What Is Minimum Viable Product and How to Build It Right
What Is Minimum Viable Product and How to Build It Right
Plan a path to mobile app success with an MVP. Find out what you need to know about MVPs and how other companies have used them.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
Engineers build business. See why software teams at Atlassian, PayPal, TripAdvisor, Adobe, and more use GitPrime to be more data-driven. Request a demo today.
It happened. Your mobile application is in the app store; tens of thousands of people downloaded it, use it every day, and recommend it to their friends. Downloads hit 1 million. You release a second and then a third version. More and more people use your app across the globe, downloads hit 10 million, and they don’t stop... Facebook, Microsoft, even Google want to buy your app. Is that just a dream? It may come true! However, it will never happen if you choose the wrong strategy for building an app and spend your whole budget on the wrong things. How do you start? You create a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.
What is Minimum Viable Product?
So, what is Minimum Viable Product? There are many variations of the MVP mobile app definition. We prefer this one: MVP is the first version of your mobile application with the most crucial features that solve user’s problems, cutting the nice-to-have features, that would be great for the future updates.
To clarify, a Minimum Viable Product is not a beta version of your app, it’s a ready-to-use mobile app that has significant user value. We are 100% sure that creating an MVP app is the only right way to bring your app to life.
You may ask, “If I have enough money to build an app with multiple features, do I still need a Minimum Viable Product?” Yes, you do. There is never enough money – only a smart way to use it.
Why are we telling you all this stuff? We care about our customers, and we want them to be successful. That’s why we want to protect you from making mistakes and spending your entire budget on unnecessary features without any user feedback and no information about the demand for your app. We want to see awesome apps come to life and become popular. Many great ideas failed because of a wrong start that often led to “running out of cash.” In other words, it can end badly with no money for important things like marketing or even incomplete application.
Although building an MVP mobile app before the full application has become a trend lately, most people still do it the wrong way. Surprisingly, many top apps like Uber, Airbnb, and Instagram had only a few features at their start. The catch was that features were based on core value. That’s what made these applications popular.
We hope we have given you a clear understanding of what Minimum Viable Product is. However, knowing is not doing. You will face many difficulties on the way to an MVP launch. We are here to arm you with knowledge and prepare you for these difficulties. Ready? Let’s talk about the typical mobile app startup problems that lead their apps to fail.
Typical Startup Problems
Absolutely every app startup idea, no matter how awesome it is, has a high chance of failure if the first steps in creating it are done poorly. There are many possibly bad steps, and we’ll cover them below. This will help you avoid dangerous mistakes that could destroy your app from the very beginning.
Too many features in the first version. We know we told you about it already, but we’ll never get tired of saying it! A Minimum Viable Product has to have only core features in order to launch the app as soon as possible.
A desire to reach a big audience. Attempts to develop an app that appeals to everybody is a road to nowhere. You have to focus on a limited target audience that would love your startup app. By building an app that meets only their needs, there's much higher chance that they will love it.
Spread the budget on multiple platforms. It’s a natural desire to cover as many people as you can. But the truth is, if you build your app for both iOS and Android, from the start, the app development cost it will be twice as much. Not a smart move. Do some research and figure out your target audience is – iOS or Android users?
Changing the purpose of the app. Often in the middle of app development, entrepreneurs start to think that their startup app idea is not as great as they initially thought. So, they feverishly begin to think of new features that sometimes don’t have anything in common with existing ones, to add to the app. This doubles and triples the time and app development cost, and often leads to project shut-down.
Ignoring marketing. This is a common mistake. Startup entrepreneurs often think that everything they need for the app to be successful is the unique and fantastic idea, and that the app will advertise and become viral and popular by itself. The truth is, without a proper marketing strategy, every startup app is doomed. Nobody will like your app if they don’t see it.
You probably didn’t realize that there are many ways for an awesome idea to fail. If you have read this part of the article carefully, we have good news – you are protected from making those mistakes. Nice to know that, right? Now the time has come to explain why MVPs rock.
Advantages of MVP
This is our favorite part of describing Minimum Viable Product. There are tons of benefits compared to building an app with many features from the very start. This section aims to convince you that MVP app a is really what you need make. The major advantages of a Minimum Viable Product are that it proves or disproves the viability of your idea with minimum risk, costs tenfold less, has a shorter development time, reduces rework, more quickly demonstrates the viability of an idea to investors.
