In 1999, the concept of buying clothes online wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today. Nick Swinmurn, the founder of Zappos, faced a common frustration when he couldn’t find the shoes he wanted at his local mall. This led him to come up with the idea of selling shoes online.
However, instead of investing a massive amount of money in building a full-scale online shoe store, he grabbed a camera and headed to the mall. He took pictures of shoes and uploaded them to his website. When someone placed an order, he went back to the mall, bought the shoes and shipped
Of course, his method wasn’t good for the long term as Swinmurn was losing money with every purchase. But what was important, it served as a proof of concept that confirmed customers were willing to buy shoes online. Knowing this, Zappos was ready to establish their own inventory and grow as a company.
What Can We Learn From Zappos?
I know that as an entrepreneur, you want your product to be fully developed and launched as soon as possible. However, validating your idea first will allow you to avoid many pitfalls, including wasting money on something that people don’t need
I assume you did your preliminary research (maybe you already created an MVP in the form of an email campaign, landing page or social media post), and you feel like your idea has the potential to succeed on the market. If you don’t have an extreme budget, you need to be smart and take an approach that will allow you to make money as soon as possible.
That’s why, in this article, I’ll focus on the Minimum Viable Product as an approach to app development which is different from the case of full product development. If you want to learn more about the overall software development process, I recommend you to read my comprehensive article, where I dive into each development phase, providing you with tips on what to pay attention to. Here, I will focus on what makes the process of building an MVP different from a more general approach. I will also show you what to watch out for, discuss the traps and suggest how to deal with them.
What is an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)?
Many people mistakenly think of the Minimum Viable Product as the first version of a product, but this isn’t entirely correct. Actually, there are multiple forms of MVP that involve landing pages, videos or social media posts. When creating a Minimum Viable Product, you should aim to understand customers’ problems and find a solution. Building an MVP in the form of a simplified product is reasonable when you know that your idea makes sense (which means you conducted market research and built a non-development MVP form). This is how many unicorn companies started. To learn more about what a Minimum Viable Product is, check my guide on that point.
For example, Dropbox created a three-minute video demonstrating the core concept of the product. Similarly, Facebook began as a web directory for students at Harvard, while Airbnb creators started by making a rough website to advertise renting out their own living room.
Many people think about Minimum Viable Product as an initial period in software development, but it’s not the case either. You might find it difficult to indicate when the MVP stage is over and when the “full app” begins. From my perspective, a Minimum Viable Product in digital product development is rather an approach with a few main thoughts behind it.
Let’s dive deeper into the approach you should take when building an MVP.
Purpose of a Minimum Viable Product
The main goal of building an MVP is to validate your hypothesis and test the concept behind your project with real users (target customers). It’s a cycle of development and user testing. With each iteration, you refine your product, addressing your potential customers’ needs.
And here’s the best part: the faster you launch your MVP, the sooner you can start harvesting benefits of it. By entering the market quickly, you gain an advantage over your competitors and have an opportunity to monetise your work. But it’s not only about the revenue; it’s about making your dream a reality.
Validate your idea
Once you’ve gathered some insights and created a non-development Minimum Viable Product, it’s time to evolve it into a product with core features and check the market’s response. This is an opportunity to validate your idea with active users and determine if it meets their needs or requires modifications. It can also turn out that your idea is solid, but you may need to refine its implementation to meet target users’ expectations and succeed.
To ensure a successful MVP launch, it’s crucial to collect user feedback as soon as possible. There are many ways how one can do that, but whatever you choose, target users should be able to provide their feedback effortlessly. This includes conducting alpha and beta tests (more about them in a minute), where you can involve a selected group of users to provide valuable insights and identify any potential issues or areas for improvement (app data might give you quantitative feedback). You can also use some external tools to gain qualitative feedback for a deeper understanding.
By implementing user input and making necessary changes during the alpha and beta tests, you increase the chances of delivering a perfectly tailored product, actually responding to people’s needs, with the potential to attract users.
If you’re wondering how to gather user feedback properly, take a look at Infinity as a great example. They employ a user-friendly form that enables users to report issues and suggest new solutions. Additionally, users can vote for ideas that resonate with them, making the process of gathering feedback easy for the creators of Infinity. This approach allows them to continuously improve their app thanks to a better understanding of target users and their use cases, making it better each day.
