Why You Need to Build an MVP App (and 5 tips on how to do it)

Originally published on http://www.appsterhq.com

The bell rings, the champagne pops, and the sounds of claps, cheers, and whistles fill the air. No, we’re not at the New York Stock Exchange; we’re at the Appster HQ in Melbourne, Australia where we ring the bell every time one of our apps goes live.

The significance of going live is immense.

It means we did it: you — our client, the visionary, the entrepreneur who refused to quit — has successfully pulled off what can sometimes feel like the equivalent of trying to successfully land a Rover on Mars.

You started with an idea, established product market fit, and now you’re in the App Store. It’s now time for your idea to start colonising our planet.

But let’s take a second to ask a crucial question: how, exactly, did we get here?

What, in other words, is the difference between entrepreneurs whose ideas successfully reach the market as concrete apps versus those whose dreams remain just that — dreams?

The answer comes down to three ultra important words: Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Now, I am not a gambler: by nature, and in my role as Lead Producer at Appster, I am an intrinsically risk-aware and calculating individual.

My number one concern is to ensure successful app launches for our clients.

But if I were to place a bet on which of my clients are the most likely to successfully launch on time, on budget, and with the best possible products then I would not look to those with the most cash or the least complex app — no, I would hedge my bet based on to the clients’ commitment to creating and ensuring the success of their MVPs.

Your Minimum Viable Product Is Your Most Valuable Player

First, let’s get our terms straight.

Eric Ries, who helped popularize the concept, defines Minimum Viable Product as the ‘version of a new product which allows [you] to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about [your] customers with the least [amount of] effort.’

Creating and launching your MVP app is a bit of an art form. It’s all about striking the right balance between giving your users what they need before you’re absolutely certain of every last feature they might eventually want.

It’s basically your morning coffee without the latté art, i.e., it has the caffeine hit consumers crave but it lacks the fancy whipped cream and chocolate shavings that bring that extra bit of pleasure.

Techopedia lists three key features of an MVP:

  1. It provides enough value that people are willing to use it and/or buy it after its launch;
  2. It demonstrates sufficient future benefit to retain these early adopters; and
  3. It provides a feedback loop that helps to guide ongoing development.

Your MVP comprises all the core features of your application, i.e., the high value must-haves rather than the potentially valuable nice-to-haves.

Not just for startups

Creating and launching MVPs are not exclusive to start-ups. Major players in the industry, from Facebook to Google, also rely on this strategy.

Facebook didn’t have a Timeline or a Marketplace when it first launched. Google Sheets (my personal favourite! #ilovespreadsheets), which launched in the beginning of 2007, did not allow the editing of single cells until 2015.

Such a feature might seem like an obvious must-have but, in reality, it’s merely a (fancy) nice-to-have when your goal is to launch your product and get it into the market.

If Google had refused back in 2007 to launch Sheets without the incorporation of this feature then its uptake would look very different from what it is today.

Save Your Pennies

Even with millions of dollars in investment capital, you still must focus on creating and launching your MVP.

You say you have a bottomless pit of available funding? I’m sorry but I’m not taking your money without your commitment to introducing an MVP — and here’s why:

Let’s take the example of a hypothetical music-streaming app.

What is the crux, the absolute essentials, of this app? It’s the ability for users to upload their personal music to a single platform from which other users can discover new tunes and artists.

In addition to uploading and listening to music, in order to make the app sufficiently attractive to your initial adopters you’d probably want to give them the option to save some of their favourite songs/artists for later listening. But that’s it.

That’s your MVP. With these features intact, you’ll launch in approximately ten weeks from now.

Want to see how easily it is to inflate the amount of time it’ll take for you to get your app to market?

Add three weeks to the launch timeline to allow users the ability to chat with each other on the platform.

Add two more weeks to make it possible for users to create five separate playlists suited to different musical tastes.

Throw in another two weeks to have an admin CMS manage all the music available in the app.

What about Facebook integration? There’s another two weeks. And so on and so forth.

The point is this: every new feature you tack onto your product costs you precious time, time that pushes you further and further from the goal of actually launching your app!

Are these different features worth the investment? Yes, they almost certainly are. But they are not a priority at the very moment when you’re trying to get into the market in the first place!

Create your MVP now and launch now. Otherwise, build three or four fancy nice-to-have features into your yet-to-be-released app and watch helplessly as two or three of your competitors actually launch their products…

Validate, Don’t Guess

Go live with your MVP, build a feedback loop into the application, and monitor your feedback actively.

Utilize A/B split testing, i.e., a testing method wherein you compare results generated by changing the values of a single variable in your app in order to determine which earns you more hits.

