Start solving problems, don’t get hung up on code
Use off-the-shelf tools and build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Don't retire your MVP too late
You know you have an addressable market as you’ve run the numbers, you have created your Lean Canvas with a list of assumptions to test, and your potential customers feel the pain point you are trying to address. You are ready to start creating a product.
The MVP process
Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup, first described an MVP as:
A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).
What I like from Maurya’s definition is that it puts the emphasis on capturing value early on. A business without revenue is no business at all.
You are not expected to get an MVP right on the first try. The MVP process is iterative where at every stage of the process you ask yourself these questions:
What is my riskiest assumption?
What is the smallest experiment I can do to test this assumption?
You then execute on this small experiment, evaluate the results and repeat the process given your new learnings. Depending on whether you validated your riskiest assumption or not, you may need to make further refinements to your MVP or throw it all away and come up with a different experiment. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to derisk your assumptions and iterate towards a product that works for your customers.
Depending on your MVP, you may be in a position to start today without a developer by leveraging off-the-shelf tools. But first, let’s talk a little bit about prototyping.
A prototype is a proof of concept, it is not your product, but rather it can be part of the MVP process. A high-fidelity prototype can be built in as little as a day and then tested on customers in a Usability Study. You can then iterate on your prototype based on multiple rounds of feedback, and that’s before you even start to construct your MVP.
Prototypes can be built using tools you are already familiar with, Google Ventures Jake Knapp recommends using Keynote and Keynotopia (or PowerPoint) instead of dedicated prototyping software. It is cheap to buy, familiar to most and results in good enough high fidelity prototypes in 4-8 hours. If Keynote falls short of your prototyping requirements then there are dedicated prototyping tools like Axure, Sketch + Invision and Framer.
At Forward Partners we run Design Sprints for many of our pre-seed companies. As part of the design sprint process, the usual deliverable for testing on the fifth and final day of the sprint is a high fidelity proof of concept. Once we are happy with the prototype we will then move towards building an initial MVP. We normally build prototypes in Axure or Sketch + Invision.
Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)
Let’s run through the common off-the-shelf technologies that can be used for MVPs, and then some concrete examples from our portfolio.
The Landing Page
The textbook MVP example is a single landing page designed for email capture. The key is to test your value proposition and intent by sharing it with your target audience. If your value proposition does not resonate with your target demographic enough for them to part with their email address, then you may have issues.
This is likely the most accessible approach to building an MVP as there are lots of services for building landing pages with no need to write any code. Some examples include Leadpages, QuickMVP and Unbounce. If this approach suits your needs you can be up and running in minutes with a professional looking site.
Lexoo, a smart marketplace for finding great lawyers started life as a landing page, a strong value proposition and a form for data collection. Upon receiving an enquiry they were able to complete the transaction manually and deliver value to the business. By following this approach they were able to test their riskiest assumptions quickly and satisfy their customer pain points in a matter of weeks.
Multiple SaaS services exist to allow you to integrate real-time chat into your site. By chatting directly with your customers you will be able to collect a large amount of qualitative data - each interaction is an opportunity to learn. We have had great success using Intercom for this purpose. It has excellent documentation and the basic package is free with no code experience required to make it work with your site.
The Drop, a fashion-tech custom clothing company used Intercom as a sales tool, but also systematically collected qualitative feedback from hundreds of customer interactions. All of those learnings contributed into a successful website launch which was recently covered in The Times.
Some MVPs can be addressed using a hosted platform solution.
Shopify is an excellent example of a hosted platform solution for ecommerce. It can be a great place to start if you need to derisk assumptions about your product catalogue. Furthermore, products like Zapier will allow you to ‘glue’ web services together to automate processes and tasks without writing any code.
The most popular platforms all have large communities, great documentation and a pool of contractor talent. However, be wary of vendor lock-in and your MVP outliving its welcome, it may limit your long-term ambitions.
Live Better With, a healthtech company for cancer sufferers, started life as a Shopify store. They were able to release and iterate on their MVP and test their product catalogue assumptions using Shopify until their product outgrew the capabilities of the platform.
If your riskiest assumption is around how best to capture data from users, then form flow and chat bot builders may make up part of your MVP. These tools allow you to iterate on any uncertainties with user journey and data capture without concerning yourself with data storage and User Interface Design best practices.
Typeform can create beautiful and easy-to-use surveys but there are plenty of other tools out there for ad-hoc data capture.
EmpowerRD, R&D tax credits Applied AI company, built their first product using Typeform without any code. By iterating on the user journey in Typeform and then later in Axure, they were able to address key issues prior to spending any money on development.
Retiring your MVP
By following the MVP process you can prove that you have a valid idea, a product that resonates with real customers, some early revenue and enough confidence in your riskiest assumptions to win over investors and a potential technical co-founder. You can achieve all of this even without writing any code.
At Forward Partners, we will write code where necessary but when you’re just getting started we advocate keeping things lean and mitigating risks by following the MVP process. Too many startups have failed by building a product that nobody wants.