In my previous post, I covered the fundamentals of what a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is and is not. Here’s a quick refresher:
"Your MVP is the first version of your product launched with minimal features to verify core assumptions and solve your users' problems in away no other product in the market does."
When you’re ready to build your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), your first question is, how do I start?
First, remember the purpose of your MVP.
We know a minimum viable product tests your hypothesis about your startup idea to prove or disprove them as facts. Once you have confirmed your assumptions and found a good product/market fit, your SaaS MVP will have served its purpose. You can scale it further into a product for your audience.
Once you have your assumptions and a chosen ‘test’ target audience, you must assemble a development team to build the MVP. It can be an in-house team of developers from a trusted software application development firm, you can also outsource the task to freelance coders, for example, or build it yourself.
In this article I'll cover the fundamentals of creating an MVP. We'll look at what you really need when you're ready to start building as well as the step-by-step 9-step process I use for software development.
Lets dive in.
How Long Does it Take to Build a SaaS MVP?
The timeframes for building a SaaS MVP can be tricky. It’s less about the art of building itself and more about what you’re validating.
We recommend you take no more than 3 months to build your MVP, depending on the complexity level. The process starts after scoping your MVP. Defining your MVP scope reduces the time needed to develop your product. You will now have the list of functionality that matters for your chosen market and audience.
Avoiding this step can lead you to build a pretty, aesthetically pleasing product that might not meet user requirements. So, instead of piling on features your audience may like but not need, first, get the core functionality down.
Once you identify your “must-haves” and test your assumptions on only the essential features, you can add the “nice-to-have” features later. There is enough scope to iterate and scale further down the line.
For example, when Black Business Warehouse approached us to help build their MVP, our first task was to correctly understand who they were trying to deliver value to—in this case, black-owned businesses and Fortune 500 companies. After thoroughly defining the MVP scope, we were able to create Black Business Warehouse’s MVP in under two weeks.
So, to sum up, scoping your MVP will allow you to know how long it’ll take to flesh out your unique product idea. Your MVP Scope isn’t just about feature prioritization; it's also about evaluating the competition, mapping out user journeys for your product, and understanding your business model.
What Do You Need to Build an MVP?
You can boil down all you need to create an MVP to the essential functionality to help you validate your idea and accurately test assumptions. Here are a few things to check off on your MVP checklist to start building:
Core MVP checklist:
- The Problem
- The Market
- The Target Audience
- The Features or Functionality
These are the core requirements for creating an MVP.
1. The Problem
If you don’t have a problem worth solving for your audience, you might not even have a startup. By identifying gaps in the market, you’ll know how your product comes in and center your unique value proposition around filling those gaps.
2. The Market
If your product or SaaS platform doesn't have real-world uses, getting a good product/market fit will not only be difficult, but you’ll also be risking startup dissolution. In fact 42% of startups fail due to lack of a good product/market fit. Even the most revolutionary products need a viable market where the website, app, or service can be profitable and continue to grow. You also need a total addressable market size that’s big enough to make it worth your time.
3. The Target Audience
Who is your software product geared towards? Defining your ideal user and what they want out of using your product will help you see how your solution aligns with their product needs. You’ll learn a lot about your audience’s pain points and what you can do to solve them.
4. The core functionality of your product
Lastly, the core functionality of your minimum product is crucial to analyzing the results of your MVP tests. The features you test will let you know what early adopters love, allowing you to expand and improve on that feature list. You also get valuable insights into what features you don’t need immediately.
Who Should Create an MVP?
Every startup hoping to develop a complete product (app, marketplace, SaaS, etc) can benefit from creating a Minimum Viable Product before launching their entire product.
Brick-and-mortar companies may also need an MVP if they want to go digital. For instance, Baltimore-base Alpha International had been in business for 26 years, diligently selling top-quality products like stainless steel sinks.
However, their manual order processing system wasn’t doing them any favors. The more they grew, the sales started declining, with customers getting frustrated with long wait times. So, it made sense when they approached us at Dusseau and Co. to help digitize their ordering system.
Using an MVP approach to develop their product, we could understand their customers' needs. We created a mobile app that has significantly boosted sales and reduced processing time.
With only 10% of startups staying afloat after the first three years of launch, creating an MVP has become a core part of improving the survival rate of a startup. Your MVP team must have enough expertise to develop, test, analyze, and improve based on feedback. The team will consist of a product management and development team.
