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How to build an MVP app

So you have a fantastic idea, and you’re sure that it will attract enough attention to prosper. Great! Some testing still needs to be done, though, and you need a solid foundation for steady development without any sudden setbacks. Enter: MVP. Scroll down to find all the information you need to get started.

Reading time: 12 minutes

Table of contents

What is an MVP

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a barebone version of an app designed to showcase its main functionality. MVPs serve as vehicles for testing the viability of ideas and gathering feedback from target audiences. However, they’re not considered prototypes or first drafts — a proper MVP can actually be used in real-life scenarios and bring perceivable value to its users. 

What does an MVP help you achieve

In short: a lot. Minimum viable products help to attract initial investments, review your ideas in field conditions and establish a useful feedback loop with your customers. Let’s talk about all these points in more detail, so that you see why building an MVP might be a good idea for your startup.

Attract investments

Great projects require money, and external funding is one of the best ways for startups to get it. Chances of running a successful campaign increase greatly with great presentation — and what better suits this purpose than an already functioning application? Stakeholders are more likely to support your project if they see a clear presentation, and minimum viable products help achieve exactly that.

See how your target audience reacts

A lot of businesses fail because there is no demand in the market — what initially seems like a fantastic idea may turn out to be unwanted or simply inconvenient and frustrating. This is why it is crucial to keep in touch with your target audience right from the very beginning of the project. This way, you will monitor the viability of your ideas and solutions in real-time, saving time and money from chasing abstract and potentially disastrous goals. One of the key advantages of minimum viable products is that they allow your audience to interact with the product and give useful feedback.

Reduce the risks

Entrepreneurship is risky. Virtually any idea can fail due to various reasons: inviability, poor technical execution, or ineffective marketing campaigns. Risk management is part of the process, and it is important to leave room for possible losses. Minimum viable products provide a perfect space for cautious experimentation and testing. In case the project fails on this stage, it will not drag its creators into a financial sinkhole — unlike a fully-developed app that has suddenly proved unsaleable without the team behind it ever suspecting such a turn of events.

Review your UI/UX solutions in field conditions

We have already discussed field-testing the idea as a whole, but a brilliant idea is not enough for a project to succeed. It also needs flawless execution — and UI/UX components are a crucial part of this. So yeah, keeping yourself updated on what is convenient and expected is a must throughout the entire development process. This applies to the whole range of UI/UX solutions: from user flow to the positioning of the burger menu. The MVP approach makes it possible to exchange ideas, receive handy feedback, and shape the app in accordance with what the users want.

The MVP must fulfill only the basic function

The benefits of developing an MVP

Some other pleasant bonuses that come together with huge opportunities for development and cooperation:

It saves money

Instead of working on every single feature all at once with all the resources that you have, you strip the product down to its essence and develop only a few select aspects. Obviously, this is much cheaper than trying to launch another Instagram from scratch. 

Its quick  

For the very same reasons described above you can have a marketable minimum viable product in three months’ time — compare this to a year or two required to build an app with every single feature (and there are a lot of them) working properly.

It allows users to have a hands-on experience with your app

Creating any service in isolation is a bad idea — both developers and their audiences benefit from cooperation. An idea might seem perfect when you consider it from the perspective of a developer, but it may turn out irrelevant when you bring it to the public. In addition, cooperating with the audience can shed light on design issues that were not apparent at first.

It creates a solid base for gradual development 

Once you have launched and field-tested a minimum viable product for some time, you can relax a bit (but not too much!). You know whether the original idea is worth pursuing and it is much more clear what direction the project should go in. With an MVP, you get two important things: definite goals and an understanding of what the target audience really wants. Now all you have to do is try to stay on course and update the app while staying in touch with its end-users.

The benefits of an MVP

What does a good MVP need?

It’s not enough to simply build a minimum viable product and hope that it will start bringing you profit. Here’s a list of things to consider when building an MVP that will help your product actually prove useful and productive. 

Value

The only new products that succeed are those that solve their users’ problems — i.e, have value. For instance, Uber managed to skyrocket because it offered a user-friendly solution to finding a taxi. No more car-chasing in hope to find a ride home — you just had to press a button and wait. Simple, immediately popular, and a great example for startups of today. 

Clear prioritization

There are core features and then there is all the rest. Distinguishing those core features that make the product stand out is the backbone of a successful MVP. For instance, when Spotify launched a minimum viable product, there was only one thing it was capable of doing: streaming music. Note that the team behind Spotify did not rush to implement personalized playlists, end-of-the-year ratings and other features the platform is now famous for — a perfect example of clear prioritization. 

