In software development, understanding customers’ needs is half the success. Did you know that the absence of a market need tops the list of the most frequently cited reasons for startup failure? According to Statista, it is. Let’s imagine you have an excellent idea for a new software product. How do you know it will find a market fit? There’s a trick to help you validate the problem and test your software solution before releasing the fully-fledged version. The name of this trick is a minimum viable product or MVP.
The MVP stage is extremely important according to the principles of the Lean Startup methodology. It lets you validate the assumptions as quickly and cheaply as possible, and every startup founder knows how valuable every dollar and day is. What's more, MVP is a safety bag for your business. It will help if you are afraid that your idea fails or the product doesn't find a market fit.
As a Product Development company, we have been working with startups for 7+ years and, over this time, become a skilled hand in building an MVP for our clients. With such knowledge under our belt, we're happy to share the experience.
In this article, we'll provide you with a step-by-step guide explaining how to build an MVP. Also, you’ll get a good grasp of MVP's meaning, purpose, and advantages.
What Is an MVP?
An MVP, or a minimum viable product, is a seed point of your product. It’s a beta version of your software that has a minimum number of vital features that allow you to answer 3 main questions:
- Is there a need for your product?
- Does it solve the problem?
- Is it monetizable?
The term “minimum viable product” itself was coined in 2001. Back then, Frank Robinson, CEO at SyncDev, and entrepreneurs Steve Blank and Eric Ries worked on Customer Development and Validation and came up with such a term. MVP is the best description of a potential product that checks how the market reacts to the solution.
The MVP is considered an experiment in the context of validating business hypotheses. It lets entrepreneurs know whether a business idea would be viable and profitable by testing the assumptions. It is beneficial for new companies and startups to find out where potential business opportunities exist rather than executing an isolated business model.
The best description of an MVP is probably the words of Michael Seibel, Y Combinator CEO
"Hold the problem you're solving tightly, hold the customer tightly, hold the solution you're building loosely."
As you cannot build a house without laying the foundation, you can't create a successful product without building an MVP. The purpose of an MVP is to start with a small use case, test it and then decide: whether you need to pivot and move in another direction or develop the idea into a product solution.
There's an opinion that MVP product development is about making a raw product in haste. In fact, at the MVP stage, your product should already work, check the key hypotheses, and include essential features only. At the same time, it must be built in a short time, no longer than 3 months.
So, the standard is high, especially if you have a startup and want to pitch your idea to investors. It's not enough to create a black&white app with a poor interface. You have to stand out and be a step ahead of your competitors.
Benefits of building an MVP
You'd be surprised at how many founders' journeys end before a single user has actually held their product in their hands. It's a very common situation. So passing the MVP development process is very important to succeed. Let's learn what other benefits you get:
Attention from the investors
The minimum viable product is a showcase of your concept. It allows you to showcase your idea instead of talking about it for hours. Moreover, if you get people to use the product and find value in it, your chances of getting the investments rise drastically.
Build a product that people use
It's a widespread case that founders have an image of how the future product should look and stick to that. The point here is that this image should be very flexible if you want to build a product for people. With an MVP and meaningful feedback from users, you can implement only essential features and remove everything that is not functional.
"You can't build a product for people without asking what they need."
A better understanding of the domain
When you decide to build an MVP, you start to dig deeper into the problem, industry, and market. In general, you get better domain knowledge and find out white-space opportunities. If you start building a full-fledged product right away, you will miss it.
Fast & affordable idea validation
Minimum viable product development requires minimum features to test the idea and, therefore — minimum time to build it. You invest time and resources in the vital parts of the product only. It's the cheapest product form showing how the actual users will react to it.
A place for low-risk experiments
An MVP gives you room for evolution. Firstly, if some new technologies arise, you can integrate them fairly and softly. Secondly, adding new features is much easier than removing unnecessary ones. Basically, MVP keeps the product concept flexible for the latest changes.
7 MVP Development Steps
MVP product development doesn't differ significantly from software product development in general. The steps are more or less the same, but the speed and goals vary. An MVP is created with the intent to enter the market fast, test key hypotheses, attract early adopters, and achieve product-market fit from early on.
