MVP is not a fully mature product, the marketing strategy of your product is different from a hard-launch.
For an MVP, you cannot host commercials, paid advertisements and events to create a buzz around your product.
That would be a waste of capital, and wouldn’t satisfy user expectations.
To launch an MVP, you want your MVP to gain popularity but you want to keep it at a low cost.
The first step is finding pilot customers. MVP’s are based on the feedback of early adopters, and these early adopters need to be sought.
By integrating targeted communication in your marketing strategy, you can find customers who are willing to partake in the blue-print development of your product.
Here are a few ideas on how to create a supportive brand community for the launch of your MVP launch:
- Use digital marketing
- Use social media
- Use free placements
- Use backlinks to build your domain authority
But reaching customers is not sufficient, it is also important to attract them through your content. Through your digital campaigning, it is essential to explain your MVP. You need to clearly define your strategy, the scope of your MVP and your value to your customers.
As creating an MVP is an iterative process, the developer needs to appreciate that the marketing strategy is not stagnant and will evolve with each iteration of the final product.
The marketing success and the marketability of your MBO need to be traceable and must have room for edits and improvement.
Plan success criteria:
You cannot create a successful MVP if you do not define any criteria to measure its success.
To do this, you need to define your business goal. What are you trying to achieve by this MVP and what is the desired end objective?
As goals for each startup will differ, there is not a concrete list that can be numbered down but a few important features that your success criteria should include are:
- What profits are you trying to achieve?
- What consumer response are you aiming to receive?
- How many customers are you trying to get?
- How many marketing leads are you trying to achieve?
- What net income ratio/profit are you looking for?
- What employee satisfaction rates are you seeking?
Once you know the desired end goal of the performance of your MVP, you can gauge its success in a better way, instead of investing large resources into unattainable goals.
The design process and user flow:
A word that is connected with MVP is simplicity. Your MVP should be designed in such a way that it is easy for your users to use.
To do this, it is important to view the interaction of your users with the application, from the part they begin to use your MVP to the end process, which could be making a purchase or sending a message.
User flow diagrams help in organizing the path that the user will follow on the website. User flows should thus be optimized efficiently, making user satisfaction the priority of your development.
This can be done by defining the process stages.
What are the main steps that your user will be performing? For instance, let’s consider an application that sells clothes to customers. What actions will your users be performing in the user flow? Finding the product -> purchasing the producer -> paying for the product.
Once these procedures are laid out, emphasis can then be laid into the encompassing details. It is important to highlight “what” before you move on to the “how”.
As MVP is aimed to provide minimum functionality, this helps in prioritizing the main processes of your application. An MVP for a retail store only needs to present the shopping procedure.
The mapping of the user flow should include clear identification of the actions that your user will be making and what the “story endings” are, which is the goal for the user (such as making the purchase)
List out your project features:
Once the user flow diagram is decided, the next step is to list the features that you want to include on your product roadmap. You then need to check your list and rank each feature on a scale of low-priority to high-priority.
By finalizing this, excessive features can be eliminated and capital can be saved. An important question to answer in this process is “what does my user want and what does my user need?”.
Don’t forget that the MVP only needs to provide those attributes that are connected to the overall goal of your product.
Once the project features are organized, you can then recheck the goal of the project and then proceed to build your MVP.
Make Some Simple Sketches:
A cheap and easy way to start is by just making a few sketches of the user flows and taking them to the customers to receive their feedback. This helps a lot in the development of an MVP before investing too many resources into the project.
By brainstorming an idea and then visually representing it simply, you can efficiently receive feedback for your product idea.
This includes valuable information regarding the design that you’re going for, the features you’re including and the functionalities that you’re providing.
By only using a few sheets of paper and a pencil, you can end up providing major relief to your pocket.
If loose sheets of paper are not in your comfort zone, then you can also go a step forward and organize the sketches into a deck of PowerPoint slides. PowerPoint and KeyNote can also be used to create a mockup of your application, as they also provide the option for creating screens using default templates.
PowerPoint and Keynote decks can also be saved as video files which can then be shown to customers as a visual demonstration.
A video presentation of an application might seem simple but it is what Dropbox, a workspace organizing platform, did for their MVP, and it gathered glowing feedback.
Once sketching has been carried out, the next step to create an effective MVP is by creating wireframes.
Wireframes are simple black and white layouts that focus on the product structure, features, and architecture, similar to the blueprints of a house. While this sounds similar to a sketch, wireframes are refined sketches that have a more calculated design and visually clarify website features.
Wireframe.cc is a simple tool that lets you create a streamlined interface from a typical drawing app. With a high learning curve and no cost wireframe.cc can be used to create simple wireframes easily.
Another great feature that wireframe.cc provides is the option to share live wireframes with other team members, allowing multiple MVP developers to work on the wireframes collaboratively.
Another great software for creating wireframes is Moqups. Moqups traverses the user through the whole process of sketching wireframes, allowing it’s users to also create site maps, storyboards and flow charts.
Although it has a steeper learning curve as compared to Wireframes, it provides greater features and functionalities and leads the user closer to building a functional prototype.
Make a Prototype:
Once the sketches and wireframes have been approved, the next step is to create a prototype.
A prototype is a preliminary visualization of the product. It allows the users to experiment with the look and feel of the application, providing data for how the users interact with the overall user design experience.
A prototype constitutes of visual and graphical content and doesn’t refer to usability. Based on only design and front-end-development, a prototype is devoid of application functionality.
A free and easy tool for creating prototypes is FluidUI. Equipped with a built-in library, configuration options, material designs, IOS components and transitions, FluidUI is a dynamic platform that allows developers to efficiently create prototypes. It has even been used by Samsung and Oracle in their MVP processes.
As listed above in the key types of MVP’s, you have a few options on how you want to develop your MVP. If it is the ‘Concierge’ or ‘Wizard of Oz’ method that you are seeking, then you don’t need to invest money into hiring a set of developers.
You only need to find an appropriate set of employees (given the size of the consumer base that you’re attempting to cater to) and you can then delegate the manual work to them instead.
While it is true that automation can create efficiency and save time, a manual based approach is the lightest option for your pocket.
However, if you’re trying to create an application and require technical coding support, then there come two options. If you’re proficient in technical education, then it is feasible to take on the development task yourself.
However, if you’re not technically sound, then instead of hiring a team of developers, you can collaborate with another technical co-founder who can help build the MVP.
If finding a technical cofounder is not feasible, then outsourcing your development work to a web development company is a cost-effective option.
While supporting a local in-house development can be expensive, outsourcing is an affordable option that can help deliver quality products at minimum rates.
By hiring a professional developer, you can ensure that the MVP developed matches the feature outline that you’ve created, while also sparing your pocket.
Another alternate option is to proceed with the piecemeal method and use existing technologies to create your product. By putting different elements of available tech resources together, it is entirely possible to create the MVP.
In a single line of code, you can create websites on WordPress and Ruby on Rails and launch them to your customer base. The goal of the MVP is not to release a final product, so these options during this phase, efficiently do the job.
Business giants around us like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram all began their journey as humble MVPs. Instagram, for instance, only released its photo editing tool in the picture sharing social media app when it started. Key features such as direct messaging and filters were released much later on.
MVPs are essential in starting a company and by using the most cost-effective methodologies, MVPs can be developed efficiently and cheaply.