14 Common Mistakes When Building an MVPDecember 28, 2020 • 15 min read
We’ve seen many unicorns in the last decade, but everyone must know that on the other hand, 9 of 10 startups fail.
Starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) is the best way to quickly validate your idea, bring the product to market, and get early traction. Despite its effectiveness and piles of information on how to do it right, the existence of many startups still ends here.
There are ultimately only two reasons for startup failure in the MVP stage: building something nobody wants and running out of budget. They are quite broad, and we’ll divide them further to understand the underlying causes better.
The MVP stage itself can also be split into substages:
- The preliminary stage where you only have an idea, vision, and a working product concept on paper, but not the product itself.
- The development stage where the actual development of your product happens.
- Launch stage where your product is on the market and your future decisions are based on real users’ feedback.
Do you know those founders who want to sign an NDA before they even tell you what they’re up to? They think the idea is so unique and brilliant that it’s worth billions of dollars.
The truth is that there are almost 8 billion people, and the chances are that there’s someone who not only had a similar idea but already failed to execute it. If that’s not convincing enough, ask them to sell their idea to an enterprise with enough resources to pay for the concept and bring it to reality. Oh wait, Blockbuster could have bought Netflix and Yahoo had two opportunities to buy Google, but they didn’t.
The idea isn’t worth that much without execution. Think of it as a multiplier. An awful idea may have a -1 multiplier attached, so even with a stellar performance, the startup is still destined to fail. Moderate concepts might be 1 to 20, while brilliant ideas might be a 100. But 100 multiplied by zero is always zero. Without execution, thoughts are worth nothing, and lousy implementation can screw up even genius ideas.
There’s another severe downside to praising your idea. How can you rate your plan without sharing it with the world? You might have faith that it’s 100 one, but it’s just your opinion as your potential early adopters, and other people in the niche have no chance to tell you what they think about it and whether the product might be useful for them.
Our founders did the right thing and shared their idea with the world. They’ve found post-mortem of failed startups with similar ideas and learned from their mistakes. After that, they even concluded little market research to get a sense if their idea was still viable and did the short surveys on “The Mom Test” book’s principles.
Unfortunately, the pain the original idea was trying to solve doesn’t seem severe enough for their target market. Most of the prospects already solve it quite successfully with sophisticated spreadsheets, and they already pay for this software for multiple other reasons.
Many people fall in love with their idea so much that they would continue despite this red flag. An entrepreneur’s job is to solve other people’s problems. But what would they accomplish if there wasn’t a real problem in the first place? They’ve just successfully come up with a solution for a non-existent issue.
The research might reveal other regular pains for people in the industry that aren’t that sexy, are harder to solve, yet still worth pursuing. Often existing solutions for known problems aren’t ideal too. They might be too complicated, inconvenient, inefficient, glitchy, and you name it. Improving existing solutions has produced many unicorns, but many founders miss it cause the idea isn’t that unique.
Now that the founders are sure they’ve nailed a problem worth solving and have an idea of a great solution, they’re ready to conquer the world. They’re confident that millions of people have the same problem, and their answer will help them. If only they can make it generic enough.
It’s a Trap! If you create a one-size-fits-all product from day one, you most likely won’t be able to help anyone truly. Your customers at this stage should be early adopters. Those are people on the bleeding edge of their niche, who are continually seeking any advantage they might get to improve their life and business. Not only would these people be willing to try new inventions, but they also spread the word about the benefits they’ve got adopting them, slowly driving the whole industry.
Those people aren’t interested in a generic WYSIWYG website platform with a shopping cart module. Instead, they want a way to improve their business - to sell goods online. Etsy, eBay, and Shopify are all different solutions for the same problem. Wix and WordPress are close, but it’s too much hassle even for early adopters. They solve other issues.
There are hundreds of reasons why a product is impossible to sell, so it gets complicated. Just a crappy product, a problem that isn’t severe enough to pay for the solution, too spread and inaccessible target audience, enterprise entry barriers, government regulations, etc.
