I recently launched the MVP for my SAAS application, Scheduling Ace (business management for golf instructors). And although it has been received well by my beta testers looking back over the 4-5 months of development I definitely will be doing thing differently in the future. I work with developers all the time creating websites, eccommerce sites, membership sites in my role as a marketing consultant. However this didn’t even come close to preparing me for web application development.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but what I will be doing differently next time I’m working on a feature or creating a new product.
DISCLAIMER – This is meant to be a guide after you’ve fully validated a concept. So please don’t start a project without having FULLY VALIDATED your idea and have a strategy of how you’re going to sell it.
DO ONE THING – really well.
When I was just starting my journey with Scheduling Ace I remember sitting down with a mentor and hearing him say “do one thing really well” Naively I thought absolutely I’m doing one thing really well. I’ve got this part here that’s going to be great and I’ll keep working on this and building and … and …. WRONG. I did one thing ok and a few things just “meh”. I wish I could go back and write it on my computer keyboard so every time I sat down to strategize on the development I could have remembered that simple phrase.
DO ONE THING REALLY WELL
Even when you know and understand this, it’s still not easy. You’re still going to want to add this feature over here and work on this little part over here. All those small pieces add up to a large chunk of time. If you take that time and keep it focused on one aspect you will come out with a much better MVP. And that’s the goal right? To have something that when users play with it they say. “Oh that’s cool, I want that” and then “does it do this” because you can fix the “does it do this” you can’t fix the “oh that’s cool, I want that”
After launching we’ve been having to go back and refactor sections of the code to make one feature fantastic. This has been incredibly HARD because users want more features. They’re waiting to use the product till it can do X, Y, or Z and as a cash starved bootstrapper I need to get more users onto the product. So saying “just give me 3 more months” is extremely difficult. (don’t worry I’m not implementing every feedback request)
Something to go along with this train of thought: Keep it simple. If you have a complex aspect you’re wanting to build. Save it. Tackle the easy parts first. Make them fantastic. Have prospects test it out and get their feedback. If it isn’t faster, easier to use, and more appealing than your competition go back and KEEP WORKING. Yes it’s not easy but nothing about launching a product really is, so suck it up and get back to work.
So if there is one more thing to take away from this section it’s CUT FEATURES.
Your MVP will not address every need your customer has.
It’s a MINIMUM viable product. Not a maximum viable product.
Ask your prospects how they handle the situation now
What do your customers currently use to address the problem you’re solving?
Pen and Paper?
If it’s a competitor: C+
It’s not all bad. Not to scare you off – but your competitors have probably invested over $100k in their product. It’s going to have features yours doesn’t and that might not allow some users to come over to your product. That’s OK! There are still others out there. Keeping looking for those ideal prospects. Your product will get there some day. This is an MVP.
If it’s excel: B+
*Specifically for software – Replacing excel with a online solution is often pretty simple. However some people are resistant. That’s OK it’s not for everybody. I know I won’t give up my excel sheets for some apps even thought there excellent. Don’t get frustrated if some users don’t make the switch. It’s all part of building an MVP and customer acquisition. But it’s easier to get someone to use your MVP coming from excel vs a competitor!
If it’s Pen and Paper: A
Great signal. Your users are really likely to make a change.
If they have a schedule on paper or some recording keeping program your marketing got easier. Think of all the objections they might have, and what the benefits are of switching. It’s pretty simple to get them to try out your MVP
You’re solving a pain they haven’t been able to solve. Nothings stopping you!
Get those prospects onto your MVP.
Test out your competitions solutions
This is critical in my opinion. If you don’t have a very clear understanding of how your competitors work, stop and go figure it out. There is most likely a product that you’ll be replacing, so understanding exaclty what it does and how it does it is key. Don’t fall into the mindset of you’re doing something new and revolutionairy. You’re providing a solution that real people are going to use. Make sure you can be that. (and can replace what they’re currently using)
What else can you gain? What features people are using. Although you can’t figure this out on your own, find some people using the product and ask how they use it. You might find they NEED a feature to use your product. And you wouldn’t have known this without testing and asking.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do everything your competitor does. In fact if you try to – DON’T
Remember – DO ONE THING REALLY WELL.
By skipping some features you’re creating a better product although your limiting your customer base. It’s OK if not everybody can use your product right away. It’s easier to build out features that customers want you to add.