An example of prioritization

Intuitive and attractive design

The value should not be distorted with questionable UI solutions: it should be clear and easy to grasp for both users and investors. A food delivery app would work best with an intuitive interface that makes it immediately obvious how to search for products, how to proceed to check-out, and where to track the order. A banking app will appeal to users if it offers a clear visual presentation of their finances and a convenient way of managing money flows. And, of course, whatever the service is, it will always benefit from beautiful design and coherent typography.

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Proper development process

There is a simple formula: if the product looks pretty, customers will notice it; if the product works perfectly, customers will use it and invest in it. The more experienced the development team is, the better. Unqualified developers can sabotage an app’s success with bugs and an overall clunkiness — this is why you want only professionals on your team. 

Openness to feedback

Last but not least. After all, this is the main reason to do this, right? The MVP approach is based on two principles: first, not rushing things; second, keeping in mind that people might not actually respond to your ideas the way you imagined. This means that apart from viable ideas, high-quality design, and impeccable code, there should always be another component: productive and mutually beneficial communication with the customer base.  

The attributes of a good MVP

Types of MVPs

There is no single algorithm for building an MVP and no standard MVP development process. You can choose from several options or even create a new one — it all depends on resources and preferences you have at the moment. 

In this section, we will look at some of the most popular approaches to the MVP development process

A standalone landing page

In some cases, there is no need to create a fully-functioning product to test the idea behind it — a simple landing page would suffice. This way, you will not have to hire any contractors to capture initial leads, gauge the viability of the service and slowly but surely start moving towards a full-fledged future product.

A good example of this approach is the road Buffer took 11 years ago when they were just starting out. The first thing that they did was launch a simple zero-risk landing page that was intended to check in with the market, measure demand and see whether or not people were ready to pay for it. 

Buffer's MVP

Buffer’s landing page MVP. Note that there’s even no functionality yet — just an offer to subscribe to their newsletter in case you’re interested

‘The Wizard of Oz’

As the name suggests, this approach involves a tiny bit of magic (trickery). How it works: you launch a functioning product and offer the first potential users to try it. The service operates just like it is supposed to, but with one significant difference. It is not automated — you manually perform all its functions behind the curtains. 

ZeroCater, a food service company, used this scheme when they were just making their first steps in the market. What they did was create a straightforward landing page that people could use to have food from restaurants delivered to their homes. Once an order was placed, the guys at ZeroCater manually contacted the restaurant and arranged the delivery.

A piecemeal MVP

Basically ‘The Wizard of Oz’ but instead of manual labor you use third-party services and software to make up for what you are missing in your own code. A prime example of this approach is Groupon. The service initially functioned as a piecemeal MVP, employing WordPress to host a blog and Apple Mail to manage, well, mailings.

A single-feature MVP

The name says it all, really. You determine the single most crucial feature that defines your future app and roll out an MVP that is capable only of doing this thing. This is exactly what Spotify did back in 2005, when they launched a service that could only stream music. But that was exactly what set it apart. 

How to build an MVP: a step-by-step guide

OK, so now you know what an MVP is — now, let’s dive into how to actually build one. Note that we’re talking exclusively about how things work here at Purrweb — we can’t guarantee that other agencies work the same way.

Step 1. Conduct market research

Knowledge is power. And this power comes with market research. An entrepreneur should always understand market demands, define target audience, and be aware of the competition. Think about what makes your product different from the existing solutions and how can you improve upon them. 

Step 2. Define the core features of your product

Once you’ve conducted market research and know what problems your future product aims to solve, determine what features will comprise the core of your app — this is what your MVP will revolve around. In order to do that, put yourself in the position of the end-user to better understand what they want and how they want it done.

Step 3. Design the UI/UX aspects

Now it’s time to actually define what your product will look like and how the end-users are going to experience it. This step requires you to define the customer journey. What will they see first? Where will they want to go next? How can you take them there in the most convenient way? The user flow should be intuitive and straightforward with no unexpected turns. Try not to get too carried away from the core feature — remember that it is the reason your app will be downloaded for.​​

Bad UI/UX vs. good

Step 4. Develop and launch an MVP

A coherent user flow? Check. Tasty design? Check. Seems like it’s time for the minimum viable product development to begin. The task here is to create one or several screens for the main processes and make it easy to navigate between them. As you want to reach as wide an audience as possible, cross-platform development is the better choice — this means simultaneously coding for Android and iOS. Keep in mind that design is just a tool — avoid making it too complex or distractive and don’t stuff the app with tons of blasty animations and transitions.