There are 7 essential steps in a startup MVP development process, namely:
- Define a problem statement
- Conduct market research
- Prototype the potential solution
- Define the list of features
- Develop your MVP
- Get user feedback and work with it
- Iterate constantly
Below, we'll guide you through all these stages of the minimum viable product creation process in more detail so that you can be prepared for the pitfalls.
Step 1: Define a Problem Statement
First things first, MVP development starts with identifying the problem. As you know the problem, you can come up with a solution. Sounds logical, but things aren't that easy.
You can identify the problem in many ways.
- You're a domain expert. Let's say you're working in the real estate industry and know it inside out. And you also know that some landlords can't sell houses fast because the pictures of their properties aren't attractive enough. That would be a potential problem that you can solve.
- You're not satisfied with the existing solutions. "Progress cannot be generated when we are satisfied with existing situations." This is a quote from Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese industrial engineer, businessman, and the father of Toyota. And this describes the power of dissatisfaction, criticism, and healthy skepticism towards things. So, question and challenge things around you because a potential niche can be close.
- You were told that there's a problem. This one is tricky because you need to find proof of these words. On the one hand, a person telling you this can be an expert on the topic. On the other hand, it can be a person who's facing a problem. No matter who, you need to check and ensure that the problem really exists, it's big enough, and people are looking for the solution.
The takeaway is that validating the idea without development is crucial. It saves resources and ensures that there's a need in your MVP.
Step 2: Conduct Market Research
Once you define the real problem, it's time to analyze the market. A survey conducted by CB Insights found that the top reason why startups fail was a 'lack of market need.' In simple words, if the product doesn't nail the problem, customers won't use it to find a solution.
MVP development for startups demands research. So what do you need to do?
- Explore competitors;
- Identify your target audience;
- Calculate the market size.
Running out of money is the second reason why young startups fail. You should know for sure that people want to pay money for your product and their number is high enough to start it all.
Step 3: Prototype Potential Solution
You might ask: why do I need both a prototype and a software MVP? A prototype is an early attempt to visualize a working solution, while an MVP is a bare form of the product that performs target actions.
A prototype puts the design and functionalities into perspective, validates UI & UX, and lets you get early feedback for improvements that you'll then implement in an MVP. Good examples of prototypes are:
- Paper prototypes.
Literally, everything demonstrates how the product will be built.
Steve Jobs avoided the stage of prototyping while building the Apple Lisa. As a result, the product was a catastrophe and unprofitable.
Steve Jobs avoided the stage of prototyping while building the Apple Lisa. As a result, the product was a catastrophe and unprofitable.
Step 4: Define Features’ List
Okay, with a defined problem, robust research, and feedback on your prototype, you start prioritizing all the features of your minimum viable product. And when we say “prioritizing,” we really mean it: You should only add core functionality to an MVP to prevent feature creep. The latter happens when a product receives too many features, which makes it too complicated and confusing.
Prioritizing MVP features may cause difficulties. Among the number of prioritization frameworks, story mapping is our favorite in the case of startup MVP features.
How does it work? You created a horizontal axis for the user journey and a vertical axis for priority. Then you place features on the map. As a result, you'll have various features sorted according to the usage sequence and importance.
Story mapping is great for charting out an MVP and maintaining an ever-growing list of features. Features that are higher up in priority obviously deserve more attention than others.
Step 5: Develop Your MVP
With the list of features agreed upon, you can move to the key phase – MVP development. At this point, it’s important to find the right middle ground and achieve a balance between keeping your MVP professional and crisp. During the development, keep your eye on the bug-free and high-quality nature of your MVP. This polished initial version allows users to fully appreciate the core value of your product, laying a strong foundation for its continued development and enhancement.
Another thing to keep in mind at this stage is that there are different types of MVPs. So the development scope and time will greatly depend on the MVP type you plan for. You’ll find more information about this in the next section.
Step 6: Get User Feedback and Work with It
To prevent the feature creep issue from happening, it is also crucial to collect feedback from users at the stage of MVP product development.
You can go with the traditional ways, such as conducting user interviews and surveys to understand the target audience's needs in terms of functionality.