For example: our Appster homepage received more hits via the contact us box when it featured an image of a female hand, rather than a male hand, holding up an iPhone.

We could have spent one or more weeks in design deliberating whether to try this change but instead we simply launched the switch, collected feedback, and validated our results in the real world using real data from real users.

This is one of countless examples proving that you gain far more value by creating and launching your MVP into the market now than from spending weeks or even months speculating, i.e., guessing, in design and development.

Don’t Lose Focus

During the design phase it’s so exciting to see your app coming to life, taking shape, and becoming a visual technological reality with which you, and soon millions of others, can interact.

However, this is also when the phenomenon of ideas-overflow tends to rear its head. You and your team start asking yourselves questions like, “What if we made it possible for users to…?”, “Why don’t we add…?”, and “How long would it take to change…?”. When this happens you’re headed for trouble!

Why? Because this is precisely how entrepreneurs get needlessly distracted and end up veering off the path of pushing their MVP to market and collecting real world feedback from consumers.

It’s not that these features aren’t important or beneficial for your users; rather, it just means that they aren’t particularly valuable at this point in time because they aren’t necessary to getting the app into your users’ hands.

It’s crucial that you remain on high alert the closer you get to launch: you must have the self-discipline to be able to set aside these developments /changes for a future version of your app.

It’s really important that you understand, and remain constantly aware of, the importance and value of the MVP strategy.

Don’t get distracted: concentrate on launching and leave future adjustments for future versions.

It’s Not About You; It’s About Your Users!

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to forget that we’re not the actual users of our products. Our likes, desires, and dislikes are not necessarily those of the end users for whom we design our apps.

From amongst the variety of different ways that one can design an app, the ideal strategy is always rooted in a User-Centred Design approach.

Focusing on usability objectives and user traits, environment, and workflow goes hand-in-hand with the MVP strategy, working together to achieve the goal of launching the app.

Once again, what is the only way of gaining concrete data on whether your app is meeting the needs, desires, and habits of your users? Getting it into the market and collecting feedback directly from them!

In the end, a more complex app can actually make it to launch faster and with more eventual success if its creator is focused on and committed to the MVP strategy than can a simpler app being developed by an entrepreneur who gets easily distracted by the minutiae of new potential features, different concepts, colour changes, button sizes and positions, and competitor operations.

Getting stuck in the design and development phase without actually getting your product to market means that it’ll take much longer for your app to ever get into the hands of real users.

How to Stay Focused on Your MVP

I get asked all the time how many of my apps have had successful design and development phases.

Determining the success of the design and development phases for a new app can be a bit tricky because the variables that can affect these stages are numerous, from different third party dependencies and various technical complexities to the amount and types of bugs discovered and addressed.

Having said that, it remains true that the most successful design and development phases are those led by the most focused founders, i.e., by those thoroughly dedicated to launching by releasing their MVPs into the market.

Whether you’re building an iPhone app, Android app, or SaaS application, here are my top five tips for ensuring that you do not veer off the path of successfully creating and launching your MVP within a reasonable period of time:

  1. Lock your target. You have a specific idea for an app? Great! Lock down the scope of your MVP and let’s get it into production.
  2. Don’t get distracted. As the design process begins and the shape (and branding) of your app starts coming to life, it’s easy to let the endless stream of ideas and possibilities for improvement steer you off course and remain stuck in the development stage. STOP! Re-Focus and go back to your MVP. Ignore the “noise” in your head telling you that the sky’s the limit and there’s nothing you can’t achieve with your app — the truth is that there’s no value or sense in following any kind of nice-to-haves right now. Make a note about these potential future features and get back to your app’s must-haves.
  3. Start coding. The longer your app stays in its initial phases of design, the closer it remains to your chest, so-to-speak, thus preventing it from receiving the real world validation it needs to be successful. Get your app into development with the leanest and meanest version possible.
  4. Dip your feet into the market. Real users validate your app — there’s no way around this fact. Yes, you need to have a strong starting-point for your app, but it does not have to have every conceivable bell and whistle in order for consumers to use it. It just has to successfully answer an identifiable problem in the market, i.e., satisfy one need. So get the product out there into the market and see what happens.
  5. JUMP! Once your users begin screaming, “Yes! Give me that chat function! Give me that extended playlist ability! Gimme gimme gimme!”, then you go for it by building what they want. If, for instance, after launching your MVP you accumulate 1000 real world people who have validated your app and who want to see improvements implemented, then by directly responding to the wants and needs of this explicit market population you’ll be pleasing the very people who matter most for your future success!

Originally published at http://www.appsterhq.com/