With a limited budget, you must manage it responsibly. Don’t spend a lot of money on features that will end up “in the trash” because nobody uses them. Instead, invest your resources only in things that have core significance.
If you gather user feedback properly, you will know what to focus on to make your MVP user-driven. This way, you save money, making further development of Minimum Viable Product a good investment.
Launch as soon as possible
If you believe your app has the potential to succeed in the market, it’s essential to quickly transform it into an MVP app. This is crucial to prevent someone else from “stealing” your idea and surpassing you. Your goal should be to build a Minimum Viable Product that, while not perfect, is user-friendly and minimises faults or bugs.
By doing so, you can rapidly reach a wide audience and maximise your app’s chances of success. Having potential customers who will be willing to pay for access to your MVP app is essential because it gives you valuable feedback and allows you to make your first money (after full release).
That’s why it’s crucial to prioritise the marketing aspect and not overlook its significance. After all, what’s the point of building an app if no one knows about it? If you’re feeling lost when it comes to promoting your app, I recommend reading our article about go-to-market strategy. Our Head of Marketing provides valuable guidance throughout the process, enabling you to achieve a successful MVP app launch.
Start earning money
As I mentioned above, the sooner you launch your product, the quicker you can generate revenue. Money serves as a remarkable tool, enabling you further invest in your app and making continuous improvements and adding new features easier. This, in turn, enhances its competitiveness in the market, creating greater opportunities for success.
MVP Development Approach
The MVP approach, it’s all about focusing on essential features and letting go of everything that is unnecessary. Your app really doesn’t need to have 15 extra buttons right from the start (by the way, sometimes less means more).
Let’s take the case of our client, GainSpot. In contrast to many impatient startup founders that aim at developing too much at once, the client truly understands the essence of an MVP and consistently reminds their team of its principles whenever there is a temptation to hone the project endlessly. GainSpot focuses on vital features that create the app’s value and understands that any add-ons should only be implemented once the core idea proves successful. For example, in the initial stages, Gainspot did not invest money to create charts; instead, they focused on casual tables. However, their target group was marketing professionals who are prepared to cope with such data.
By following this mindful approach, GainSpot is an example of how a streamlined MVP strategy can lead to a more effective and focused product. They managed to attract early adopters and verify the business idea behind the app. Now, they’re even thinking about future product growth to respond to market needs!
Look for the Unique Value Proposition
When I talk about uniqueness in the context of MVP product development, I mean a revolutionary mindset. Sure, it is about solving users’ problems but also doing it in a better way compared to the competition.
In addition to user research (to understand their struggles and desires to deliver what they need), it’s crucial to do competitor research (thorough market research). This involves studying what your competitors offer, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and uncovering the gaps in the market that you can fill with better solutions.
By leveraging these insights and creating a product market fit, you will outperform your competitors and offer a Unique Value Proposition (UVP). A unique value proposition makes your MVP stand out by offering something distinctive and compelling that solves a specific problem or needs in a way that your competitors don’t (it might also be about an innovative business model – a few years ago a subscription model revolutionised the market).
A good example of a revolutionary approach is Trava, one of our clients in the travel industry. Instead of just offering a standard itinerary function, Trava did something more. They simplified the process of creating an itinerary by considering each user’s preferences, incorporating existing attractions, and eliminating the need for manual search and planning (but still focused on basic features first). The end result was the same – itinerary – but Trava’s innovation was to optimise the process, make it more user-friendly, and do something different from their competitors.
Focus on User Experience
Remember the story about Zappos I told you at the beginning? What if Zappos focused on creating an aesthetically pleasing website, bought a warehouse stocked with inventory and then it would turn out that people didn’t actually want to purchase online? He would have crafted an idea that didn’t make sense and lost all of his money.
Interface design is usually not the highest priority in the MVP approach. It’s like renting a warehouse in the above example while we can store shoes at home or send them right away. While it’s a good desire to have a visually appealing app, dedicating excessive time and resources to design becomes less feasible, especially when you have a limited budget. However, this does not mean you should neglect the User Experience (UX).
