How to build an MVP in 5 steps-04

How to build an MVP in 5(ish!) steps

Congratulations! You’ve got an idea for a product that you think is innovative and engaging and might even attract investors. You’re excited...and you have an initial budget...but you don’t know what comes next in the progression from light bulb moment to product launch.

Enter the MVP, short for “Minimal Viable Product” — the validation of a concept in physical form. As the simplest possible iteration of a product needed to prove it works, an MVP is all you need at the start for an early customer (or investor) to grasp your product’s value proposition.

A properly executed software MVP enables you to:

  • Test if your assumptions hold water
  • Gather user feedback to fix initial issues
  • Rapid-test iterations for a faster launch
  • Conserve valuable time and money

Think of your MVP as your product minus bells and whistles — those can be added and perfected later on.

MVP development can be approached in several ways depending on the product, but these five steps will always be critical:


How valuable is your product? That’s one question any would-be founder must answer, yet it’s impossible without understanding the market, the needs of your target audience, and your competitors.

Start by establishing your target audience, identified only by demographic essentials (e.g., age, interests, habits, and device usage) and what the problem you are trying to resolve for them or the need your product addresses.

Once you have that identified, consider conducting small surveys of members of your target audience to gauge their interest and uncover details you might not have thought of.

Your competition is going to be one of your best sources of information. Identify who the competition is and study feedback from its users. For example, if your competition is another mobile app, look at customer reviews of that app to see what they might be missing and how you could do better.

The research phase is all about validating your assumptions regarding who your user is and what they need that your competitors don’t offer.

Identify value

Now that you know the competition and your target audience, you can craft your value proposition to reflect your clients’ needs. Knowing what makes your product relevant to your target audience helps you zero in on the fundamentals of your product — the guts of your MVP.

Think of it this way: Your product has to solve a problem in a way that both your target and your potential investors can instantly identify. For example:

  • Airbnb allows hosts to generate extra income by pairing them with tourists looking for an authentic, unique experience that hotels can’t provide.
  • Lyft enables rides any time, anywhere.
  • Robinhood enables retail investors to access the stock market via mobile.
  • Fishbowl provides a community space for professionals to discuss their industry anonymously.

Startups often fail because customers don’t see the value of their product — and that’s a failure of the startup, not of the customers. Make sure your concept and the product’s value and user interface are clear from the get-go and your chances of success are much higher.

List all of your features. Then kill most of them.

Working for months (or even years) on a project is a substantial emotional and financial investment, and it’s easy to not see the forest for the trees. Some features that you might think are essential might be fluff or not necessary at the MVP stage.

To sort what matters from what doesn’t, list every feature you think the product could include, and then go through each one, asking yourself if it is core to the product’s value. If the answer is yes, good — keep it. No? Cut it.

If you’re resisting letting go of features in the “no” pile, remember that every feature means more time building and testing (and budget) before your MVP can launch, and that you can add any feature you want back in later on.

Also, discipline when it comes to cutting features helps you see your product’s fundamental value better, as the user experiences it.

Build, launch, and test your MVP

So by now, you’ve researched, deliberated, and made some tough calls. That means it’s finally time to translate theory into practice by bringing on developers to design the UX and UI and get down to coding.

Your MVP build should be rooted in understanding the user experience of your product as a series of steps. For example, if you’re building an eCommerce mobile app, you need to think through how many steps it takes a user to go from opening the app to making a purchase. Designing the app for quick and easy interaction is essential for the MVP’s functionality, and a low-barrier interface means more user engagement and more customer feedback in future iterations. Ideally, you also want to make the user experience enjoyable, even at the MVP stage.

Once you have the actual build nailed, test it, gather feedback, and iterate based on your findings. After your QA team greenlights a stable version, you can try it out on your friends and family; their experience will offer additional insight into how the outside world will respond to your product.

Continue to make adjustments based on feedback. When you’re ready, beta test it with your target audience. Collect all relevant data and metrics, clicks, downloads, conversion rate — anything related to how your MVP is used.

Listen, ponder, reiterate, update, repeat.

Feedback from the beta release will enable the barebones product to transform into the dazzler you envision, and for the duration of the product’s lifecycle, user feedback will be one of the most reliable sources for educated insights about improvements, possible pivots, and the general viability of your idea.

