Try to single out all the tasks that await an ambitious freshly-minted entrepreneur. Researching the market and the competition, defining value propositions that speak to the prospective users, pitching investors, exploring the IT talent pool… The endless list of responsibilities is a challenge in itself. And if we add to these tight deadlines and a limited budget, it becomes clear why for some engaging in software development is like opening a can of worms.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Sure, the process of building and launching a digital product is complex. Nonetheless, when approached in the right way, its elements do not form an inextricable tangle like a live bait does but rather a neat knitting project in which any knots are easy to detangle. And the means to achieve this goal is... something that most entrepreneurs are familiar with: a Minimum Viable Product. The trick, however, is to plan its development in such a way so as to save both time and money without sacrificing the unique value of your product.
In this article, we want to assemble lessons learned from years of working with ventures from a wide range of verticals and convert them into a guide to launching digital products quickly. Curious what the secret sauce to the titular building an MVP in 12 weeks is? Let’s discover its ingredients together!
Minimum Viable Product: a quick recap
We won’t argue with the old saying that time is money. However, before proceeding to the formula for launching a digital product quickly, let’s stop for a moment to outline the major features of a Minimum Viable Product and the reasons why startuppers are so fond of MVPs.
MVP: minimal scope, maximum value
the version of a product that allows a project team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
Or, to be more poetic, you could say that an MVP is the embodiment of your app idea stripped of any unnecessary adornments – and its goal is to help you choose the least bumpy road to success.
But how will you know if your vision is more suited for a Minimum Viable Product than for a PoC or a prototype? Ultimately, the choice of product launch methodology ought to be based on expertise and experience – to cut the long story short, however, we prepared a cheat sheet that sheds more light on the differences between the three models.
Why do entrepreneurs fall in love with MVPs?
Startups are a special breed of business. Unlike established enterprises, most of them have only recently embarked on the quest of uncovering the deepest desires of their users. Hence, they are bound to fail every once in a while. As long as they do it fast and learn from their mistakes, however, there is nothing wrong with this kind of failure. As David Brown puts it,
Fail fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach to running a company or developing a product that embraces lots of little experiments with the idea that some will work and grow and others will fail and die.
For young entrepreneurs, success is not about getting fixated on theory or insignificant details and making their product unrealistically perfect. On the contrary, it’s about being able to release the first version of the app as quickly as possible to initiate the feedback loop early on, learn, and adapt. Only this way can they find out if their original idea is valid or not – and in case of the latter being true, set a different course.
Going through the cheat sheet in the previous paragraph, you’ve probably noticed that it’s exactly what starting software development with an MVP allows for. Its time-efficiency translates into a number of other benefits, including:
These should be enough to prove to anyone, even skeptics, that a quickly launched Minimum Viable Product is of great value to ventures.
How long does it take to launch MVP?
So far, we’ve been talking about “short launch time” as the main reason for entrepreneurs’ fondness for MVPs. But what does short mean with regard to software development? Let’s take a look at some statistics and estimates.
In an attempt to find the answer to the often-asked question “How long does it take to build a mobile app”, Progress and AYTM joined forces and surveyed one hundred developers. Their research has shown that on average, it takes three months to create an Android or an iOS app, with ten weeks devoted to backend development and eight weeks spent on frontend respectively. This process, however, can be accelerated in a couple of ways, e.g. with the use of Backend as a Service.
Now, how about building a product that resembles one of the world-renowned applications? Henrik Werdelin, the founder of Prehype, a venture building research and development group, has some answers. In an interview with The Next Web, he states that although building a simple Twitter-like app is a piece of cake that could take as little as 10 hours, furnishing it with the right experience is not exactly a walk in a park.
You can’t just build a product today, you need to build a venture. And that involves processes, structures, feedback loops, analytics, and a community.
And so, building an Instagram-like product should take around three to six months, launching a social networking site like Facebook would span nine months, whereas creating a Pinterest replica calls for at least 120 days of work. Understandably, tailoring the idea to your business objectives and your target audience’s needs is bound to change the time needed to build a Minimum Viable Product, whichever industry you’re operating in.
How to build MVP in 12 weeks?
As you can see, depending on what project we’re discussing and whom we’re interviewing, estimates regarding the time needed to build an MVP differ. As we’ve worked with a number of startups operating in verified industries, from FinTech to Travel, we have our own opinion on that matter as well.
To prove that our words are backed by experience, let us illustrate the MVP development process with a practical example of SportsHi – a social network mobile application built with React Native. When its founder approached us, he had a clear deadline in mind for reasons that most entrepreneurs are familiar with: the desire to put his idea to the test asap and the need to find an investor. As he was paying for the app out of his own pocket, he knew that extending the development process would harm both his venture and himself.
Step 1: research and conception
Benjamin Franklin used to say that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. That’s why prior to embarking on a journey to digital success, you need to do some homework that involves asking yourself the following questions:
- What’s the problem you’re trying to solve and how are you going to do that?
- Who are your prospective users in terms of demographics, behavior, app preferences, etc?
- What is your value proposition? How does it differ from what your competitors offer?
Although at this stage the job is 100% yours, every tech partner will tell you that it exerts a tremendous influence on how smooth your cooperation will be.
In the case of SportsHi, the client came very well prepared. Being a rugby coach himself, the startup’s founder had a profound understanding of the industry and prospective users’ pain points. Finding a gap in the market and being able to define his product’s unique value proposition: that’s what increased SportsHi’s chances for success from day one.
What should be the outcomes for this stage?