The point is that you must have a proven plan of how you’re going to sell your product before even building it. It might be a presale, landing page that asks for a credit card (might be illegal in some countries), signed contract with the enterprise, etc.
Remember that your product must be great at something vital for early adopters to switch from an existing solution. Just a me-too product won’t work. You have to give a reason to cross the switching pain barrier even if your software is as good as the one they’re already using.
The bumpy road to success shouldn’t be traveled alone. To get there, you’ll need to maintain product vision, make the designs, programming, testing, marketing, sales, analyze feedback, and manage the company. It’s just too much for one person to handle.
Many founders make the same mistake of choosing only their friends as their core team. You know them, and you can trust them, that’s great, but this kind of team often shines at one or two required skills and completely lacks others. Excellent engineers who can’t do designs, sales, and marketing. Talented salespeople who don’t know how to code. Marketers that never sold anything directly.
Learning the missing skills in one way, but you should understand that it’s also an expensive time investment. While product vision, sales, and marketing should be the founders’ primary roles for a long time, learning how to code does take time. We don’t know of people who become Senior developers in a year. While junior developers are certainly capable of building a working product without supervision, I’m pretty sure it would have a ton of bugs, maybe even critical security holes, and would be a lot harder to maintain and improve.
When it comes to choosing partners, make sure they deliver. You don’t want the bloated product, missed deadlines, and a team that always feeds you with promises. Highly skilled human labor gets pretty expensive, but you shouldn’t blindly go with the most affordable option. What seems cheap at first glance might end up more costly in the long run. Weighing all pros and cons would be a wise way to go, and we’ve prepared a detailed comparison of the different options. Good development teams are more than coders and provide valuable feedback and ideas on strategy and the product itself.
A prototype is the quickest way to bring your idea to reality. It’s not a functional product by any means, and it can’t solve problems. Still, it’s more than capable to visually explain your idea to others, be it investors, team members, or potential customers. Depending on the product, it might be wireframe designs, paper cards, or just simple drawings.
Prototyping doesn’t take much time, and it’s the fastest way to iterate and finalize your thoughts before building the MVP. With a prototype, founders ensure that everyone on their team understands the product just like they do. Designers finished UX and can start working on high-fidelity graphics without wasting time on iterations. Software Engineers know all critical aspects of the software to choose the most suitable architecture and technologies. Marketing and sales can start doing their jobs straight away.
Missing this stage introduces too much chaos into the company and can turn up very expensive.
Some startups fall in love with their prototype so much that they decide to skip the MVP and go straight to the final product. “Users loved our prototype. What can go wrong?” they might think.
That’s another severe mistake that founders should avoid. While the fact that prospects loved the prototype is an ample bright green light, they still had no real experience using it. What looks good on paper might yet hide many caveats in reality.
You’ll need real user feedback to choose critical features for your product, find ways to simplify complex interactions, and truly understand what users need. Few companies won’t benefit from the traction and some additional cash flow early on.
Our explanation of what an MVP is and why it’s necessary contains more details on this topic.
MVPs are great and solve many problems. However, there are cases where a new product doesn’t face those exact problems. Founders must understand that MVP is like a tool that does a specific job.
If you’re building an internal app for your company, you should already have a perfect idea of what it must do and how. Yes, you can make it more convenient by surveying your employees and polishing the UX a bit, but the critical functionality is well known and won’t change much.
Another example would be competing in an established market. There’s plenty of software already solving problems for the users, and they probably won’t switch to an unknown product that doesn’t even have all the features they need. However, these markets have a different way to get user feedback and grasp what they want. There’s a ton of online software reviews, and it’s not hard to do a mom test on the competitor’s user base. Besides, good software is driven by user feedback, so if they have specific functionality, there’s a high chance someone begged for it. Finally, there’s always an opportunity to make the application more straightforward, faster, and easier to use, even in crowded markets.
