How to: Build a MVP startup

Sometimes, the only thing stopping a great idea from seeing the light of day (and consumer’s eyes) is a little know-how. If you’ve had a great idea for a MVP app for a while now, and want to start your own business based around it – but have no idea where to begin – we have the answers for you!

Below, you’ll find your roadmap detailing how to build a MVP startup app.

A strong MVP

The stronger the idea behind your MVP, the better your chances are at achieving success. While there’s no strict formula for coming up with a good idea, there are qualities most good ideas have: stickiness, simplicity, and legs.

If none of those words made sense in context, don’t worry. Their explanations (as well as the definition of a MVP, in case you don’t know) are coming right up:

First of all, a MVP, in regards to an app, is an app that focuses on providing an experience through a set of features that play a direct role in solving a user’s pain point. A MVP app has enough design elements to provide a good UI/UX for the user, and is a viable product unto itself. It is, however, a minimal version of said product, and offers little functionality other than that which helps to solve the main pain point.

Good ideas tell a story

So, what about those qualities mentioned earlier? Urban legends, ghost stories, and memes are all perfect examples of ideas with all three of those qualities: stickiness, simplicity, and legs. Let’s look at the idea behind everyone’s favorite supernatural-bathroom-mirror-murderer: the Candyman.

The idea of a man filled with bees, crawling out of your mirror and attempting to grab you with a hooked hand is a pretty difficult image to get out of your head. It’s a simple idea – tempt fate by saying his name three times in a bathroom mirror, and he’ll come to get you.

It’s got legs as well – the story of the Candyman is highly replicable. This is because it uses a well known setting – the bathroom – and uses concrete, reliable, and common features as details to ground the story in reality. All a story teller needs is a little imagination to truly paint their audience a picture; and because audiences are so familiar with the territory of the bathroom, they can fill in details themselves, and tweak the story to their own tastes.

That audience will then go out and spread the idea again – it’s memorable, simple, and replicable.

Now, you’re not here to sell ghost stories – but good brands share these same qualities. For example, let’s look at Nike’s “Just Do It.”

It sticks in your head – it’s a powerful statement, with no room for interpretation; if you’ve got an obstacle in your path, your determination is all you need to surpass it. Their slogan is simple as well – it’s three words, all single syllable, all easy to understand.

Finally, it has legs; “it” is an incredibly diverse word, and because of this, “it” works for any product Nike sells – whether they’re selling shoes or hats – and whether their customers are skateboarding or playing soccer, “it” is getting done.

Sticky apps

Now, let’s take that urban legend example, and do the same thing with a well known app… let’s go with Uber.

First, Uber is a sticky name – it’s fun to say, fast, and carries the wonderful connotation of “great” with it. The idea behind the app is sticky as well; all a user has to do is hail a cab with their phone, and soon enough, a car will be there for them. Most of the time, they don’t even have to talk to anyone – the task is simply completed with a few button presses.

To put it simply, it’s a simple idea: press a button, get a cab.

Due to the idea behind Uber being so simple, the app itself (in regards to UX) is simple as well – over the course of interacting with only a few different screens, a user can get a ride from one side of town to the other.

The simple experience Uber offers is the reason it (and other services like it) are handily beating out traditional taxi services – pressing a button is much easier than searching for, and then hailing a traditional cab.

Finally, Uber most definitely has legs. The app serves two different user groups in a highly replicable way – one user group gives rides, while the other takes rides – and both user groups are likely to return as Uber customers, as drivers’ economic pain point is solved by riders, and riders’ transportation pain point is solved by drivers.

Perhaps the reason for Uber’s market-shattering effects was due to its market viability – because it was the first app to shake up the taxi industry, it was able to gain users with zero competition until other companies could eventually catch up.

This feature set would create a system for raccoons to share advice with each other, as well as a community based around the app.

An untapped market is the perfect opportunity for a MVP app; and because of this, Uber is the perfect example of how to build a startup around a MVP.