MVPs shine their brightest and demonstrate their value in the beta phase. By enabling nascent startups to “fail” faster, MVPs support trial-and-error product development for a fraction of the cost — and thus a fraction of the risk — compared to sinking years and untold amounts of money into a full build.

If your prototype sails through testing and wows investors, consider it ready to grow and meet its potential. With an MVP under your belt, you can invest time and money with confidence, reintroduce technical complexities and features you might have sacrificed early on, and see how far you can push the performance and profitability of your product.

No full-blown product can succeed without that initial research, strategy, feedback analysis, and iteration that go into an MVP. Everything that is learned, confirmed, corrected, and debunked in the course of developing an MVP carries over to future versions and even to other endeavors. With a good MVP, nothing goes to waste.

How to build an MVP in 5(ish!) steps

No, not a Most Valuable Player. MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. It’s the most basic, bare-bones version of your product, launchable and with limited but reliable functionality. Essentially, it’s your product minus all the bells and whistles that can be perfected later on. The MVP offers the absolutely vital features your product needs to get off the ground, and that’s about it.

So why build one? Why create a version of your product that doesn’t have absolutely everything you want for it? Two reasons: gathering data and time to market. An MVP allows you to quickly create a product from your existing idea with a smaller budget than the final product would require. By bringing the MVP to market, you can then start gathering invaluable user feedback that will inform decisions and tweaks for later phases of the product’s lifecycle and testing whether or not the product at its most basic level can provide what it’s supposed to offer to users.

Now, how do you build one?

1. Market research

The first step is learning about your audience- and if there is one. Before even considering how to build an MVP, you’ve got to validate the hypothesis that there is a customer base with a problem or unserved market need that your product will- hopefully- provide for.

Also under the umbrella of market research: seeing what if any potential competitors are doing to accomplish this same goal and how much market share they control. All of this will factor into the planning phase of creating your MVP.

2. Validate your value-add

Okay, we’ve confirmed that there is a customer with a need or problem that you are here to cater to. Great! Now is the time when you have to make sure your product actually does that. This step is about making sure the rubber meets the road: testing your product at the most basic level to see if it actually can provide value and in the way you want it to.

One note on this phase: don’t let ‘good’ be the enemy of ‘perfect’. When testing your MVP, you only need to confirm that the product does add value. It doesn’t have to add the most possible value it ever will. As an MVP, it just needs to be able to reliably serve its core functions.

3. Design

Your product works, now it’s time to make sure it works for users. Before we have a minimum viable product, it needs to be navigable for your audience. That means putting yourself in the shoes of the user. What’s the flow of using your product? From opening the app, how intuitive is getting to the primary process or processes?

4. Decide necessary features

We’re getting ready to build out our MVP, which means we have to figure out what is absolutely vital to the functionality of the product. This is where you draw on your market research and value-add data, asking yourself what features directly serve the user’s need in using your product.

This is the phase that truly separates your MVP from every other future version of your product. You don’t want to be overly generous with your features here because every added feature means more time building and testing before the MVP can launch, but you do need to be absolutely certain that everything necessary to provide the fundamental value of your product is present so that the user can experience it. It’s going to be hard, but when you’ve finished this step you’re ready to start building your MVP.

5. Launch

You’ve done your research, you’ve confirmed the product’s viability, you’ve made it user-friendly and you’ve determined what features are absolutely necessary to your product’s value: it’s time to bring it to market.

5½. Gather data, implement results

Hey, we did say it 5(ish) steps, right? You’ve launched, the MVP is live, and users are beginning to interact with the leanest version of your product. This will give you a baseline to start building from as user feedback comes in. Seeing what works, what doesn’t, and why will inform the future versions of the product in ways pre-launch planning never can. So take the data you’re receiving from launch, that’s the real fruit of your labor and the real purpose of the MVP. All of it is in service to gaining new insights and learning how to make the best possible version of your product.

Now that you’ve got a sense of what you need to create your MVP, give it a shot! Start putting together the pieces to bring it to life, and above all, don’t fear failure. This process can present a lot of challenges and obstacles, but in overcoming each one you’ll find new and valuable lessons that will enhance your understanding of your product and make it a success. Good luck!

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