Proves or Disproves the Viability of Your Idea with Minimum Risk
This is a reason why you should build a Minimum Viable Product in the first place. As the old adage states, “Don't put all your eggs in one basket.” You can use your financial resources to build the perfect (in your eyes) application and only after that discover that there is no demand for your app. Or, you simply don’t have the money to advertise it and let the world know about it. Many applications fail because they have no market need. With an MVP mobile app you risk little money, have budget left for advertisement and after getting the first loop of user feedback, you’ll understand if your app is in demand, what it lacks, and what to improve. Guess what – you’ll still have money left for those improvements.
MVP Costs Ten Times Less Than a Full App
It’s no secret that money is an insufficient resource for startups. You have to remember that app development is just one part of mobile application success. You also need investments. For example, build an attractive website that describes features of the future app to potential users or marketing expenses, without which even the perfect app could fail.
Also, saving money by building an app with only key features will leave you some budget to make crucial changes with the feedback you receive after the first release. If you do build an app that meets user’s expectations in the first release, then you can use the remaining budget to add some new features to take your app to the next level and make the mobile application successful.
Time to Develop MVP Is Much Shorter
This one is easy to explain. When developing an MVP app, you don’t spend expensive development time on many features. You have only few core features that define your mobile app. Below we provide you a list of major benefits of shortened development time:
- This is not obvious but significant. You won’t lose that fire in your heart about your idea. No matter how strong your belief in the product is, if it takes too much time to bring it to life, the fire can go out.
- Less development time equals lower app development costs.
- The faster you bring your mobile app to the users, the faster you will get the feedback from them. This means you can improve your app and release updated versions in no time.
- You reduce the risk of somebody releasing an app with similar value. You might think that your idea is flawless and that you are the only one to have thought of it. But history tells a different story. There’s always a small chance that somebody else has thought of it, someone who won’t waste time on releasing a shining app with dozens of features. Someone with a bigger budget and better developers. So, don’t hesitate because you might end up with no money and #2 app that nobody wants since there’s already a similar app. It’s like releasing a photo sharing app with filters after Instagram was created.
Demonstrate the Viability of the Idea to Investors Sooner
Every business looks for investments to grow, implement new ideas into a company, expand the product range. In the app world, this means adding features, renewing the design and advertising. But investors are not always ready to give money just for an idea. They want to be sure that their investments are solid. This is where a Minimum Viable Product comes to the stage. With little investment, you can demonstrate the idea of the app in practice, and that will more successfully raise funds for future improvements.
How to Define Crucial Features for Your MVP?
We’ve come down to the point of great importance, the practical part of the article. First, you have to extract the core value for your app. A core value is easy to define. It’s the foundation of your idea. If it’s a messenger app, it’s a possibility to send out messages; for music apps, it’s the ability to listen to music tracks; if it’s taxi app, it’s the ability to order a taxi.
The second step is to define which features are not only valuable for your mobile application but vital. We know this is very hard. It seems like absolutely every feature is crucial for your app, and this is normal. Try to look at your MVP features like necessary parts of a house. Initially, the house served simple goals – protection from the weather, foes and wild animals. Here’s how a house looks if we were talking about it as a Minimum Viable Product. Does it need walls? Yes, for sure. How many? Four (actually even three is enough – it would look like a triangle). Does it need a roof? No doubt. Does it need a door? Yup. How about windows? You might think that it is important, but in fact, you can live without windows. Do you see our point now?
So, when you are thinking about which feature have to go into the MVP mobile app, ask yourself this question “Will your app work and save the basic idea?” It will then be very clear which features can go into future versions.
Cost of MVP
This part of the article should be of great importance to you. No surprise! App development cost is the major factor determining whether you follow your goal and bring your app idea to life or put it somewhere in the back of your mind. Once again, we’d like to repeat that the expenses of building an MVP app do not compare to the expense of creating a complete app. So, how much would a Minimum Viable Product cost you?
If you try to Google the cost of an MVP, you’d be horrified. You’ll find info like $500,000 to make the Facebook MVP or $300,000 to build the first version of Instagram. There’s nothing to be scared of though, those numbers are actually about the app price. MVP app development costs are within the limits of reason.
To start, let’s take a look at the real cost of some TOP mobile application MVPs we all know:
But remember that those sweet prices concern only MVP apps that have only a couple of features and simple design. But still…it looks like your dream just became more achievable! Wait a little bit longer, more good news is coming. Those prices are based on the average rates of US mobile app development companies, which starts at $50 and reaches $200 and more.