Detail out every screen and functionality
I didn’t do this. And I wish I did. It doesn’t have to be perfect graphically, just sketches or maps of what the product will be.
This way you know all the features and exactly what needs to happen on each and every page. Don’t just do the main screens and forgot about the little aspects or think they’re obvious. DETAIL OUT EVERYTHING! Trust me your dev will thank you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to let them be creative. During product creation you need to have your developer follow a plan. Their is a time and place for creativity but during product development you need to stay focused and get the MVP finished as soon as possible.
You can also get a better estimate of development time and more importantly cost. Without effective estimates you’re going to be continually shocked when you keep going week after week and your only half way done. Be smart with your budget – development is stressful enough don’t add financial stress to the list.
My initial estimate was vastly understated. However I thought it wasn’t. (rookie mindset) We literally spent 3 more weeks than initially thought. And now we still haven’t released any new features just fixing bugs and refactoring 8 weeks after that. It’s not a quick process when working with users.
Write extensive user stories
Detail out exactly how the user is going to use your product. Every feature every variation every possible scenario. You can’t have enough possibilities because in the real world everybody does things differently. Don’t think you can get them to change their actions or processes. You can’t. You can only improve them. For instance taking what they did on paper to something in the cloud. Same with something they did in excel.
Also, include examples of what happens when something goes wrong. Because you can often differentiate yourself by what happens when things don’t work as planned rather than when they do. Even in an MVP making things like – Email support very presonal and always available – these small things will make you stand out. Customer support should be better and more personal than ever with an MVP.
Use a theme – you don’t need to look as good as dropbox.
This is one thing I did right!
I talked with my developer about whether creating something from the mockups I had done would be beneficial. And it was multiple thousands of dollars more to work with what I had done. Although pretty it would have taken a lot of work.
Use opensource code when possible.
Another thing I did right.
Make sure to leverage any open repositories on Github or elsewhere for your MVP. The goal is high speed low cost and working with open source can help you do that in many instances. Again don’t reinvent the wheel. You simply don’t need to. If you can hack together / ghetto test an idea even before creating the MVP. DO IT!! Even if it requires some manual labor. It’s ok you can put in some time to validate your idea.
Ask a mentor to go over your plan with you.
Don’t go blindly hitting the “go” button on something you’ve put together yourself.
Make sure you have another set of eyes review your plan and what you’ve laid out for your developer. Even it’s uncomfortable and takes some time – JUST DO IT. I didn’t do this and if I did I think I would have been made aware of some of the faults and vague portions of the plan.
Even it’s as simple as describing what you’re doing and what the MVP is going to look like it’s better than nothing.
(if you need some help feel free to reach out to me)
Expect to make a lot of decisions
During heavy development you’re going to make more decisions than ever – And these aren’t decisions that can be taken lightly. They literally affect the MVP directly. It’s not easy. (remember to breathe
After watching the latest Jobs movie I was reminded of how he worked on products. He always had a direct focus on the consumer mindset. How does the customer think? What do they want? How do they want it to look? How are they going to use it?
This needs to be your mindset throughout every decision you make.
And the easiest way might be to simply ask some of your potential users.
Here’s an email I sent out to get some answers on a feature we were working on for the MVP
Subject: what’s your opinion of packages?
I’m thinking about packages currently. We all know it’s a very important piece to increase cash flow and to get students to commit to take more lessons.
What I’ve heard so far is you want to track packages by letting students purchase a number of hours and let them redeem those hours however they want… 1 hour lesson, half hour lesson, 2 hour playing lesson etc. However you teach lessons and however students want to use them.
When you think about this concept what are your opinions and what would you like to see if you could have any solution you could imagine?
A simple email that allowed me to have great conversations with 3 different users on ways they will use the product. It’s a tactic every founder needs to employ when creating a product.
This is meant to be a guide after you’ve fully validated an idea. So please don’t start a MVP without have FULLY VALIDATED your idea.
So breaking it down into simple checklist to mark off before starting:
- Do one thing REALLY WELL
- How are they handling the problem now?
- See what your competition is doing
- Detail out EVERY SCREEN.
- Write EXTENSIVE user stories
- If possible find a theme and use it.
- Look to see if there is an open source code that can be utilized
- Ask a mentor to go over your plan and find flaws.
- Just double checking – You’re doing one thing well right?
- Expect to make a lot of decisions