5 tools to test and validate your MVP under $100

Nine out of ten startups fail. In the last two decades, we have come to realize this brutal truth through booms and busts in the industry. Eric Ries’Lean Startup and the birth of the MVP (minimal viable product) has become the saviour for entrepreneurs who were used to building in a vacuum and burning through cash and valuable time.

The MVP is easy to define in theory but tricky to build in practice. Oftentimes I have seen entrepreneurs mistakenly call some of these versions an MVP, without any reward:

  • A feature-heavy product
  • A product that delivers no value to its non-existent users
  • Something that has been built after spending a shit-ton of cash and time

Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is hard. Successful startups are made up of 2% idea and 98% execution; even the ones that seem to go from zero to one overnight. On the other hand, there are many people that stop at an idea because they think that it takes a team of engineers, and an investor willing to dedicate millions of dollars in order to go to market. This doesn’t have to be the case either.

Today, there are many tools to quickly build, test and validate your MVP. The sauce is in finding tools that will allow you to learn the most with the least amount of effort, while still providing value. All you need is a hundred dollars, passion and a deep desire to solve a problem.

I’m a product owner of a SAAS startup, with over 5+ years as a CPA, and now coach several teams in rhubarb’s [build] program. In the past year, I’ve worked with many entrepreneurs in this space and have heard more pitches than I can count. Most entrepreneurs find it challenging to reduce their big vision to a minimal desirable product, but that is the key to not building an undesirable startup with little to no users.

Let’s take a look at how a startup I’ve worked with built an MVP to validate their idea and gain feedback from users. This startup wanted to build a lunch recommendation engine, a platform that recommends the perfect lunch option within your vicinity, based on your individual cravings. The personalized built-in algorithms will understand your hankerings better than you do and become smarter as it learns about your likes, dislikes and dietary restrictions with each use.

Did we start building the most intelligent algorithm right away? No. First, we needed to validate our big assumptions in the market. Such as:

  1. Office-goers (our target audience) are tired of thinking about lunch options every afternoon.
  2. People understand their own cravings well enough to tell a machine.
  3. The same people will rely on a machine to tell them what to eat.

These key assumptions formed the basis of our MVP.

AdEspresso

The first step is to drive traffic to your offer, an on-demand lunch concierge, in this case. The easiest way to do this was by running ads online and pointing them to a landing page (more to come on this below). Depending on your product and your audience, you can run ads with Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter. For business-to-consumer products, I recommend using Facebook ads first. I say this because Facebook has a large user base, great targeting tools and one of the highest frequencies of user activity.

AdEspresso is a convenient platform to run hundreds of versions of your Facebook ad at the same time and collect useful, comparative analytics. Several things distinguish it from running ads on Facebook directly:

  • Visual and user friendly
  • Generates multiple ads by combining heading, text, images etc.
  • You can preview each of your ads in real time as you add new elements

For the best results, always make sure to split test your ads to test different variables (heading titles, images, advert text, etc) and that it’s relevant for the content of your offering.

What you will learn

  • How many people viewed your ad?
  • How many people clicked on your ad?

Never run a test without establishing what the minimum validation is that you need to continue working on your product. Our Facebook ads on average had 1–2% CTR (click-through rate) with certain outliers. We used this as one of the validation tools to learn if the product can generate enough interest.

To read more examples of how to use Facebook ads to generate traffic to your MVP, read Jason Mathias’ blog ‘Case study: how I got from idea to MVP’.

Cost — 14 days free trial (Base $49/month)

The outcome

Now that we know office goers were in fact looking for an on-demand lunch concierge, we needed to create value for our early users. We also wanted to understand some common food cravings to help us recommend lunch. This prompted us to use Typeform.

Typeform

Typeform is a great tool for building quick, beautiful, responsive surveys. Several things distinguish it from standard forms:

  • It only shows one question at a time.
  • You can add images to answer options.
  • It allows you to add logic jumps to make the form interactive.

Building a survey helped us understand some common food cravings. We wanted to know how people think about their cravings, whether they based their food decision by type of cuisine, health consciousness, or something more specific, like “I’m craving a cronut or sushiritto.” This was not our MVP, but a way for us to make the user part of our team while we built our MVP, and to better understand their needs and desires.

The key for surveying is to keep it short, straight-forward and relevant. Since most people today experience a large part of their world through screens, there is very little tolerance for cluttered designs and long form questions. Use simple images and a tasteful color palette to make your survey aesthetically pleasing and increase the response rate.

What you will learn

Typeform also gives you detailed metrics about your survey, including the platform people used and the average time the user spent completing the form. Use this information to tweak your survey, increase the response rate, and better understand your user.