Even using no-code tools can take away the customizability of your MVP. It won’t do your product any good when it’s time to pivot from a wonky feature or build additional functionality.
A great way to overcome the cost of MVP development is to utilize a team that excels at technology and product development and is within your budget.
When is Your Startup Ready to Build an MVP?
So you know building an MVP is essential for you, and you understand what is needed to create it, but when should you start?
Your startup is ready to build an MVP once you’ve gathered MVP requirements.
These requirements include the items in your MVP scope, so think about your core feature list, the market you’re looking to operate in, and more. We discuss defining your MVP scope and how to gather the requirements in depth in the first post in this series, and you can check it out here.
Once you begin the ideation process for your next website, app, or SaaS product, you can think of how an MVP can prove or disprove your assumptions about your idea—and start building when you’re ready. These assumptions can be anything from the particular problem your target audience is facing to what channels they find your product on.
Validating doesn’t mean founders should create a minimum product for every idea or tech-related assumption they have. You validate your idea that appears to be the most "viable" based on your market research.
What are the Steps in MVP Development?
The steps in your development process for your minimum viable product start with understanding the target market you are trying to reach, and it ends with understanding what your target market needs and is willing to pay for.
For the work we do at Dusseau and Company, we embrace the customer experience throughout the entire process because we understand that everything is about the end user of your product.
9 Steps to Developing Your Minimum Viable Product
At Dusseau and Company, we take a 9-step approach to helping startups develop their minimum viable product. In the article, I’ll share our proprietary process as best as possible.
Feel free to learn and adapt to meet your needs. And as usual, we are here to help.
We categorize the nine-step process we advise our clients to use as they think about developing their first version of their technology product into three main phases:
- Understanding your vision or problem
- Shaping or designing your product or solution
- Building the solution
Stage 1: Understand your vision or problem.
Just like we can’t start developing a product for you without first understanding what your vision for your product is, it’s essential to understand that you should spend ample time first crystallizing your vision for your product or the problem you are trying to solve before you jump into building your solution.
I get it. It’s exciting to want to build because that’s where you start to see your vision come to life, but spending the time making sure that you have understood your target audience and the problem you are trying to solve will help you know if you even have a product worth building. Or if you feel led in another direction.
Three primary steps need to happen during the phase of understanding the problem you are trying to solve: this phase:
1. Deep Dive into the Problem:
During this phase of your product development process, you are trying to get into the heads of your customers or end users. It’s not about building what you would like or what you think you would find interesting. It's about understanding the problem at hand.
Questions to answer during this phase:
- Who is my target user, and what specific problem are they facing?
- How does this problem impact the target user's daily life or work?
- What existing solutions do users currently turn to, and what gaps or pain points exist with these solutions?
- Why is now the right time to solve this problem?
2. Feasibility Analysis:
Assuming you determine your problem is worth solving, the next step is deciding if your idea or method of solving it is feasible or viable. A good idea is great but even more critical if it is viable.
Viability will hinge on a few factors:
- What is the total addressable market (TAM) for this solution, and what segment of the TAM can realistically be captured?
- What are the technical, financial, and operational requirements to bring this solution to market?
- How will the solution be monetized, and what is the projected revenue model?
- What are the regulatory, legal, or environmental considerations for this solution?
3. Product Strategy:
Now that you’ve determined your problem worth solving and a viable solution, it’s time to create a product strategy or roadmap to help guide your process. Your product strategy will be the guardrail for when you are having trouble concentrating on your big-picture goals. It is essential to complete this step.
That’s why we never work with a client without first conducting market research, so we can create a roadmap of where we are trying to go. It’s okay if the first version of your product doesn’t look anything like what you would want it to look like eventually, but it’s also important not to lose sight of the picture of what you are trying to develop. A product strategy and roadmap will also help you stand out and differentiate your product from others.
Questions to consider as you develop your product strategy:
- What unique value proposition does our solution offer, and how does it differentiate from existing solutions?
- What are the short-term and long-term objectives for the product, and how will we measure success?
- How will user feedback be integrated into the product development cycle to ensure continuous improvement?
- What are the key milestones in the product roadmap, and what resources are required to achieve them?
Now that you have developed your roadmap, validated your problem statement, and understood your target audience, let’s turn our attention to the second stage of your product development process: designing the product.
