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Building the MVP way

Anyone who has ever had what they believe is a great idea for a digital platform or application has likely experienced the slippery-slope of coming up with more and more related ‘great ideas’. Like designing your fantasy home, you begin with the essentials, add a few luxuries, and next thing you know you’re installing a margarita maker next to your treadmill.

But one of the things about great ideas is that you can tell they are great without a flashing neon sign pointing it out for you—or as that classic sales mantra goes: ‘a good product can sell itself’. This, in a sense, is the logic behind the MVP—Minimum Viable Product—a strategy for building technology and bringing it to market that is both affordable and fast.

The term MVP often solicits mixed responses, partially because people are generally unaware of its true meaning, but also because it has a name that undersells what it is really capable of achieving. So today on the Bad Dinosaur blog we’re going to discuss what building an MVP means to us.

What we talk about when we talk about the MVP

The main thing that worries people when they hear the term MVP is the word minimal. This automatically is associated with low-quality, poor design, unappealing appearance—essentially, something that looks and feels cheap! And in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

A much better way to think about the MVP is by using a term like sleek, or focused. It is a way to quickly, effectively, and affordably build an attractive platform that allows you to test proof-of-concept, or in other words, to prove that your primary “great idea” works in the way you imagined it would. To return to our homebuilding metaphor from earlier—if your great invention is the ‘house’, then you will want to make sure the roof and four walls are stable before worrying about luxury items.

A great example of this is the online shoe retailer Zappos, which in 2009 sold for over 1 billion USD to Amazon, but in its initial stages in the early 2000s struggled to find investors as nobody believed consumers would ever purchase shoes online. The story goes that in order to prove the concept of online shoe shopping, the original founder of Zappos built a user friendly website where he simply posted individual pictures of shoes that when purchased he would then buy from the brick-and-mortar shoe shop he lived above and manually ship to his customer. The business then took off, allowing Zappos to invest in more complex features like automated delivery, warehousing, personalised profiles, and the ability to purchase a range of other products.

What Zappos did and what we at Bad Dinosaur encourage our clients to do, is focus specifically on the core concept of their platform and to make that central focus as simple, elegant, and user friendly as possible. Once this is achieved and the concept is proved, you can begin the more costly process of adding on those more intricate features.

Why prioritising the core concept is key

The discussion around prioritising can sometimes be a difficult one for us to have with clients because they tend to be extremely ambitious in their projects, and this can mean overcomplicating the idea and overspending on it. When we talk about prioritising a concept, what we really mean is stripping away the non-essential features in order to remove distractions and added costs. It is important then to ask questions like–do users really need to create a profile? Will a login page deter users from entering the platform? What use will a blog play in achieving my core concept? How might ‘x’ ‘y’ ‘z’ features distract from my core concept?

As mentioned above, a company like Zappos now has a whole host of features on its platform, but in order to gain users and prove its viability it began by focusing specifically on the process of selling shoes on a website—‘I see’, ‘I click’, ‘I buy’. From an outside perspective adding features like login pages, blogs, and user profiles, may seem like immediate necessities, but they are all features that take extra time and money to build and can be added to a platform once it has proved successful on delivering its core concept.

Similarly, because of its core concept focus, the MVP method also allows for scalability. Once users have adapted to using a platform for its core concept, user driven feedback and market research can be used to potentially add other features, products, and services. In fact, research like this is essential to better understanding just how adaptable a platform might be in addressing other gaps in the market, or perhaps even pivoting to provide solutions in a different industry. To read more about how MVPs are a scalable solution, have a look at the project we completed last year with The Lang Cat, an Edinburgh based financial services consultancy.

Finally, it is important to note the value of the MVP method for SMEs, charities, and start-ups. One of the vital aspects of building the MVP way is that it helps ensure that clients receive an attractive and user friendly product that achieves its essential functions. By avoiding overspending on unnecessary features the MVP method makes elegant tech solutions available for all.

To learn more about the details behind the MVP method and Bad Dinosaur’s process of building a MVP, please take a look at this online talk, where one of our lead developers Ian Henderson discusses the topic, ‘Building the MVP Way’.

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