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How to Build an MVP App: The Definitive Guide 2023

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 know about MVP: benefits, types, costs, and stages of development. Let’s go!

Reading time: 16 minutes

Table of contents

    Key takeaways

      • MVP, or minimum viable product, can help you validate ideas, attract initial investments, test your product in field conditions and establish a useful feedback loop with your customers. 
      • There is no single algorithm for how to build an MVP. You can choose from several options or even create a new one — it all depends on resources and preferences you have at the moment.
      • Development of an MVP usually costs about 56,000$, and the final price depends on the complexity of the app.

    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 capital, and external funding is one of the best ways for startups to get it. The 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 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 factors: 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 foreseeing 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 alone is not enough for a project to succeed. It also needs flawless execution — and UI/UX components are a crucial part of this. So, 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

    3 benefits of developing an MVP

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

    1. It saves money

    Instead of working on every single feature 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. 

    2. It’s 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.

    3. 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

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    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. Of course, whatever the service is, it will always benefit from beautiful design and coherent typography.

    READ MORE  10 UI/UX design trends for startups to watch out in 2024

    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 stray too far from the core feature — remember that it is the reason your app will be downloaded for.​​

    Bad UI/UX vs. good

    Step 4. Create a prototype

    Prototype and an MVP are not the same thing. Imagine an MVP as a slice of freshly baked pizza; it’s a tasty meal with all the essential ingredients like cheese, sauce, and toppings. While a prototype is like a beautifully detailed picture of that pizza, that gives you a clear idea of how it will look and what ingredients it will have, but you can’t actually eat or taste it.

    The same way we sketch the MVP before we build it into a full-fledged product.

    Step 5. Develop MVP

    At this stage, the team creates a functional, market-ready MVP. Developers choose tech stack, and code features, with a focus on how users can interact with the product, provide feedback, and validate its value.

    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 flashy animations and transitions.

    READ MORE  Cross-Platform and Native Mobile App Development: How to Choose

    Step 6. Test MVP

    In the testing phase of an MVP, development teams actively evaluate a functional, market-ready product through various types of tests. These include unit tests, integration tests, and sometimes even user acceptance testing (UAT), where real users engage with the MVP to assess its usability and performance.

    When the team finds issues and bugs, they employ debugging tools and diagnostics to pinpoint the root causes. After that, developers implement fixes — sometimes code adjustments, data updates, or configuration changes. 

    At this stage, the most important thing is good communication between developers and testers to ensure that the bugs are not just found, but fixed. If you launch a raw MVP, full of issues, you won’t get a second chance. That’s why everyone should be on the same wavelength when the team builds and tests an MVP.

    Step 7. Launch MVP

    The launch of an MVP is the first contact of the product with the real world. Think about this: you’re about to launch a new app. During the testing and development stages, the app worked well in controlled environments. But only after the release you’ll encounter real scenarios with various user devices, network conditions, and unpredictable behaviors.

    In this real world, MVP can experience issues like server crashes, unexpected bugs, or scalability challenges. They can disrupt user experiences and damage your brand’s reputation. 

    Based on our experience, things rarely go as planned. Therefore, you need to be prepared to address and resolve challenges during the launch, and make sure the product meets user expectations and delivers a seamless experience. A successful release sets the tone for the future of the MVP, the brand and the fully-functional app.

    READ MORE  What Is MVP in a Startup?

    Step 8. 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 9 (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:

    StageApprox. in weeksApprox. costs
    Project analysis1$1,000
    UI/UX design4$5,400
    App development9 – 10$36,000 – $40,500
    QA Testingconcurrently with the development$5,400 – $6,000
    Project managementduring the whole project$3,950 – $4,100

    The cost strongly depends on the complexity of the app in question. Read our article, if you would like to learn more about how much does it cost to make an app.

    How to determine whether an MVP is successful

    After you build an MVP, you need to gather feedback from actual customers and check in with reality and evaluate app performance. There are 4 metrics to consider.