Stage 2: Design your solution
So far, if you’ve been following closely, the first part of the minimum viable product process that we advise involves conceptually thinking critically about your product or solution but not designing it. It is by design (pun intended).
Again, don’t skip the problem validation steps in stage one to move to this point.
Why? Because the data you discover during the initial stage of identifying what you are trying to build is the basis of your solution. Essentially, the fourth step of our 9-step process is when you start to think about what your solution could look like.
4. Prototype Design
Finally, you are in the prototyping stage of developing your process. At this stage, the fun part of the development process begins. You start creating the initial wireframes, outlines, and views of what you would like the user experience of your product to look like.
You don’t have to be super fancy. Go with whatever medium you are comfortable with. Napkin sketches? No problem. When you are ready to build your prototype, an experienced software development team can help you take your idea to the next step.
Look to answer product design questions like:
- What specific needs and goals of our target users does the prototype aim to address?
- What are the core functionalities of the product, and how will users interact with these features?
- What kind of user experience do we aim to create, and what emotions do we want to evoke in our users?
5. Prototype Validation
You might be aware that conceptual designs are excellent. However, the only way to know for sure if your idea of how users will interact with your product is what will happen is to validate your prototype by testing it with target users.
Perhaps during our napkin sketches, we thought it would be great to have a splash page that looks a certain way, but when we tested it with users, no one even understood how the product works. It’s also possible that we didn’t consider user accessibility, so now the product is not friendly to everyone.
The prototype validation is the stage where we gather critical information on our prototype to adjust accordingly. Once again, this is naturally something that your software engineering company should take into consideration.
Feedback to gather during the prototype testing process:
- How do users interact with the prototype, and where do they encounter difficulties?
- What feedback do users have about the prototype’s functionality, usability, and overall experience?
- Does the prototype effectively demonstrate the product’s value proposition to the target users?
6. Prototype Refinement
After allowing users to test your prototype, it’s time to gather and use the feedback to refine the initial prototype. At this stage, the idea is to get something useful out there for users to try, provide feedback, and make iterations as needed.
Here are some things to consider for your prototype refinement:
- Which user feedback is most critical to address in the next iteration of the prototype?
- What design changes are necessary to improve usability, functionality, and user satisfaction?
- How does the refined prototype perform under varied conditions, and is it scalable?
Stage 3: Build the Solution
We are in the final stage of building the solution or technology product you want to use to solve your identified problem. So far, since you’ve created and tested a prototype, it helps you go through the product development and refinement process much faster.
7. Agile Development
At Dussseau and Company, we manage application development projects using agile development. It helps us prioritize our customer interactions by involving them throughout the development process.
Whatever process you choose, the most essential aspect of the initial development process is ensuring that you plan, create smaller milestones or sprints, gather feedback, and keep iterating. Following this will guarantee that you have a working product quickly, which is essentially the goal of your initial development project. You aim to get a minimum product version to real users who can further validate your concept.
We don’t believe in a lengthy development process that prevents quickly getting a product out there. This belief sets us apart from the rest, and as a result, we try to keep our initial product development as short as two weeks, in some cases, to get a version out. We feel this is important, especially with a new product not already on the market. No matter how we try to get it right, we’ll never know what truly matters to the end users of our product until we release some version of it.
8. Continuous Testing
After the first release of your product, your work is just starting. Every product must undergo continuous testing and refinement based on actual market information. To ensure that continuous improvement is part of creating your minimum viable product, you must conduct testing to ensure features work as intended in the overall application development process.
Depending on the software application you are developing, you will need to test different aspects of the product. For instance, you must conduct compliant testing for healthcare applications where user privacy is essential. While for financial applications, security testing would most likely be a top priority.
Here are some of the various ways that you could test your product:
- Security testing
- Accessibility testing
- Interface testing
- Usability testing
- Compliance testing
- Software performance testing
- Acceptance testing
- Regression testing
- Adhoc testing
- Integration testing
- Sanity testing
9. Feedback Loop
Creating a feedback loop is a big part of your product development process, but it's even more critical with the first iteration of your product.
Why? Incorporating testing feedback and feedback from version releases will most likely help you achieve product-market fit faster than if you don’t. It’s always important to remember that our product development goes back to the original idea of building something useful to solve an existing problem you’ve identified.
So, I’ve built my MVP.