The UX matters a lot as it determines the app’s intuitiveness, ease of use, and user-friendliness. If your MVP contains many bugs, the layout is chaotic, or buttons are hard to find, users simply won’t engage with it. While aesthetics may not be the primary focus, the app should still encourage seamless interaction. It should be visually appealing enough to engage users and offer a straightforward user flow without the need for complex designs (unless it is the primary focus of the app).
In the beginning, when you’re building an MVP, you can use available UI components that will help you reduce costs without compromising functionality. Keep in mind that excessive design improvements, although tempting, can consume a significant portion of your budget. Finding a balance and allocating resources efficiently is a key to MVP product development. From what I observe, fine-tuning the project often takes up a significant part of the total project’s cost. According to the Pareto principle, focusing on just 20% of the costs can deliver 80% of the desired effect. However, dedicating excessive resources to perfecting that crucial 20% may consume 80% of the overall budget.
It won’t be perfect
In MVP development, making smart compromises is crucial. Rather than trying to launch your final product simultaneously on multiple platforms, why not focus your efforts on one platform initially? This strategic decision allows you to allocate your resources more effectively and deliver a refined experience to your target audience. Just like Trava, who chose to prioritize iOS for their early launch, you can direct your attention and resources towards perfecting the user experience on a specific platform.
By taking this approach, your app may not be as refined on the other platform at the very beginning, but that’s alright! What truly matters is capturing the attention and loyalty of your core target audience. Once you establish a strong position and achieve desired results on the chosen platform, you can then expand your reach and take advantage of cross-platform opportunities. And this cost-efficient solution allows you to offer your app to both Android and iOS users simultaneously without compromising the quality.
Build – Release – Repeat
Although when you launch your app to the market, it should be refined, don’t stress over achieving perfection during the alpha and beta stages. It’s normal for bugs and faults to exist during this phase of MVP development.
Instead of striving for perfection, prioritise user satisfaction by focusing on creating a solid user experience and refining only essential features (or the one core feature) that must function properly. Avoid spending excessive resources on perfecting non-essential design elements or features that are not critical to the core functionality. It’s acceptable for these less vital components to have some bugs or minor issues (the main ones must work as planned, but that’s why you have a quality assurance team).
Alpha and Beta testing
Fortunately, during alpha and beta tests, users are more forgiving and understanding of the fact that an MVP is a “work in progress”. They recognize that it’s a testing phase meant to gather feedback and make necessary improvements.
In the alpha and beta phases, the app is exposed to a limited group of users for testing and feedback purposes. During alpha testing, your app is tested by a small group of people (often internally within the development team or by people closely associated with it). The goal is to identify major bugs and uncover functional issues or usability problems. Alpha testing allows you to check the app in a trusted environment and see whether it meets all the requirements and whether all the functionalities work.
However, I observe an interesting trend in the market. As more projects are funded using such platforms like Kickstarter, people who back (pledge) them expecting to get something extra. One of such benefits (for a higher pledge level) is taking part in not only beta but also alfa testing and the opportunity to be a part of the development process. Let’s take as an example Fluyo, a new language-learning app. They understand the power of inclusion. Backed by more than 8K people, Fluyo gained more than 1,2 mln US dollars and become the most funded app on the platform. Now, they are developing their app hand in hand with backers who have the chance to become loyal customers and brand ambassadors.
Once you complete the alpha testing, you move on to the beta phase. This is when you make the app available to external users (often called beta testers or early adopters), who are eager to try it out and provide valuable feedback. These users help you identify any remaining bugs and improve the app’s performance.
The goal of alpha and beta testing is to gather as much feedback as possible. To encourage people to do it, you can offer them special rewards, such as free access, discounts after the release, exclusive access, or the chance to influence the app’s development.
Thanks to their valuable comments, you can introduce necessary improvements to your MVP app right away, and release it to tests again. It’s an Agile approach that means that whenever you create anything new, you share it with users straight away (again, check my article on software development to learn how agile works). You don’t wait until you create a full-fledged product – in an iterative development, you base it on the users’ feedback, and that allows you to create products that are user-driven from the very beginning.
