How to Build an MVP

February 22, 2018

Companies that create an MVP can learn what works (and what doesn't) and make changes before developing a full-fledged product.

Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” first described the term Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as “a prototype to test the core of your idea of the biggest assumption in your business model. Usually it does not cost much money and it is easy to apply.”

First, a company gets an idea. Then, it creates a minimum viable product to prove its concept. After that, it repeats the process until a product idea is perfected.

Workers spend a lot of time arguing about which features are worth adding to a product and which are not. In the end, if the minimum viable product turns out successful, the company plans to create a full-fledged product.

The problem is that many companies do not understand the main idea behind the minimum viable product. It is not a product with a limited functionality nor an opportunity to quickly launch the product into the market. It is not a product that you create only once.

The minimum viable product is a process that you repeat over and over again. You find the riskiest points, test them with the least possible costs, and use the results to make changes.

This article will discuss the importance of an MVP and the steps to take when developing one.

What Is the Minimum Viable Product?

It usually takes about two months to develop an MVP, and then a small group of users tests it.

Often when users test the product, they find out that some functions are needless. In this case, the developers reconsider their strategy and replace these unnecessary functions with other important features.

The aim of the early MVP launch is to save up to 5 to 6 months of costs on developing the whole functionality at once.

An MVP also allows testing whether the real users show interest in the product. If necessary, developers adjust the product according to user feedback.

Techopedia highlights three major characteristics of an MVP:

  • It has enough value that people are willing to use it or buy it initially.
  • It provides a feedback loop to guide future development.
  • It demonstrates enough future benefits to retain early adopters.

In other words, an MVP is about selling an idea you haven’t yet built. You get the product to the market so that you can receive feedback and start applying and adding features based on it.

The Benefits of an MVP: Spotify Case Study

How did Spotify manage to develop a product that matched its vision without going bankrupt? Its creators chose an iterative approach to work by combining the principles of lean startup, the agile method, and MVP methods.

The concept of a lean startup uses the “develop-measure-make conclusions” cycle. This concept helps avoid the loss of resources on the way to the required quality.

In the heart of the lean startup is the MVP: a fast, cheap, and, at the same time, quality product.

Spotify is a music, podcast, and video streaming service. It has over 100 million subscribers. Users love Spotify for its playlists and music sets created specifically for different moods and occasions.

Spotify’s vision was to share with people the right music at the right time and also to motivate artists by paying them depending on the number of songs they shared—not an easy task considering the complexity and costs of developing such a platform.

Despite a complex concept, Spotify grew from zero to 70 million paid users worldwide as of January 2018.

Number of paying Spotify subscribers worldwide from July 2010 to January 2018

Number of paying Spotify subscribers worldwide from July 2010 to January 2018 (in millions). Source: Statista

Before becoming the dominant music platform, Spotify started with a basic strategy. It developed a cheap prototype at an early stage, launched only at a certain level of quality, and performed iterations based on the feedback received.

Let’s take a closer look at each of Spotify’s stages and how each affected the stable process of product development.

Spotify used an iterative development cycle, which consisted of 4 stages:

  • Think It: Define the product, create prototypes, and test its viability within the company.
  • Build It: Create a physical MVP suitable for user testing.
  • Ship It: Release MVP gradually to the market while constantly gathering feedback on the new version of the product.
  • Tweak It: Based on the feedback received, launch a constant process of iterations aimed at product improvement. Continue until it’s time to release it, or revise the product (in this case, we return to the “Think It” stage).

The teams performed work in small portions, which later resulted in a finished product.

What to Consider When Building an MVP

One of the main purposes of a project launch is to gather and set up product features collaboratively. But for most companies, it is difficult to understand what the main focus of their product is and where to start.

In this case, the team creates the so-called story mapping and visualizes the project scope and sequence.

Set Up the Primary Goal of Your Product

Before you spend money on things like inventory for your product, test to see if your idea is viable.

A great example is Zappos, a worldwide online clothing and shoe store.

Before building an online retail store with a stock of shoes, founder Nick Swinmurn took photos of shoes in local stores and put them on a website. His idea was to test whether customers would buy shoes from an online store. If someone ordered a pair of shoes, Swinmurn would then come back to the store and buy it.

By doing so, Swinmurn got a chance to gather feedback and find out whether the market would accept his model without investing in inventory.

This is an example of a “fake-it-until-you-make-it” approach. In this step, your initial goal is to understand what problems your product solves and how it will please the customer.