For example, when working on the Nomad case – a real estate app for buying and renting homes – we at Uptech followed these approaches during the discovery phase of the project. Our team conducted extensive user interviews, similar to the strategies mentioned, to get a complete picture of the functionality needs of our target audience. Owing to this, we managed to tailor the Nomad app's features to precisely meet user expectations, showcasing the effectiveness of directly engaging with users to shape MVP development.
If traditional approaches don’t fit, you can add more innovative options, such as feedback software tools like FeedBear that aggregate feedback from various sources.
The critical point here is that the faster you start gathering user feedback, the better. Relying on the customers' responses, you make a final list of the vital features that will be added to your MVP and a roadmap based on it.
Step 7: Iterate Constantly
With an MVP in your hands, you should iterate again and again based on the user's reaction. Continue to collect responses and test the changes as it's the only way to figure out how to build something that people need and love. The goal here is to make a minimum viable product software with basic features only to test the product-market fit and get significant results.
Mind that the research stage shouldn't end when the MVP development starts. It should go in parallel.
Different Types of MVPs
Now that you know the necessary steps to build an MVP app, let’s deal with another aspect of the topic – the different types of MVPs that exist. You have read that correctly; MVPs come in various formats that serve different business needs. Understanding these types will help you decide which one fits your situation better.
In most cases, you can divide all minimum viable products into two major categories: low-fidelity and high-fidelity MVPs.
- Low-fidelity MVPs are early product versions that have the purpose of validating the core idea without full-scale development. Examples include a pre-order MVP and a landing page.
- High-fidelity MVPs, in contrast, are more functional and closer to the final product, offering a detailed and interactive experience. Some popular examples are a concierge MVP, a Wizard of Oz MVP, and a single-feature MVP.
Landing Page MVP
As the name suggests, you make a landing page that speaks up about what's good about your product and lets people either buy it now or sign up to be told when it's ready. The cool part is you get to collect emails, so you can chat directly with potential customers, figure out if people really want what you're selling, and see how they behave on your page to improve the product.
Let’s take Uptech’s design concept of a banking web app for example. The design has everything needed for a landing page: It explains the product’s idea and provides all the functionality for signing up for a service.
By the way, Airbnb MVP looked like a simply designed landing page. Its main goal was to check if people would book the apartment. And that was pretty enough to see that, yes, people actually did it.
The pre-order MVP is a crowdfunding approach when you sell your product before actually building it. It's great for projects that need much money to start and want customers to commit early. Think of it like when people pay in advance for a video game that's not out yet. This helps the people making the product to see if there's enough interest and get some money to help make it.
Here’s an example of a pre-order MVP. People can buy a new version of the GTA video game – GTA VI – before its release. The price tag is insane, though.
This type of high-fidelity MVP focuses on developing only one core functionality of your product idea to see how users react to it.
If you take a look at Uber's MVP version with one core feature and the full-fledged one, you notice the difference right away. The MVP did one thing, it connected cab drivers with iPhone owners in San Francisco and let them pay for the ride with a credit card. It was enough to see if people were ready for a totally new taxi experience.
Plai, our internal product for people and performance management, is another great example of how implementing only one core feature in your MVP can help succeed.
We undertook 20+ interviews with target users to identify their key pain points and problems. We then conducted a Design Sprint to prototype and tested the application rapidly. Finally, based on this info, we created the MVP with the OKR feature.
This MVP type is about manually solving customer problems without a real product. This means that there's no automated or functionality-packed solution: The clients know that there's a human who works behind it. You can think about manually organizing travel plans for customers before launching a travel planning app. This hands-on approach lets you discover what travelers want and only then build an app.
Food on the Table is an example of concierge MVP, where the founder, Manuel Rosso, personally crafted meal plans and grocery lists for users based on their dietary preferences. By using simple tools like Excel and email, he delivered these tailored plans, regularly sought user feedback, and refined the service. This approach not only validated the business idea but also built a loyal customer base by offering personalized service.
Wizard of Oz MVP
Wizard of OZ MVP makes users think they're using a fully automated service, but behind the scenes, you're doing the work manually. It's a way to show off a product idea and get feedback without having the actual automation in place yet. Remember Fred Flintstone and his car, which he drove by running? Here, the MVP design works in a similar way.