Quick MVP tips to remember:
- Your MVP is a test: Based on the results of the feedback collated, your MVP will either do what you assumed it would or need to be improved or changed.
- Pivot or Finetune as needed: If your MVP does not meet the criteria for success, it’s alright. You can study the data to determine what wasn’t working and finetune your MVP.
- Create your Minimum Marketable Product after your MVP: If your MVP meets your predetermined success metrics, you have a successful minimum-viable product. You can then go to the next step of the product development process by adding functionality to make your MVP a marketable product—the Minimum Marketable Product (MMP). An MMP is the version of your platform that can serve a broader user base and appeal to more early adopters.
- Never stop iterating: It’s vital to note that even after your MVP becomes a complete SaaS product, you must keep iterating and growing. So make sure you build a solid base with your minimum viable product.
Differences Between Minimum Viable Product and Minimum Marketable Product
Some of the world's most significant SaaS products and platforms started with determined founders and simple MVP ideas. Here are the most notable startup successes that used minimum products to confirm product demand and a viable market:
Spotify was born in the early 2000s when people still downloaded much of their digital music through illegal websites. The piracy issues met strict regulations, and these unlawful music websites would eventually shut down. At this time, Martin Lorentzon and Daniel Ek, who co-founded Spotify together, decided to offer music streaming as a service.
They created an MVP for their idea and tested it on a few initial users—friends and family. Once satisfied with their MVP results, they presented Spotify to a larger audience, and the rest is history.
Today, Spotify is one of the world's top five audio streaming platforms, rivaling Apple Music and YouTube. The music, podcast, and video streaming titan have over 422 million users.
By starting with an MVP approach, they could build Spotify and continue iterating their product even after their MVP was long gone. They improvised it to become one of the first music streaming platforms to allow listeners to listen to music and podcasts seamlessly on any of their devices from mobile phones, tablets, or desktop computers.
Their story is a perfect example of how founders can operate in a competitive market by seeing what competitors aren’t doing, listening to customer feedback, and adding features accordingly.
We also adopted this approach when creating the MVP for 17 Ways—a revolutionary marketplace that connects businesses to help amplify their impact on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
After seeing that what they were working with at the time needed an upgrade, we improved and tweaked the approach of what was already there. We designed a future-proof system architecture to make it easier to build unique functionality based on their community's and the market's needs.
And in just two months, 17 Ways had a full-stack application that allowed them to seize the opportunity and raise more capital for expansion.
Dropbox’s story is an excellent example of how founders can use simple prototyping to develop a solid MVP and complete product.
The creators of Dropbox used an explainer video to show their audience how the first version of their product would look and feel.
The MVP strategy worked great for Dropbox, as signups increased significantly after the video MVP. The video could sell the concept, and the feedback they collected was enough for Dropbox founders to validate their product.
Even Uber, arguably the biggest name in ride-sharing marketplaces, started as an MVP. In 2009, Uber launched an MVP app called “Ubercab” in San Francisco. The app only worked on iPhones and SMS then.
The original idea and main feature Uber tested was pairing drivers with people looking for a ride. The MVP helped test this in a real market.
Naturally, Uber added ratings, GPS integration, and other features it knew its users needed as it expanded its user base.
How Long Should You Spend on MVP Testing?
A minimum viable product’s primary purpose is to provide you with the quickest route from validating your idea to launching your complete product. So, ideally, testing should take only two to six weeks.
The timeline for MVP testing will still depend on some notable factors. One factor is the speed of getting real users onto the platform, which is only sometimes straightforward based on your sample size. You can call colleagues in your network, friends, and family to help with testing for a small MVP test.
For larger projects, find ways to pitch your MVP to potential early adopters through the channels available. The MVP pitch can be via digital channels like social media, physical distribution of flyers, word of mouth, and so on.
Another factor affecting your MVP's test time is your MVP scope. What you are testing and measuring for will significantly impact the time spent on your minimum product. If it’s just the one or two core features you're experimenting with, it will take a shorter time. For instance, you are testing the “Search” feature on a local Charities Discovery App.
However, suppose you must test multiple functionalities across the user journey, like booking, scheduling, and payment sequences. In that case, you will have more data to collect and analyze, which will help improve your product.
How Much Does it Cost to Build a Minimum Viable Product?