Be open to changes
First of all, when you take the “user-driven” approach, you have to be open that what you create right now may change completely in a moment. Especially when you share the 1.0 MVP version with your target market, it may turn out that your business idea was okay but the general solution to the problem needs improvement. Don’t take criticism personally, but just change the app for the better. Remember, you can’t build a Minimum Viable Product without iterating.
When you build an MVP, you’ll often need to make trade-offs – choices and compromises that align with the specific needs and constraints of your project at any given moment. And these may evolve as your app grows over time. When building an MVP, it’s common to focus on a smaller scale, targeting a user base of around 1,000 to 5,000 users. Therefore, investing in expensive technologies for scaling up may not be practical at this development stage. Instead, choose more affordable technologies that meet your immediate requirements. But keep in mind that as you gain a larger user base, you may need to make adjustments to ensure the app continues to function efficiently.
Be prepared for the possibility that your app can suddenly become popular. Collect and analyse data (you can use Google Analytics) to understand user behaviour and preferences, and be ready to respond immediately. To navigate the various stages of MVP development effectively, it can be helpful to create a roadmap.
Create a roadmap
You don’t have to establish a rigid and inflexible plan right from the start. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! In the Agile approach to MVP product development, the roadmap can act as a flexible guide, suggesting priorities based on your target audience feedback, market requirements, or evolving business goals.
A roadmap outlines the key milestones and actions required to drive your app’s growth and success. Thanks to
Think about Proof of Concept
A Proof of Concept (PoC) plays a vital role in evaluating the doability of a project, ensuring that the idea can be successfully translated into reality. PoC is not about testing whether the idea is reasonable but its doability – whether it’s possible to develop the feature from the technical point of view.
For example, let’s consider our recent client project: Beat The Street app. This is a mobile app for street games, so it had to extremely precisely track the location (so we needed to combine all the tracking solutions at once) and not to overconsume the device’s battery. So before diving into the full-fledged MVP development process, we strategically created a PoC. This allowed us to thoroughly assess the feasibility of the concept, identifying any potential challenges or limitations, so our development team could make informed decisions about further software development.
Your MVP may also require a Proof of Concept and it’s better to do it before you start developing the app itself (especially if your idea is extraordinary). Otherwise, when it turns out you can’t make it, then what? You will end up disappointed with no funds for further improvements to your idea.
Be careful when asking any software development company for estimation and verify whether they estimate a Minimum Viable Product or a Proof of Concept. Those are two different terms and PoC will not replace any app, even built in the MVP approach. At the same time, PoC might seem more appealing as its price is lower, but you might end up with a part of an app, not the app itself.
MVP Development Cost
The costs associated with building an MVP can vary significantly depending on the size of the project and the features of the app. One of the main factors that influence pricing is the desired scale of your MVP. It’s important to consider the product’s demand and your budget to determine whether you should focus on developing a small-scale app for a narrower user base or invest in creating a scalable app for a larger customer base (e.g. when you know there are thousands of users waiting for the app to be launched).
In addition to those, there are other factors that can impact the cost of developing an MVP. These include the type of development team you choose, their hourly rate, the type of contract you have, and more. I discuss these pricing considerations in detail in my article on MVP costs, where I also provide examples of MVPs and their scope of work.
Talking about Minimum Viable Product development, you should focus on establishing a solid idea and bringing it to market as quickly as possible. By prioritising an iterative approach, your business can validate its concepts and start generating revenue without excessive costs. This approach to MVP development also allows you to make informed decisions based on real-world feedback and market demand. It enables you to refine, optimise and build an MVP app for your target group.
I hope I managed to show you how important it is to launch a Minimum Viable Product in the shortest development time possible with minimising the costs.
Gabriela is a lead project manager and keeps in mind that the crucial thing in project management is always seeing the business objectives. She takes care of clients' business outcomes, and that's why clients usually give her a lot of independence.
As a web developer, she understands teammates, which is an asset in project management. UX designer background is handy when clients ask her for advice or consult their app ideas. Having this knowledge, she can address their confusedness or curiosity.
Data analysis and research have no secrets from her as she's a physicist. She knows how to discover data patterns and dependencies, which brings additional value to her everyday work.