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Step 5. Gather feedback and iterate

So the long-awaited MVP is finally out there. Congratulations! The work is far from being done, though. To bring your product to perfect condition, you need to cooperate with the people who actually use it. Establish proper channels of communication and listen to what they have to say. Bear in mind that not all feedback is helpful and parts of it may even be counterproductive — you want to focus on the more constructive side of the incoming messages. Once you’ve filtered the incoming flow, start implementing the best suggestions.

Step 6 (bonus). Repeat step 5 until done 

You’ve arrived at the development process loop. Now the task is to steadily flesh out the product and gradually implement your vision with help from the audience. This step actually goes beyond the scope of MVPs, so we’ll stop right here.

MVP creation process

 

How much does It cost to build an MVP?

MVP product development usually costs about 56,000$. This sum includes:

Stage Estimation in weeks Approximate costs
Project analysis 1 $1,000
UI/UX design 4 $5,400
App development 9 – 10 $36,000 – $40,500
QA Testing concurrently with the development $5,400 – $6,000
Project management during the whole project $3,950 – $4,100

The cost strongly depends on the complexity of the app in question.

How to determine whether an MVP is successful?

Downloads

It’s rather simple: the more downloads you have, the better. A big number of activations signifies that the app occupies the right niche and most likely has a bright future. If the service is underperforming, something may be wrong.

Churn rate

Churn rate shows how many users have decided to uninstall the app as calculated against the entire customer base. Although customers dropping the app is a natural occurrence, a sudden dip in the number of daily active users may indicate problems. To calculate the churn rate, divide the number of churned users by the total number of users. 

Churn rate formula

Monthly revenue

The more money you make off the MVP, the better. But we don’t need to tell you that. Another metric that is often used is the average monthly revenue per user — or, put simply, the monthly revenue divided by the number of users.

How to count average monthly revenue per user

Customer acquisition cost

Customer acquisition cost, or CAC, measures how much the company spends to acquire new customers. To calculate this metric, divide the cost of sales and marketing by the number of new users acquired. The lower the result is, the better your MVP is doing. 

CAC formula

Common mistakes to avoid when developing an MVP

So far we’ve only talked about the right way to do things. Now let’s focus a little on some don’ts in the world of minimum viable product development

Adding too many features — or too few

Finding the right balance is crucial. Add too many features, and the app’s value may be lost on the end-user. It will also cost you additional resources, which is not always a good thing. Make the functionality too restricted, and your minimum viable product will be unable to actually solve any problems, which compromises the whole idea of launching a functioning and useful product from the start. 

Choosing wrong core features

As we’ve already discussed, core features are what makes your app special and marketable. You need to have a deep understanding of the future product and know exactly how you want to present it — otherwise you run the risk of creating a wrong impression among the target audience or failing to attract it altogether.

Targeting a wrong audience

Choose your audience carefully. A carsharing app will be useless for teens under 16, while a dating app is unlikely to draw the attention of older demographics. 

Distorted feedback analysis

Gathering feedback is good, but properly analyzing it is even better. To get useful insights out of this stream of data, you need to structure it in a way that would highlight insightful bits and ignore the non-insightful ones. This will help you paint a proper picture of what the users are actually trying to say. 

Working with an unqualified development team

Execution is just as important as the idea. Even the most promising MVP will not be useful to anyone if it fails to function properly due to bugs and mistakes in the code. Having skilled specialists involved in the minimum viable product development process is critical: they are the ones who breathe life into prototypes. 

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MVPs that made it 

Some examples of MVPs that turned into commercial behemoths you can use for inspiration.

Spotify

Spotify started out as a single-feature MVP that could only stream music. Although the company didn’t invent streaming, it was the first to sell it in a convenient package, which soon led to massive success.

Spotify's MVP

Uber

Another single-feature MVP. At the inception, it was a simplified mobile interface called UberCab with only three cars operating. The only thing you could do was order a taxi, track its location and, well, pay for it — but only after you’ve contacted the team via email.

Airbnb

Airbnb started as a simple landing page that offered travelers to stay at the founders’ place in San Francisco during a period when all the hotels in the city were overbooked. They got three guests! 

AirBNB's MVP

FAQ:

How long does it take to build an MVP?

A simple app takes 1–2 months to develop. An app of medium complexity — from 2 to 4 months. Finally, an app with a highly complex functionality may take anywhere from 4 to an indefinite number of months.

 

How do I launch an MVP?

A brief guide to how to create an MVP in five consecutive steps:

Step 1. Conduct comprehensive market research

Step 2. Define the core features of your product

Step 3. Design the user flow

Step 4. Develop and launch an MVP

Step 5. Gather feedback and iterate

 

How much does it cost to build an MVP?

Building an MVP usually costs about 56,000$, but this average figure varies from app to app. The general rule of thumb is that the more complex a product is, the more expensive it is to develop. 

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