JP Boily

Founder of Metrics Watch

Jack of all trade SaaS consultant (but mostly code, analytics & marketing)

September 30, 2016

Stop getting screwed to build your startup’s MVP (minimum viable product)

September 30, 2016 - JP -  

So you have this new business idea. Are you ready to get your MVP (minimum viable product) built by a contractor? Congrats!

Now hold on for a minute.

I don’t want you to get screwed. In fact, you would be screwed by your inexperience partially, and your vendor’s inexperience and/or lack of pragmatism and/or need to make as much money from you as possible. I would bet the first two are the main reasons in general.

Just to be clear, I don't think there are bad intentions in most cases.

Agencies and contractors often don't have the required context, experience, and pragmatism.

What you want and need is the best return on investment possible.

How do we get there?

Forget about your long term vision (for now)

So, you know where you’re going, and how your business idea will change the world and you have a five-year plan to IPO? Awesome. Put it in a drawer for now.

What you need is to start from the basics. You need to build the most simple version you think you can sell to your potential customers. At least, that’s the goal.

This first version is often referred to as a minimum viable product.

You should never build your ideal version or your vision of what you think it should be. You will spend a ton of money and are likely to be unsatisfied.

It should not be your first step.

Before starting to build the MVP, try to figure out what is the most minimalistic version of your vision you can get built that will be interesting enough for people to spend money.

Think about it for a moment.

You have a rough idea of what it could be? Awesome. Make it even more simple. Repeat. Again. And again.

I would bet I can still identify many things you don't need yet and maybe never will.

Can you remove more features or details and still make it useful? Awesome! You just did a great first step.

What you need is to scope the first version and make sure there is nothing that is not 100% required to be able to sell it to customers.

Challenge all the suggestions you get to add features or improvements. Refrain from adding anything if at all possible.

Why starting with something basic is better?

To get to a viable product, many people will tell you that you need a lot of features, perfect design, a kick ass logo, a super flexible billing system and whatnot.

Don’t listen to them. Save money and get to market faster. This is what I want to help you do here. Save money, and do more money, faster.

First thing, you should do it in multiple tiny steps or iterations. This will help you avoid getting too far from what your customers need. Why? Look at this little graph I made with all my non-existing designer skills:

MVP trajectory

The black line is what you think you need to build. It’s the direction you’re heading. The orange line is what you need to build to be successful.

You want to start with something super basic so that the time between A & B is as short as possible.

Point B is where you will show your MVP to your customers. They will like it or not, but it will not be 100% perfect. If you build a big product and take six months, it could be six months going in the wrong direction.

To be as effective as possible, you need to adjust your trajectory often.

To do that, you need to shorten the time between each iteration.

Some people will tell you they need six months to get from A to B. It’s way too long in most case.

What you can do is take a month, for instance, to get from A to B. You will show it to customers, and potential customers and they will tell you it’s not useful enough because of X, Y, and Z. Fair enough, you did not get it right the first time. It’s fine.

Now let’s get closer to what they want. Points B to C might be a couple of weeks or more, but at least, it will be focused on the feedback you got, so you can get closer to having satisfied customers as fast as possible.

You always want to work so that you get as close as possible to what the customer want, as fast as possible.

This is what will make customers happy and help you grow and make more money faster.

How to move fast and save money?

Are you sold on the fact you should build something very basic first? Awesome. If you’re not, shoot me an email ;)

How can we get there?

Remove everything that is not absolutely required. I’ll say it again. Remove everything that is not ABSOLUTELY required.

Let’s say you want to build an application that will send alerts to your customers when they have a lot of visitors on their site.

What do you need?

You need a way to create an account, somehow.

You will need a way to get the visits from your customer’s website.

You will need a way to create the said alerts.

You will need a way to send emails.

You will NOT need a way to send those alerts via SMS. You can build that later if required.

You will NOT need a way to send those alerts via Slack. Not yet at least.

You will NOT need to have all sorts of configurations for the alerts, like disabling them at night or weekends.

You will NOT need it to be in real-time. Would it be better? Hell yeah. Required? Nope.

You will NOT need a way for your customers to see their past invoices.

You might not even need any billing system to start with. You could ask for payments via wire transfer, or via your PayPal account for now.

Do you need a mobile app? Hell no.

Do you need to support CSV upload so that your customers can create 10 or 20 alerts a time? Nope. If they want to do it, they can send you the CSV via email and you can create them manually for them.

Do you need an API so that your customers can create and modify alerts via their internal tools? Nope. Certainly not.

Do you need an administration section for you so you can see all the users and modify things for them? Nope.

You get it right? You don’t need that much to start with.

Oh, and never say “well, while we’re at it, we should probably…” NOPE. You should not. Not even for a tiny thing.

Whatever can be done manually for a while, should be done manually. Not forever, but for the foreseeable future. If you take 5 hours to automate something right now that is not going to take you more than a couple of hours per month, don’t do it.

You can even disable the accounts after a trial manually. I know, I did that for a while for Metrics Watch!

It’s almost 100% sure you will be wrong in many aspects:

  • how people will use your application
  • what features are the most valuable
  • what you think you will have to do support for

Consider you’re wrong on almost everything.

Your only goal at this point is to verify your theory, and how far you are from it. Verify that people want to pay for what you offer and that you can turn this into a profitable business. This should be your only focus.

What you want to avoid is wasting time and spending money on building the wrong thing. If you build something super simple and move from there, the delta between your theory and the reality will be easier to fix and improve.

Need a hand for free?

You are about to get an MVP built and you think what I just said is all exaggerated? I can challenge your ideas in a free 15 minutes call. Just add your email in the box at the top right corner to register for it.

Speak soon!

PS: what is your experience with building or getting an MVP built? Leave a comment and let me know.