“You know that old saw about a plane flying from California to Hawaii being off course 99% of the time — but constantly correcting? The same is true of successful startups — except they may start out heading toward Alaska.” ~ Evan Williams
It is the same story that repeats time and again. Initially, a team comes up with an idea to launch a startup. Next, they invest some time and money on the MVP development process, arguing which features to include in and which to leave out of the MVP. Finally, the MVP gets launched in the market and if everything moves as per the plan, the startup comes up with a stable and mature product.
So what’s wrong with this fairy-tale success story? In reality, over 90% of them fail.
So, why do many startups still fail?
Because they don’t understand that MVP is not just a product that is worked upon for 2-3 months and then launched. A considerable amount of effort goes into the process even after the launch of an MVP. It is not something that is built once and the job is over. Once you are done with launching an MVP, the list of the to-do tasks is long. MVP development is an iterative process that doesn’t end until you have in your kitty, a robust product that has found a product market fit.
Here’s your to-do list.
Up till your MVP launch, you built an MVP that was based upon features, which you thought were important, with respect to users in mind. But as soon as your MVP lands on the market, you have a piece of better advice to follow – the direction shown by the potential customers using your MVP.
Your job is to collect the ‘real data’ after launching your MVP to the market and discover why potential customers bought your product or why they didn’t.
By tracking the metrics or user behaviors critical to engine growth, you can measure and learn from user interactions and decide from there as to which features to improve, add, or delete. Use the data to analyze what it is that would make your product more commercial and successful.
Don’t be discouraged with the negative feedback from the customers. Don’t hesitate to go back to the square one, if needed, because most startups do it multiple times.
By gaining real user feedback, you can analyze which of your assumptions went wrong. Quickly learn from your failures and act upon them to get constantly better.
Prepare to Scale
In the world of startups, there seems to be an agreement on the fact that to build an MVP, an important aspect of technical scalability can be avoided. All startups worry about testing their assumptions, validating the same in the market, and gaining huge traction. The factor of scalability comes as a concern at the later stage.
Unfortunately, this blind belief has led to some brutal startup failures. A home-service startup, ‘TaskBob’, that had raised around $5.7 million funding in 2014, had to shut down in the year 2017 as it was unable to scale up and generate profits.
After the launch of an MVP, a startup should be prepared to handle a flood of new users. Most startups get overwhelmed with the new user acquisition when an MVP is released, but they get baffled when it comes to managing them. Be optimistic, there is always a chance of your MVP catching up quickly and the signups rolling in.
So, it’s important to host your product on a platform that is fully scalable for a plethora of new users. For instance, Dropbox decided not to launch any product at all as an MVP. Rather, they came up with a simple explainer video about what the product does.
This video actually worked and helped them increase the beta signup from 5000 to 75000 overnight. But the real question is if they were ready to entertain such a huge number of users.
Rajiv Eranki, head of server engineering at Dropbox explained in a RAMP Conference presentation that the Dropbox team made use of Python for virtually everything. It means that the whole platform “could get to 40 million users without having to write thousands of lines of C code.” The use of Python allowed the Dropbox team to scale quickly and cater to the needs of potential customers. Thus, Dropbox made a planned move by launching its MVP with full preparation to digest the success with an ideal dose of scalability.
Get Your Pricing Right
During MVP development or even after the launch of an MVP, startups mostly choose to defer the ‘pricing quotient’ because they think that their product is not ready yet. They argue with a definition of an MVP as to how you can possibly charge for a product that is ‘minimal.’
But the point is that even if the product is still in the MVP stage, but you have addressed the top pain-points of the customers and followed a customer development process, you are set to go on a journey of success. A minimum viable product is not the synonym of a half-baked or a buggy product.
Test various monetization approaches — introduce premium features on top of the basic free version or go with ads, once you see a little spark in your MVP.
Buffer, for example, identified this winning strategy. First, they analyzed the demand for their product with a basic MVP (a landing page) amongst the potential customers. Once their landing page started gaining traffic, they instantly added one more page that carried the pricing plans to their signup process. As a result, they analyzed the demand for the product as well as found an optimal monetization approach.
Don’t Shy Away from Marketing
As discussed, MVP is not a final product, but a package in an early stage of product development. However, once your MVP gets launched in the market, you should be ready with your marketing strategy to let the world know that your product is finally live.
It is better to start with the promotion of your product as soon as you launch your MVP. However, there is a difference between marketing your MVP and marketing your final product.
When it comes to MVP, marketing is not about finding customers to buy your product with a limited number of features. Instead, it is all about pitching to the potential customers by generating awareness and gaining feedback to jointly drive the development of the MVP.
Mint, a personal finance app is a true example of how they utilized a perfect marketing medium right from their MVP launch stage to witness the light of success in the future.
The marketing plan of Aaron Patzer, the founder of the Mint app was “Whatever we can do, basically, for cheap or for free.” And the channel they chose to market their product was Content Marketing. They began with a personal finance blog to build an audience for Mint.
Eventually, the app hit a milestone of 1,000,000 users in just a span of two years since its launch. By simply placing an email subscription form at the end of each article, the startup accrued about 20,000-30,000 emails from potential customers in just around 9 months, while their app was still in the development phase.
A Journey from MVP Development to Product Development — Final Thoughts
While there are enough pitfalls to avoid when building your MVP, even more, will be waiting for you once you launch your MVP in the market.
However, after following all the above-mentioned points, you will get to know whether or not your idea has a spark; if it is feasible to move forward from MVP development to product development. Remember to be unemotional and pragmatic about the results. If you didn’t get the desired results, just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You might be just a few tweaks away from success.