How NOT To Stuff Up Your MVP: 10 Simple Things To Remember

At my design agency, we’ve seen hundreds of great ideas come through our doors. After eight years, I have realised a simple truth: it’s not about the idea.

Ok, so maybe it is a little.

Your idea does need to solve a real problem, but you need to acknowledge that your idea probably isn’t unique. Truly, it’s all about execution. The products and businesses that we’ve seen succeed are the ones that can make the most of their most important resources: skills, time, funding and determination.

If your big idea is reliant on building technology, it’s incredibly easy to deplete your coffers.

So, here is a list of 10 simple things that I've compiled for you to think about before you spend any cash - investors’ or your own - on building your MVP (minimum viable product), and bringing your idea to reality. 

1. Focus on your goal

What does your MVP need to do? It’s easy to get caught up in all of the amazing features that your product could have, but you don’t need them all upfront. Identify your key goal clearly. Not 5 goals, just 1. Pinpoint what your product needs to do in order to be truly useful to your market and to test its viability, and make that the core of your product. If a feature doesn’t service that goal, it’s a,nice-to-have for another phase. Strip out anything unnecessary and save that budget, you'll need it later. This is a minimum viable product, and it can be great, even if it’s simple.

2. Understand your market

Who are you building your product for? No, not everyone. Understand fundamentally who your
primary market is and stay focussed. If you’re trying to service everyone with your product, you won’t service anyone. Be absolutely clear about whether you’re building for your sister or your mother, they’re probably very different users.

3. Understand the need and opportunity

What real need does your product address? Real. Not a need you've made up, or that your cousin had once. Be honest with yourself, do the research and talk to your market about the product and the pricing. Make sure your assumptions are correct, or iterate and research until they are. And don’t worry too much about talking to people about your idea. Remember, it’s not about the idea. It’s about the execution.

 Henrik Kniberg's drawing to explain MPV using a car as a metaphor

Henrik Kniberg's drawing to explain MPV using a car as a metaphor

4. Build a strong, cohesive, experienced team

Don’t try and do it all yourself. That bit of coding that you learnt at varsity is going to cost you way too much in time, and it probably won’t scale. Focus on doing what you do best, and build a team with a solid track record that believes in what you’re building. Yes you’ll have to pay for them, but it will pay off down the line if you choose them well. Don’t pick your partners because they’re the cheapest, or you may end up paying for it twice. And in blood and tears. A good partner will understand your budget constraints and will help you structure your project in a way that makes sense for you financially. Or they’ll have some honest words for you about your budget. Listen and learn. If you’ve chosen them well, they’ve done this before.

5. Make the user’s experience your top priority

Your user is the most important person to your business. If your product is complicated, they’ll
leave. If you have to use words to explain how to use it, they’ll leave. If it lags, crashes or takes too long to load, they’ll leave. If it’s ugly or busy, they’ll run screaming. If it looks unprofessional, they won’t trust you. Think about what the user is trying to do, about what you want your user to do, and the lasting impression you want to make on them. Then make sure that every decision you make from here on is geared towards it.

6. Design a consistent and seamless journey

A user’s first interaction with your product seldom exists in isolation. They’re coming from
somewhere, perhaps a campaign, perhaps a referral. How does your landing experience continue their journey and keep them moving forward, rather than cause confusion or make them pause for thought? Consistency of brand, messaging and visual language is critical across your touchpoints, and to get that right, you need to be considering the user’s broader context.

7. Consider your technology carefully

You want to learn from your MVP, so it may be too ambitious and expensive to launch with a web app, iOS app and an Android app. Consider if it’s feasible to only release a web app for phase one as a more cost effective option. However, if you need smartphone features like Location Services or Camera Access, then a native app might be better suited, just keep in mind that it’s costly to maintain multiple platforms, so make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Your development partner should walk you through the pros and cons of the technology they plan to use as well as the long-term scalability.

8. Make sure you have a decent marketing budget

How are your users going to find you? Here’s the simple answer: marketing. Here’s the part you
won’t like: it takes money. And when your first campaigns don’t show ROI, you will need more
money while you optimise them. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a great product getting no traction because there’s no marketing budget. Before you start your journey, talk to someone who understands the costs involved in marketing to your potential users, and then give yourself a realistic budget. It’s fun to spend all your money on building your product, but it won’t be worth anything if you can’t get it to your audience.

9. Have some flexibility in your business model

Your business model works. Great! Your investors like what they see on paper. Fantastic! But what happens when your users just won’t buy it for that price? For most users, they’re giving something up to buy your product or subscribe to your service. What are you asking them to sacrifice? A coffee, or a gym membership, or their monthly contribution to their child’s education fund? Will they do it? Ask them or test it, but you need to be prepared to change your pricing if it’s not converting to sales. Remember, your users decide what your offering’s value is, not you. It’s incredibly important to understand how much tolerance your model has for your business to still be viable, and that you manage stakeholders expectations accordingly. If your model is going to hold your product hostage, think about it carefully.

10. The key ingredient: passion

Make no mistake, there will be times when you’re tearing your hair out and you’re ready to throw your hands in the air. And at those times, it’s vital to focus on why you started this journey in the first place. If you can stay passionate and about your business, you and your partners will find a solution to whatever the problem is. Your energy is infectious and if you can stay driven and positive, the people you’ve brought on board will do anything in their power to help you succeed. There is no perfect formula, but our experience has taught us is that if you can put the user at the heart of your project, stay open-minded, be critical, ask questions, build collaborative relationships and manage your resources well, you’ll be off to a good start.

Jacques Oberholzer is co-founder and Digital UX Director at Now Boarding. 

Now Boarding Digital is a specialist UX & UI agency focussed on creating captivating digital
products. To learn more about Now Boarding, visit their website here. If you need help with your product’s user experience, chat to Leigh de Jamaer here.