    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 formulaMonthly 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 userCustomer 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

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    5 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 things to avoid in the world of minimum viable product development

    1. Adding too many features — or too few

    Finding the right balance for an MVP is crucial. Add too many features, and the app may lose its value for an end-user. On top of that, it will cost you additional resources and money, which is not always a good thing when you build an MVP

    Make the functionality too restricted, and your MVP will be unable to actually solve any problems, which compromises the whole idea of launching a functioning and useful product from the start. 

    💡 Possible solution: create a user map journey and survey customers about what features they need. 

    2. Choosing wrong essential features

    As we’ve already discussed, vital features are the core of 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 bad impression among the target audience or failing to attract it altogether.

    💡Possible solution: conduct user interviews and competitor analysis, then, talk to your development team and narrow down the list of features to must-haves only.

    READ MORE  Two techniques that will help you pick MVP features

    3. Targeting a wrong audience

    Choose the audience for your MVP carefully. A stock trading app will be useless for users under 18, while a dating app is unlikely to draw the attention of older demographics. 

    You need to know who your users exactly are, before you build an MVP. If you don’t know your target audience, your app is at risk of becoming irrelevant and useless after the launch. If this happens, you would need a huge budget to rework your MVP and create a new app version.

    💡Possible solution: spend some time, research your audience in-depth and create buyers personas before you hire the development team to build an MVP.

    4. 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 with prototyping and painting a proper picture of what the users are actually trying to say. 

    💡Possible solution: set metrics beforehand and use tools like Excel, Google Sheets, or Airtable to organize and categorize feedback by source, type, topic, sentiment, and priority.

    5. 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. 

    💡Possible solution: check reviews, ask for portfolio and the contacts of previous clients to verify the experience of your MVP development company.

    READ MORE  How to find a software development partner

    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 tech conference, when all the hotels in the city were overbooked. They got three guests! 

    AirBNB's MVP

    Purrweb’s approach to building an MVP

    Our specialty is serving clients who want to develop an MVP for their big concept. To better understand our approach, you need to know about 3 pillars we base it on.

    1. UX driven development 

    Everything we do is for an end-user to be comfortable, engaged and entertained. We prioritize user experience (UX) during planning and development. 

    We start the MVP process with a user-journey map of a product, where we think about needs, preferences and pain points of actual customers.

    Of course, we consider your business goals and technical capabilities too, in order to create a win-win situation for everyone. Here is an example.

    Imagine, you request an MVP for a social media platform. Your goal is to boost ad revenue, and you want to introduce autoplay video ads, but users find them disruptive. 

    You can take a UX-driven approach with MVP, listen to user feedback, offer ad preferences, introduce less intrusive ad formats, and increase satisfaction. Or you can ignore feedback and drive users away to other platforms.

    2. Process transparency

    At Purrweb, we break down a big MVP project into smaller parts and work in sprints that usually last for 2 weeks. For each sprint, we plan a handful of tasks and assign responsible team members. At the end of each sprint, we report to you what has been done and the current status of the MVP project.

    This way, you don’t have to wonder what Purrweb is up to right now, because you regularly get updates from our project manager.

    If you need more details, we can always give you access to watch a project board and check the updates in real time. It’s an option when you work with us, but we bet you have more important things to do.

    3. Flexible collaboration models

    Developing an MVP is important, and we know that. That’s why we offer flexible collaboration models, such as outsourcing and outstaffing services.

    OutsourcingOutstaffing
    And external team gets hired to handle specific tasks or projectsRemote engineers are added to your in-house team, typically on a long-term basis as an extension of the existing team

    In addition to different collaboration models, our team works with different budgets and can accommodate any MVP project request. We can help you narrow down a feature list and focus only on essential features to cut costs of the development. 

    Have an MVP idea in mind and want to know how much it will cost? Get in touch with us to get an estimate.

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    FAQ s

    • 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.