Cost — free basic users ($20/month for pro)

The outcome

After we understood the common cravings for our users, it was time to build the concierge service using a landing page. A concierge MVP is when you manually provide a service that technology can in later iterations do for you. Most times there is a human performing the functions that would otherwise be performed by a machine in a fully developed application. The point of it is to save money and validate the idea before you hire developers to build the whole product. You use little technology to deliver a service for a small number of customers. Think of yourself as The Wizard of Oz performing tricks from behind the curtain while your audience thinks it’s magic.

Unbounce

We used Unbounce to build our landing pages. Unbounce has a gallery of time-tested and mobile-responsive landing page templates. This tool is very effective for building out your MVP for several reasons:

  • It doesn’t require any previous knowledge of HTML
  • It allows you to split-test variants of the same page
  • It gives you statistics about your visitors, conversion rates and confidence score that determine which landing page is doing better
  • It also allows you to direct traffic to your custom domain.

We built a page that explained the value proposition of our product and collected enough information to recommend lunch options. We made it a three step process and asked our page visitors to choose from a checklist of cravings and dietary restrictions, and to leave their zipcode and email address for us so that we can get them a lunch recommendation customized for them by the next morning, in time for lunch.

Given the advanced state of technology out there, users expect a lunch option right away. We let our users know we would get back to them by the next morning to set the expectation right. With the right messaging and value creation, your early adopters will work with your first versions and even turn into product evangelists. Make sure to have your social media channels up and running so you can build in social buttons to allow your users to share.

What you will learn

  • How many people left their email addresses?
  • How many people shared your webpage?
  • Do they like your product?
  • Are there repeat users?

Make different versions of this page to test the content, images, flow of information and value propositions. Iterate on your landing pages over and over again based on the metrics.

Read more about best practices to build landing pages.

Cost — 30 day free trial ($49/month)

The outcome

Our page was now up and running, and driving traffic. Now, it was time to perform the trick behind the curtain that was eventually replaced by a machine. Each time a visitor left their email address, we looked up lunch options for them in their zip code on Yelp. It took us half an hour on average to put it together and send it back to them. Which takes us to our next tool: MailChimp proved to be an excellent tool to deliver recommendations.

MailChimp

Mailchimp helps distribute email campaigns to your audience and track open and click rates against industry standards.

We placed our lunch recommendation in a nice template, added a picture of the dish, a description, the restaurant’s name, its address and the website link. We also added buttons to ask our users if they liked or disliked the lunch recommendation so that we could get feedback on the recommendations we were providing.

What you will learn

  • How many people opened your emails and clicked on the links that you sent to them?
  • How many people liked your recommendation?
  • How many people clicked on the social share buttons in your email?

Creating an experience via email that is as close to the experience as the real product is very important. One of the best parts about using Unbounce and MailChimp together is that they easily integrate. That means that you could send email campaigns to email addresses collected via Unbounce.

Cost — $0 up to 2,000 subscribers

The outcome

Remember the three big assumptions I talked about in the beginning of the article? By now, the tools above had helped us de-risk and validate those assumptions. However, we needed to get better traction and we needed to know at which stage in the funnel our users were falling off. Heap Analytics came to be really handy.

Heap Analytics

Heap’s website states its value proposition accurately: Heap automatically captures every user action in your web and lets you measure it all after the fact.Heap Analytics proved to be more effective for our purposes over a popular tool like Google Analytics for several reasons:

  • You don’t need a developer to set up events on the Unbounce landing page, it tracks events automatically
  • Heap creates a funnel and lets you see drop-off and conversion in any multi-step process
  • It works well with single web pages

What you will learn

  • How many people clicked on different call-to-actions on your landing page?
  • At what stage did they lose interest and bounce from the page?

Cost — free for 5,000 sessions/month

The outcome

Within weeks our concierge service had repeat users and we were making their lunch recommendation better each time. We worked with data points collected through these tools to empathetically learn about our user’s needs, what delights them and things they care about. Through this cycle of delivering value, analyzing behaviour, and iterating solutions and benefits, you’ll learn to build a desirable product. Then go automate it!

Now, go build

Many entrepreneurs are afraid they might dilute their brand by using tools as simple as Typeform, Unbounce or MailChimp. When they imagine working in technology, they imagine everything will be built from scratch. The beauty of startup ideas, is that it’s just an idea, and no one knows about it, so don’t worry about what your brand will look like now. Worry about whether the idea solves a problem and attracts users. Startups usually rebrand and change their name after they have been validated in the market. Start with a small investment, and build from there!

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