MVP Without Code: 5 Ways to Create an MVP Without Any Technical Or Coding Knowledge (with Examples)

Prakhar Singh
Sep 26 · 9 min read
Non-technical founder working on a smartphone app, circa 2014, colorized.

What Is An MVP?

You’ve probably heard the term MVP thrown around a lot and it sure sounds important but what exactly is it?

Eric Ries, the man who came up with the concept defines it as

“that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”.

Ash Maurya, creator of Lean Canvas puts it as:

“the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back i.e. gets you paid)”

In a nutshell, an MVP is that version of your product that you can create with the least effort while offering max (or a lot of) value. It could be a demo or a prototype with just the core functionalities or something as simple as a pen-paper interview with your users.

Purpose Of An MVP

Before starting any venture, you need information. But Eris Ries disagrees — information in its raw form is not enough to start an ultimately successful business, which is why he uses the term “validated learning” in his definition of an MVP. Validated learning means knowledge that has been tested and validated by the end-user and information that you can use to tune your product to perfection — it’s the main purpose of using an MVP.

“Learning is useless. Validated learning is everything.’

Eric Ries

Do you remember Crystal Pepsi? If you don’t that’s probably because it was launched and subsequently pulled from the market in three years. PepsiCo pulled the plug on Crystal Pepsi because they made a grave mistake — they didn’t validate their assumption. The 90s saw a new craze in the soda market — clear drinks that were supposedly healthier. Except that they really weren’t.

Pepsi saw this surge in popularity and tried to cash in by launching Crystal Pepsi but if had they done more market research they would’ve realized that they missed one critical part — in people’s minds Cola is supposed to be brown. It had been for over a century and suddenly it wasn’t. The market did not accept the different colors as well as the changed taste.

PepsiCo wasn’t alone in mistaking widely accepted statements as facts, hundreds of startups do too. And end up failing. That’s where an MVP comes in, it separates beliefs from facts. It tells you what is likely to work and what’s not.

What Types of MVPs Are There? (with examples)

You’ve decided on the most critical features of your product — now you need to test them. Depending on what your product is and how much effort you’re willing to put in, you could choose one of the following MVP models:

  1. Smoke Tests

The purpose of an MVP is to validate an idea and it can be just that — an idea, not a product. In its simplest form, a smoke test is a “live web page to which you direct traffic”. This landing page describes your product and what it will do. Of course, you also need to measure the level of interest or get feedback in some way. Most people use a newsletter that interested customers can sign up for and reach out to them at a later date with a finished product.

Is it wrong to try and sell a product that doesn’t exist? Not really. According to Eric Ries, one out of three things can happen. First, you’ll have a conversation rate of zero in which case you don’t have to do anything. Second, you get a few people genuinely interested but not as many as you need, in this case, write a polite note of apology. Or third, you get a ton of interested people, in which case, you start building an actual product.

Example: Buffer

“I started coding Buffer before I’d tested the viability of the business. As soon as I realized that, I stopped, took a deep breath and told myself: do it the right way this time. It was time to test whether people wanted this product.”

- Joel Gascoigne, founder of Buffer

Joel created a simple landing page for his “new product” with information about his new service. He created a signup button which lead to a page that said — “You caught us before we’re ready.” and asked visitors to leave their emails so they could be reminded. When people started showing interest, Joel added a Pricing page to further test how much people were willing to pay. Buffer’s three plans: a free plan, a $5/mo, and a $20/mo became a hit.

Source

2. The Wizard of Oz/Concierge MVP

Here’s a scenario, you want to test your product but it needs to be live so you see its UX in action but that means smoke tests won’t work. More importantly, your product isn’t at a stage where you can launch it or do closed-beta testing. You need to see how customers would use your product when it’s done — but right now it’s not. In this case, you use a Wizard of Oz MVP or a Concierge MVP. The idea is you use manual labor to imitate a fully-functioning automated product and have a small number of people test it without them knowing. It’s easier to understand with an example.

Example: Airbnb

Airbnb in its current form is automated but of course, it didn’t start out this way. In fact, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia’s product was as barebones as they come. They simply took pictures of their apartment and uploaded them on a website. Surprisingly, three people were interested in renting their apartment. Their product was a platform that connected people who wanted to rent out their apartments but instead of finding these people and automating this process, Brian and Joe put their own apartment on rent and got an up-close look of how their product worked.

Source

3. Piecemeal MVP

You don’t have to start from scratch when building a product, instead, you can use tools that already exist in the market. That’s the idea behind a piecemeal MVP — you hack together a simple product that mimics the core functionality of your finished product using preexisting goods/services.