Okay, we’ve covered all the theory (as well as a practical way of creating an MVP), and you’re ready for the cold, hard bottom line.
There are many ways to build an MVP for your startup, and these methods will determine its cost. Pricing and the speed of launch/test differentiate based on the techniques used.
Some popular MVP development methods include:
- Building it yourself.
- Using an outsourcing agency or employing freelancers
- Engaging a dedicated app and product development company that builds in-house.
Your choice here will affect the amount spent on labor costs. The charges you incur will be very different if you hire a product development firm compared to paying an outsourcing team of product developers, managers, and designers (which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars).
The other main factors to consider when determining your MVP budget are:
1. Product or Application Type
The needs of the platform or product you’re creating are vital in determining how much you spend on MVP development. Are you making an MVP that needs multiple features to test assumptions or just a few?
The greater the number of features required, the higher your development costs because of the increased time needed to build, and vice versa. So make sure you have arranged your features in order of preference. List what features must be present for testing what you’d like to add later on, and be brutal in removing any functionality that is not needed or serving its purpose.
2. UI/UX and Wireframes
The design of your product determines its success. This statement might be true for your finalized SaaS platform, but it isn’t always the case for MVPs. MVPs allow founders to prove or disprove hypotheses with the most minimal version of their product idea. If a simple landing page MVP gets the job done, fantastic—you’ll spend little to nothing on this step.
But remember, you’re also building brand identity when you let real users test your product—even if it's minimal. So, you may want to invest in sleek UI/UX design at this stage.
Also, if your MVP concept needs visual development to sell your vision properly to early users and other stakeholders, in that case, your wireframes, user interface, and UX could take a sizable chunk of your MVP budget.
The geolocation of the developers you eventually decide to use makes up most of your overhead. The cost of living changes in the USA and a country like Argentina will determine what freelancers and foreign development teams charge.
However, there’s a trade-off between the money you spend and the personnel you get.
Will they understand your startup’s unique value proposition? How well do they know your target audience? All these factors are essential in determining if you need someone or a team within your local tech space or abroad.
Your first initial product can take multiple forms. Sometimes, it might not even be a tangible product or prototype, much like we have seen in the various MVP examples with Dropbox and others. Your MVP is more about getting a valuable product out in the market than having a fancy product. We believe in testing and more testing and involving your end-users throughout the process so you build a product worth paying for. Our 9-step process might seem lengthy, but it ensures that you start your customer in mind and end with your customer in mind by not skipping the critical initial steps of validating your idea.
Finally, to reiterate:
Our 9-step MVP creation process involves:
- A problem deep dive
- A feasibility analysis
- A product strategy
- A prototype design
- A prototype validation
- A prototype refinement
- Agile development for building the product
- Continuous testing of the application
- A feedback loop process.
Good luck on your MVP-building journey! We’re here to help.
Feel free to reach out to discuss your MVP project.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Should you Outsource your MVP Development or Build an Internal Team?
The answer to the age-old question of in-house vs. outsourcing is it depends. Your MVP development goals will determine what approach brings the most value to your product. Remember to evaluate the factors critical to your startup, like feature prioritization, budget limits, etc. Building your MVP with an outsourcing team may seem cheaper, but choosing the wrong outsourcing approach can triple your expenses quickly.
What is an MVP Builder?
An MVP Builder is a no-code tool or service that allows you to build your minimum viable product without writing code. Some even boast of “not needing to know a single line of code.” These builders can be great when you want to quickly create and validate a fundamental MVP idea. But the caveat is that this method usually has no room for customizations. The lack of editing capabilities makes scaling and iterating further versions of your MVP almost impossible.
How do I Create My MVP?
To create your own MVP, you have to conduct thorough market research to know whether there is a suitable audience for your idea. Once you’ve established your product/market fit, you should prioritize features that matter for testing your minimum product assumptions before building your MVP with a team of developers. Finally, you want to measure against your predetermined goals to see if your MVP succeeded. You can use our creation process explained in this post as a guiding light on navigating MVP development.
How Do You Create an MVP in Agile?
A minimum viable product is the core of Agile methodology. To create an MVP in Agile, founders want to focus on the following steps:
- State the problem you want to solve.
- Point out your key competitors in the market.
- Build features based on your users’ pain points to solve them.
- Know your must-have features and the like-to-have features.
- Develop your product and correct your strategy accordingly.