It’s essential, however, to make it clear that being the first doesn’t ensure that you will remain in first place – someone can (and often will) come along and do what you do, but better. App users are fickle, and are more likely to abandon an app than they are to continue using it.

Because of this, if a new app does come along and implement even just a single feature better than your app, users will migrate to the new one – in order to combat this, you must always continuously update your app. This means everything from security updates, UI changes, and sweeping, innovative changes to your app’s UX.

Product Validation

There are two different audiences that must deem your app as viable: the marketplace, and your intended users. The purpose behind receiving validation from these audiences is to ensure your app has a place to live, and value to bring.

Let’s get into what being a viable product really means:

Marketability

There are a few factors that come into play here, but the most important (when it comes to a MVP app’s market viability) is competition.

There’s three reasons to go with MVP app development: lack of budget, proof-of-concept, or speed to market. Sometimes, it’s a mixture of these factors, and other times, it’s all three. But while MVP apps do significantly reduce your development costs, and do serve extremely well as a proof-of-concept for potential investors, a MVP app’s real strength, as stated previously, is due to its speed to market.

If there’s an audience of users deeming a product as viable, and no competition for a share of that audience, you can use a MVP model of app development to ensure you beat anyone else to the punch. When you’re the first brand to provide a solution to an audience’s pain point, you’re more likely to build customer loyalty than the third or fourth contender.

If you are the third or fourth contender, however, you’re also in a perfect position to strike – conduct your own competitor analysis of apps that do what you plan to do with yours. Then, come up with better ways to implement the solution to your pain point. When you’re entering an already tapped market, competitor research isn’t just necessary – it’s your ultimate weapon.

Consumer viability

In order to determine who your niche is, you must first determine where your niche is. This is important to keep in mind, as sometimes, a specific audience might invalidate your product – but this doesn’t mean every group will. If your idea is rejected, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad product. You might just be talking to the wrong people.

To better identify your target audience, you need to know your app’s user journey.

The user journey

If Uber had marketed the driver side of their app to professional taxi drivers, and the user side to suburban, middle-age, middle-income mothers, it probably would have flopped. Taxi drivers have no use for the app, as their customer base flags them down visually. Suburban moms usually have their own transportation, and rather than needing rides to places, they are usually giving rides themselves.

Uber made the splash it did because it understood its user’s journey. While there are multiple Uber customer types, their main base is urban, younger, on-the-move, and lacks one crucial thing: private transportation. They have enough money to be able to afford something more expensive than the subway or bus, but don’t have the funds (or lack the space) for their own car.

That’s a very different audience than suburban moms. The timing of the 2008 recession, and Uber’s 2009 launch were extremely beneficial to its success as well – and the gig economy owes a significant debt of gratitude to Uber.

Uber took advantage of a market overflowing with available labor – if you had a car, you could work. You could set your own hours, and work around another part time job. With so many young people in 2009 either un-or-under-employed, Uber was able to grab hold of a significant amount of users for the driver side of their app.

They were able to make all of these smart decisions because they understood the user journey of their app. The best way to determine your user journey is to ask yourself; “What would I want this app to achieve?”

Then, go out and ask people what they think. Let your intuition guide you to the right audience – and then, let your audience guide you to the true pain point.

Understand your success criteria

This might seem pretty obvious, but knowing what makes your app successful is important – knowing your goals will give you the data you need to measure your success.

You define what a successful MVP app looks like – whether it’s number of downloads, user retention, or a workable proof-of-concept for investors.

Keep it simple

If a MVP app were to be compared to a football play, it’d be a Hail Mary. There’s really only one point to all the plays, picks, and blocks that happen in a game of football – to get the ball to the endzone. A Hail Mary, just like a MVP app, achieves that purpose using the simplest method with the least amount of steps possible.

If you’re building a startup around a MVP app, think of it as a Hail Mary – the faster you release your app, the faster it gets to your audience, and the farther it spreads among them.

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