Example: Groupon

When Andrew Mason started Groupon, he had to do most of the work manually. But he knew he had a great idea and all he needed was a way to test this — without much technical knowledge. So he used WordPress to create a simple site where he advertised his services, asked people to leave their emails to receive an alert. He then used AppleScript and FileMaker to create PDFs of coupons and sent them to his customers using Apple Mail — with his personal email.

4. Single-Feature MVP

A common misunderstanding is that an MVP must be “minimal”, that is, with the least amount of features or effort. That’s just not true. Sometimes you can’t get away with using other services or working behind the scenes yourself. In other cases, you WILL have to create your own product but it doesn’t have to as complex as you think — it just needs a single feature. Single-feature MVPs are generally digital prototypes with the most important feature of your app, which is often the riskiest as well because if it doesn’t work, your entire product doesn’t work.

Example: Foursquare

Foursquare started out as a single-feature MVP with just the core feature of check-ins (and badges but it wasn’t a core feature, just something to bring in initial users with gamification). The primitive app design allowed the founders to create a cost-effective way to check whether or not there was a market for the app while at the same time getting crucial feedback with which they added in future updates like recommendations and city guides.

Here’s what the app looked like back when it was shown at SXSW in 2009. Source

5. Explainer Videos

Sometimes, it’s hard to convey what your app does with just words. Sometimes it’s just better to show your customers what you’re offering. In these cases, explainer videos work much better than smoke tests. Especially when you don’t have a working prototype ready. In fact, if you created an MVP using one of the above methods and it didn’t come out exactly as you had hoped, you could try to create a video of yourself using your prototype and publish it somewhere to see what kind of reaction it gets. Who knows, you might get $48,000,000 in funding as Dropbox did.

Example: Dropbox

An explainer video is exactly what Dropbox’s founder Drew Houston used as his MVP when his digital prototype didn’t work as he wanted it to. Here’s the video that got him $48 million in funding.

How To Build An MVP Without Code

Here’s the thing, if you’re going to test out new features or an unproven business model, an MVP is where you should start. And don’t let the lack of a technical co-founder or coding skills stop you, instead, use the following 6 ways to build an MVP without coding or any technical knowledge:

  1. Hiring a Freelance Developer

Finding a technical co-founder to work with you on your not-yet-proven idea is hard but you do need some level of technical expertise, so why not hire the next best thing — a freelance developer. They’re also easier to find. Of course, a tight budget won’t do as outsourcing technical development can cost you hundreds of dollars.

2. Hire an Agency

If you have the budget for it and if your product requires it, hiring an agency is almost always a safer bet than freelancer developers because you get product management as well as technical development. But hiring outside help isn’t the only way you can build a kick-ass MVP. You can do it yourself too. Without any technical help.

3. Use Drag-and-Drop Website Builder

A good looking website/landing page was a crucial aspect of Buffer’s success. Yes, they had an appealing service (or more precisely, an idea) but more importantly, they had a great and professional-looking website that captured the attention of visitors.

The best part is, you can whip a website that looks exactly like Buffer did (or even better) in a few hours. Here are some tools to help you with that:

  • Leadpages: Leadpages is a quick and simple way to create landing pages and integrate them with email marketing tools like MailChimp. You can also test multiple variations of a landing page to see which works best.
  • WordPress: If a single landing page doesn’t cut it and you need a full-fledged website, WordPress is a great option. It’s really cheap and has multiple drag-and-drop builders with virtually no limitations.
  • Webflow: If you’re willing to shell out a few extra bucks, Webflow might be an even better alternative to WordPress because of its simplicity. But both WordPress and Webflow provide a completely visual way to create a website. There are also free templates that you can use.
  • Bubble.is: If you want to create more than just a smoke page for your SaaS startup, Bubble.is is a great tool to create a robust website with powerful integrations like payment processing and web chat support.

4. Use a DIY App Builder Tool

There is no shortage of app-building tools that you can use to create an MVP — DIY style.

  • Configure.it: Configure.it is a powerful full-stack development platform to create your mobile app MVP on either Android or iOS. It’s not very expensive and you can use a drag-and-drop system or premade templates.
  • Appy Pie: A free alternative.

4. Pen & Paper Approach

If you want to go absolutely old school with idea validation, you can. In the pen & paper approach, all you need to know is where your target demographic is, walk over to them, and offer them a reward in exchange for their honest thoughts about your product. It’s the most-primitive out of the five methods and has serious limitations but if you can test the core functions of your product over a cup of coffee and the least amount of effort, then why not.

It’s hard to imagine how an approach like this would work out in real life but this is exactly what the creators of voXup did to validate their idea. Here’s a short three-minute video about their idea-validation process which took them just two days, some beer money, and a pen & paper.

Prakhar Singh

Written by

Narrative designer, copywriter, and web content connoisseur. Check out thewriterman.com to learn more about me.

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