Zappos – an online retailer having a wide selection of shoes, clothing, and accessories – is one of many examples of successful Wizard of Oz MVPs. At the very beginning, they simulated an online shoe store experience without actually having inventory. The founder would post pictures of shoes online and after receiving an order, would purchase the shoes from a physical store to ship to the customer.
More MVP examples to start a digital business can be found in our dedicated article.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Minimum Viable Product?
Let us tell you right away, the average costs of MVP development lie from $25K to $50K. Of course, everything depends on each specific product. The scope of work for a Twitter-like MVP development and an Uber-like MVP differs.
That's why discussing the price of specific features or MVP development stages makes more sense than giving the general numbers. Since features may vary a lot, I think showing you the cost of each stage will be more helpful. Take a look.
Note that research may go in parallel with prototyping, so all in all, the MVP software development shouldn’t take more than one month.
Common MVP Development Challenges and How Uptech Can Help
Wrapping up our guide on building an MVP, let's address one more thing. Developing minimum viable products isn't easy, and you must be aware of common challenges during the process in order to recognize them timely and overcome them effectively.
Lack of clear focus
While it sounds like something obvious, the reality is that many MVPs suffer from unclear objectives. You can tackle this issue by setting SMART goals. What are those? These are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. They align with both user needs and business strategy.
As we said earlier, this challenge means the team packs up an MVP with too many features that can dilute its purpose. Don't try to do everything at once. Instead, focus on including a few core features that show your product's core value.
While overall a good thing, perfectionism can do harm when it comes to building an MVP. The idea of a minimum viable product is to develop a solution with enough features to gain the attention of the target audience and validate a product idea. It doesn't have to be perfect. Instead of wasting time, money, and effort when trying to perfect your MVP, try focusing on delivering value through the integral features of the future fully-fledged product.
Neglecting user feedback
Ignoring early user feedback can steer your MVP off course. Establishing a feedback loop to continuously gather user insights is half the battle. You should incorporate the collected data to refine your MVP for better market fit.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to take this journey all by yourself.
With 7 years of experience building products for startups, we understand the importance of having a trusted team all along. We know how to lead your idea from the MVP stage to the complete realization of the product that people need. In addition, we know how to mitigate any challenges related to the process.
The process of building MVP at Uptech is similar to the flow above. We start with the problem our client wants to solve and develop it into the MVP to check the feasibility. A good example of starting small and growing into a #1 real estate app is – Yaza. It’s an app that allows real estate professionals to record, map, and share video home and neighborhood tours with buyers.
The Yaza team came to us with an idea to create a social app with a visualized map of places that groups of friends might like so that it would be easy to find places to visit. To ensure the product was going to solve a problem, the Uptech team took a step back and went through a customer and problem validation process.
As a result, we unveiled that the real estate market might be a better fit. So, we started to move in that direction by taking small steps.
- Formulated key hypotheses;
- Validated each idea before implementing it;
- Implemented the corresponding functionality;
- Created an MVP with vital features;
- Made several iterations of testing and hypothesis validation;
- Improved the MVP;
It was an essential step since making changes to an MVP is much simpler and cheaper than to the final released version.
So if you're looking for a product partner to help you with MVP development, contact us! It may be the start of a new journey together.
How long should it take to build an MVP?
The MVP building process usually takes from 3 to 4 months. Of course, everything depends on the features set, design complexity, and human resources who are engaged in the process.
What makes a good MVP?
A good MVP is an MVP that fulfills its purpose, which means – it tests the initial business idea.
Does using a standardized MVP document template effectively substitute for the analysis typically conducted by a professional development team?
The short answer is, “No, it doesn’t.” The more detailed one: Yes, you can go for a standardized MVP document template, and it can offer structure and efficiency. However, it won't fully replace the in-depth analysis a professional development team provides. These templates serve as useful guides but often lack the nuanced understanding of specific project needs. The latter comes from a team's collective expertise and experience in the field.
How do marketing strategies for MVPs differ from those of fully developed products, and what should be prioritized?
Unlike fully developed products, MVP marketing should concentrate on engaging early adopters, gathering insights, and iterating based on user responses. The goal is to learn and adapt quickly rather than scaling or maximizing profits.