So how to get at least an approximate cost estimate for developing your app? First, we want to clarify that we are talking about building native iOS or Android applications, not hybrid. Normally, building an MVP mobile app takes 1-2 months (compared to 6-12 months to build a full app). The development time for an MVP highly depends on the difficulty of the solutions needed to build it, a platform for the app, iOS or Android and whether it's gonna be Native or Hybrid App.
Also, you need to know the hourly rate of the mobile app development company or freelance app developer you plan to hire to get the job done. These rates can vary tremendously, from $10/hour for an Indian freelancer to $250/hour for a large US app development company. We charge $35/rate for the same high-level service. In our agency’s experience, the average cost for an MVP varies from $2,000 to $10,000. Moving forward. Let’s take for an example the shortest timeline for MVP development – one month:
40 hours*$35=$1400 weekly cost*
1400*4=$5,600 - total cost of your MVP
The big question now is, are you ready to invest $5k to create an app that can take you to the pages of the Forbes magazine? We think it’s worth trying.
You might think you are too cool and too smart, to spend time on building a Minimum Viable Product, if the app won’t fire up without “that awesome animation” or “super necessary button that changes the color of the app.” But check this out, all successful products that are now super famous started by first building Minimum Viable Product. Instagram was a simple photo sharing app with filters and an unattractive design. Facebook didn’t have a timeline. All Uber did at first was connect iPhone owners with drivers. As you see, they didn’t rush into stuffing the apps with lovely animations and tons of buttons. Only. Core. Features.
The world-famous ride-sharing app, Uber, started in 2009 as UberCab. Back then it was used only by the founders and their friends. To start using the service you had to email one of the founders. Uber showed a significant evolution from the primary idea, making it easy for users to book and pay for the taxi via the application. This is how UberCab’s interface looked after a few iterations in its beta launch (they had started accepting payments through the app at this point, but you could still book via SMS):
Features that we’re now all using as part of our everyday life, such as:
- Live-tracking of drivers
- Fare splitting
- Automatic credit card payments
- Fare estimates
…were introduced to the users slowly as the company and the number of users grew. This approach enabled Uber to start by focusing on a small user base in San Francisco and use their findings to refine and improve the product in an iterative fashion. Now Uber is generating a revenue of $6.5 billion (although still making a loss) and is worth $70bn valuation.
The first version of Foursquare had only famous check-ins and badges. There’s something we want to add for the people who think more about how the app looks and not about the features. Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, Foursquare founders, didn’t spend time on design at all – it was plain and not attractive at all. Their idea was to launch the new app that had no competitors as soon as possible. What’s interesting, the majority of IT experts that saw Foursquare MVP told that this mobile application will fail. The secret of Foursquare was in its simplicity and gamification which was provided by adding badges for accomplishments. After first feedback developers started expanding app and added recommendations and city guides to it. Today app connects 50 million people that checked in 8 billion times.
Airbnb, (or Airbedandbreakfast), a haven for travelers who are looking for low price accommodation, was founded in 2007. The core problem was identified by future founders when they understood that San Francisco hotels had been overbooked during the Industrial Design Society of America Conference (IDSA) in 2007. So, the Airbnb creators put mattresses in their spare rooms and created a simple website that advertised that they had place to stay for the weekend. And you know what? They found people willing to stay in their spare rooms in no time!
Airbnb’s approach from the very start, has been to reinforce the core experience and make improvements based on constant user feedback. Not on adding unnecessary features and deviating from the core problem. Now the Airbnb service has over 3 mln hosts providing places to stay in 65,000 cities and towns, with more than 160 million number of stays, and $3.4bln in funding at a $31bln valuation.
Tip: There’s a big difference between people who say they like your product, and people who will part with cash for it. Paying customers are the best form of product validation.
The world-famous Twitter social network tracks its birth to the Odeo podcasting platform. When the founders of the platform realized that they had no future after Apple entered the podcasting game with iTunes, Odeo feverishly began to think on where to head next. One of their ideas was a service that gave the ability to share updates with a group of people using text messages, which had the codename “twttr.”
The first prototype was used by Odeo employees as an internal service. Eventually, they became so obsessed with it that they began racking up “monthly SMS bills totaling hundreds of dollars”. This gave the push to the team to release Twitter for the bigger audience. The crucial moment when the Twitter user base exploded at the SXSW festival in 2007 when the members’ tweets about the event were showed off on TV screens across the venue.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.