- market and competition analysis
- defined Unique Value Proposition
- a rough idea for the product
Step 2: scoping session
With your homework done, it’s time to discuss it with the software development partner of your choice. During the scoping session, the vendor’s team should ask you a vast array of questions in an attempt to walk a mile in your (and your prospective customers’) shoes. During the discussion, the details of the solution are organized in a more structured way and both the priorities and the scope of the Minimum Viable Product are defined. All the functionalities are divided into smaller user tasks that correspond to the usage of the application.
At this stage, you may discover that you’re more attached to your business idea that you’d initially suspect. That’s ok, it happens more often than not. In fact, that was the case with SportsHi as well. In the beginning, it was hard for the client to let go of some features because they all seemed indispensable. However, as we went through a pre-kick-off in-depth consultative analysis of the project, we managed to reach a sensible compromise. As a result, we defined core features to be developed first, e.g. event scheduling and users’ profiles as well as agreed to delay the development of the non-essential functionalities such as search or chat until the next iteration.
What should be the outcomes for this stage?
- user flows, described functionalities capturing the product shape and logic (usually in a form of Story Map
- all the MVP functionalities together with a roadmap of a product
- technological recommendations for the development
- rough sketches of selected/crucial views (optional)
- high-level time and budget estimation
Step 3: iterative software development
Your vision and the product scope start turning into reality feature by feature. It’s worth mentioning that although the tech stack should be tailored to the project, it’s efficient to go for some ready-made and universal solutions when you’re building a Minimum Viable Product. It all boils down to the fact that when you’re still yet to test your business idea, the speed of implementation outweighs customization. As far as product management methodology is concerned, the lean startup approach and Scrum work great at this stage as they allow to effectively plan, prioritize, deliver, and test subsequent releases.
When building the SportsHi app, we went for React Native on the frontend and Python/Django on the backend. Why? Since the client wanted the app to work on both iOS and Android, the former proved exceptionally efficient. The latter, on the other hand, saved us the hassle of having to reinvent the wheel – all thanks to Django admin. And as far as the workflow is concerned, Agile worked to our advantage as well. In the end, it took us six 2-week sprints to deliver the MVP of the application.
What should be the outcomes for this stage?
- core features delivered on a sprint-by-sprint basis
- MVP ready for launch
Step 4: launch, feedback… and repeat
Finally, your application is ready to see the light of day! It doesn’t have to be pixel perfect or bursting with flashy features. All that matters is that it brings value to users. Now, let them test it and listen to what they have to say about it. What do they like the most about it? Is there any element they find unnecessary? What’s missing? Knowing all of that, you and your tech partner will be able to improve usability and prioritize features for the iterations yet to come.
All of that happened to SportsHi: the app was brought to the early adopters and the client listened to their opinions attentively. Then, we took the feedback and implemented it in the V2 of the MVP which lasted 8 weeks.
What should be the outcomes for this stage?
- customer feedback
- additional features planned for next iterations
Why is it a challenge to build MVP quickly?
Nothing worth having comes easy, so the saying goes. As you may expect, this holds true for MVP development as well. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t hear of ventures falling prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect every once in a while. For that reason alone, it’s worth listing the most prevalent challenges faced by startuppers – just to raise your awareness and help you prepare for rising up to them.
Falling prey to scope creep
Are you familiar with the kitchen sink syndrome? If not, chances are you’ve read or heard about others experiencing it without even knowing the name of the phenomenon. The kitchen sink syndrome, also known as scope creep, refers to
the continual enhancement of the requirements of a project as the system is being constructed and is often responsible for projects going way over budget.
Let’s face it, it’s fairly easy for any startupper to suffer from scope creep. Once you come up with a disruptive vision, you simply grow fond of it. Wanting to present it in full glory to the investors and the rest of the world, you find it hard to cut the scope to the minimum. Not to mention that the longer you toy with the idea of conquering the market, the more likely you are to come up with additional features. Such an approach, however, can jeopardize on-time delivery, strain your budget, and ultimately put the existence of your venture in question.
Difficulty defining the minimum value proposition
Now let’s imagine a completely different situation: a startupper so fixated on keeping their MVP minimal that they deprive the product of the essential features. Although this issue is not as prevalent as scope creep, it is still a thing – usually, because of ventures not being focused enough on what constitutes added value for their target audience.
Take a look at this picture:
Most of us have seen it a dozen times but it proves our point pretty well. If your customers are in need of a vehicle, giving them one wheel is of no help at all – but a scooter makes more sense. Software development works in a similar way.
Ill-fitted team or tech stack
At the beginning of this article, we agreed that building an MVP is an impossible task for an entrepreneur alone, even if they considered themselves a coding one-man army. That’s why it’s essential to choose a reliable tech partner who boasts not only expertise and lean approach but also experience in launching digital products quickly. This way, you can rest assured the team composition they suggest will meet your changing needs.
The vendor’s experience in working with ventures from different verticals contributes to choosing the right tech stack as well. In the case of a Minimum Viable Product what counts are the cost and time of implementation, prospective scalability, and community support. Of course, going for new hip solutions might be tempting – but sometimes, hype-driven development may do your project more harm than good.
So, is it possible to build an MVP in 12 weeks?
It surely is! MVP in itself is considered to be a time-efficient solution for a number of reasons, including the focus on the essential features only and the opportunity to initiate the feedback loop early on. In some cases, the development may be restricted to a month or two – speaking from our own experience, however, three months is the optimal timeframe for making your application just enough for its users.
Need to launch your product quickly and effectively? Get in touch with our product designers and let the journey to digital success begin!