The True MVP

One of the most tossed around phrases in the startup and freelance community is the notion of MVP. You know the drill. Start small, iterate and repeat… sounds easy but in practice almost nobody achieves this so simply.

You take your idea and shop it around to all your family, friends, colleagues and strangers to get product feedback. You hear all the potential use cases for your product and you begin to map out your plan for world domination.

You don’t even have a website. Reality.

Focus on your first steps

Knowing where you want to end up is key to your success but you’ll end up somewhere you never expected. Your goal is to stay focused on the one thing that if you built it tomorrow, would solve your customer’s most painful problem. The goal of a MVP is to make tomorrow come as soon as possible.

Before building anything, you first need to validate your idea.. Find a way to validate your core assumption. Sometimes it’s simply a problem you have that you know needs solving. Sometimes real-world validation is needed. Let’s dive into an example:

Years ago I built a web based MVP for two elementary school teachers from Illinois. They had an idea to produce a real time heatmap of their students learning parts of speech. Different colors match parts of speech and intensity matches each students answer. The goal was to make learning fun for students but the core reason was to identify learning gaps across students in the classroom.

For validation, the two teachers printed out a paragraph of text and had each of their students highlight nouns in red and verbs in yellow. They plotted all the answers in google docs and highlighted the answers and produced something like this:

You could easily see that the students had trouble with verbs that were not “is.” They took this and showed it to fellow teachers who were all impressed and wanted it for themselves. After a week of the other teachers chatting about the experiment, they knew their idea had a chance.

MVP Time

Now it’s time to plan that MVP. I believe for 99% of SaaS based ideas can be prototyped in four weeks. The prototype can serve either as a building block for further work or a throw-away used to raise funding and/or recruit talent to build a more solid product.

Four weeks is enough time to build that one core feature that solves your customers most painful problem.

Four Week Breakdown


Every project starts with a plan. Break down the necessary features into specific user stories depicting specific actions. Each action is specific enough that you can explain it clearly to someone non technical without any confusion.

Week 1

Design. Your thoughts turned into pixels. Mock out every screen and major action in wireframes to depict the user interaction throughout the website.  

Week 2

Data modeling and architecture. This is equivalent to building the foundation of home, this is your startup’s foundation. Time spent correctly modeling the data will save thousands of development hours in the future. Often times development begins in this week.

The first phase is always dedicated to modeling the data and architecting the system.  The next development phases are separated into logical sections of the application that deliver tangible value.  Each phase is delivered for your team to test and review the application’s progress.  After development is finished, a testing phase begins.  Every module of the application is tested together as a group. Final walkthrough of the entire website are done to ensure a cohesive and pleasurable user experience.       

Week 3

Development. With the foundation in place, heads down development is needed to bring the product across the finish line. Often times existing libraries are leveraged to solve common problems such as user logins and sending email.

Week 4

Testing. Take a final walkthrough of the site to ensure a cohesive and pleasurable user experience. Iron out any bugs and verify all features work as intended. Don’t forget to check those email notifications.

The Beginning

Now you have just begun, you have a finished MVP. Selling it is over half the battle. You must find those that are facing the problem your product can solve. The most valuable thing any initial product can do is test the business model of your company. Passing that test yields customers and revenue; failing it means going back to the drawing board. With an MVP, you can now begin to learn as much as possible about a) your customers and, b) the problem your are solving. You will spend time iterating and building future versions of your product to grow your company and improve the world.

Published on:

Sunday, June 10, 2018