Define the Product's Main Process

In order to get the total overview of the product (from the beginning to the end), you need to define what the user flow will look like.

First, identify the step-by-step actions users will take when using your product.

For example, if you develop an online store, the sequence is the following: “find a good,” “make an order,” “buy a good,” “receive the order.”

Create a List of Features

Look at the process stages, and create a list of unprioritized features for each step. Describe the benefit and an approximate development time.

This will give you a general picture of your product and will make the selection process easier.

Prioritize Your Features

Now it’s time to prioritize features from major to minor.

Prioritize your features

In this case, try to stay objective; a feature you like may not be the most important in your application; thus, it is better to omit it at the initial stage of development. This will help you find the real value of your product.

To make it easier for you to determine the importance of each feature, evaluate each one on a scale from 1 to 10, including the importance of this feature for the product, the complexity of its implementation, and the value it will bring to the user.

If you have an idea, take a look at the existing market and find out more about similar products. Analyze their value and think how to make a difference with your product and be an improvement from those already on the market.

After you’ve built a list of necessary features, revise it and think again if everything you’ve included is significant.

As an example, let’s use a hypothetical music streaming app. At its core, this app is an opportunity for users to upload their favorite songs to a single platform where other people could learn about new singers and songs.

To make the application attractive enough for early followers, in addition to downloading and playing music, you might want to let users save some of their favorite songs and artists for later listening. And that's all; this is your minimum viable product. You can now launch your product with these set of features.

However, you might want to add a chat feature so that users could communicate. This takes an additional three weeks. Or you could spend two weeks more and add another feature that would allow users to create separate playlists for a particular mood. What about integration with Facebook? Another two weeks to add this function.

The point is that each new feature that you add to your product costs you time and thus takes you away from the initial goal – launching the app.

It’s worth adding all these features to the app at some point, but at the initial stage, they are not your priority. Your main goal is to enter the market, and you can do that with your MVP and from there, you can add additional features.

Define Your MVP

After prioritizing all features, draw a line and divide the user flow into two parts; the major features will be above the line and the less important ones under the line.

Define your MVP

The list of top features is your MVP. The features below the line depict how your product will look in a long-term strategy but aren’t necessary for the MVP.

What to Avoid When Building an MVP

Launching a new product is a huge risk, and mistakes are inevitable.

Some of the most common mistakes when building an MVP include:

Building an MVP When It is Not Needed

Startups tend to make a similar mistake: They start building an MVP without performing market research. They waste their time, resources, and funds on the product without proper research.

Often, it turns out that such a product already exists on the market. Other products fail because there is no need for their product at all.

Choosing the Wrong Developer

Building an MVP is like building any piece of a software product. To do it well, you need a team of experienced software developers, UI/UX designers, product managers, and QA engineers.

It’s a big misconception if you think that a designer and developer will be enough for creating a good MVP. You will need a team able to adjust to changes based on user feedback.

You can use Clutch to find the best development companies for you.

Striving for Perfection

The main idea behind an MVP is introducing your product to users by giving them general information. Thus, it’s needless to overload your product with extra features to create a complete product.

If your product is rejected, all your energy, money, and time will be wasted. An MVP is not about creating a ready-made solution but rather about creating a proper product with a minimum set of features.

Ignoring User Feedback

The solution you are building is for users, so you always need to be attentive to user feedback.

With every feedback received, you will get a clearer picture of what works well or what needs corrections. The feedback is important at each stage of development.

Create a Successful MVP

Remember that the “minimum functionality” of your product is to bring specific benefits and provide value to the user.

An MVP is about receiving feedback and gathering more information with lower costs and resources.

For example, Zappos determined whether people would buy shoes online and Spotify tested if people would use a new music streaming service.

All MVPs of the above-mentioned companies were designed to get the data required for the development of the final product.

An MVP is a way of thinking rather than something that is intended to enter the market. The principles of developing an MVP are the same for the leading corporations as well as for the entrepreneur who believes in the revolutionary nature of his or her idea.

Don't go deep into the development process and immediately invest all available resources. At first, conduct a thorough analysis, and gradually add features. Keep the team’s attention and divide the development process into small series of tasks.

Remember the simple formula: test, implement, and test again.


About the Author

Headshot of Kate Kucherenko

Kate Kucherenko is a content specialist at Agilie, a software development and design company. Agilie provides a full stack of product development services - from intelligent product design to development of mobile iOS and Android apps, mobile-friendly websites, and cloud-based solutions.