Do you have a working product? Does it solve the problem for your customers? Then it’s probably ready.
Many founders believe that they must ship a masterpiece. All the features they can think of and top-notch design is the only way to go. They try to impress their customers and be the best in every aspect.
Such an approach usually leads to a disaster. Huge budgets were spent developing and polishing features users don’t need. The project became too complicated and very hard to pivot. Those founders might be shocked when they receive first feedback from their real users.
The feature selection process is crucial for new product development, and the audience almost entirely drives it. Thinking everything out in isolation, especially if you’re not building the product for yourself, tends to produce huge mistakes.
You don’t have to create the final product straight away. Start small and deliver more value on every iteration. This approach is often called The Cupcake Principle.
While you shouldn’t bloat the MVP with unnecessary features, the critical ones should be there. “Minimum” in the MVP doesn’t mean half-baked and unfinished. It’s the quantity, not the quality.
Would you use a product that looks like it was put together in just one night? Or the one that looks very modern but crashed on every second interaction, even on the home page? Well, other people won’t waste their time either.
Marketing a crappy application not only burns the budget but also set’s your users against it. They remember, and they tell their friends. It’s a word of mouth that no sane founder would want.
Your product may have less than 10% of the competitor’s features and still take their market share only if they have superior implementation and provide more benefits to the users.
Providing feedback early on is the most significant benefit of starting with an MVP in the first place. Not collecting or ignoring this feedback renders the whole idea useless.
Why else would you put an MVP on the market? Not listening to real users’ suggestions on how to make your product superior is just suicide.
This feedback provides a better understanding of your users, their pains, needs, and wants. These insights are crucial to evolve your product, make it stand out from the competition, and conquer the market.
While promising founders always listen to their users, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
When you have too few users, it’s hard to prioritize unique features one of them asks. Maybe it’s essential for many others, and perhaps it’s only their problem. You can never be sure and always risk spending resources on unnecessary features.
After you have had some success, you’ll be overloaded with data and may easily miss vital clues. Of course, you’ll also need systems to collect this data, as doing one-on-one surveys won’t work that well anymore.
Someone should maintain a dynamic vision of the product, adapting it based on filtered incoming feedback.
MVP is just a starting point for your product. You’ll add many new features along the way, and it’s crucial to maintain a clear product vision all the time. Otherwise, your product may become too many things for too many people. A product with many acceptable features that lacks excellent ones becomes vulnerable to more specialized competition in every aspect.
Your early adopters might even feel scammed and turn against you cause your product doesn’t seem to solve their needs anymore.
Conscious pivoting when you’re abandoning the initial idea to pursue a more juicy one is one thing. But accidental pivoting based on what dozens of your independent users asked has nothing to do with it and would lead your product to oblivion.
While users should drive your product, your responsibility is to give them the direction and watch for wrong turns and dead-ends.
Even the best product will fail if no one knows about its existence.
This mistake is prevalent among tech founders. They spend years developing their masterpiece, continually pushing the release date cause “it’s still not ready.” And once it’s finally complete, they host it on the public domain, tell their friends, and maybe write a post or two on social media. No wonder they don’t have any real users.
With a good product strategy, you should know your target audience and techniques to reach them during the idea stage. It would be best if you had a rough plan on what channels you’re going to use and ideally should have tested them by this point with some pre-launch marketing campaign.
Marketing is asynchronous and lagging in time. It’s nearly impossible to get instant results, and your company should survive till positive cash flow. You have to plan your budget accordingly.
Creating a successful startup looks very easy - build something great and let people know about it.
In reality, you’ll encounter many bumps in the road that may put you off track or even stop you. Most startups end up in a graveyard from running out of budget, possibly creating crappy or unfinished products in the process. It’s not that straightforward to build a great product, especially with limited time and resources.
Understating the most common mistakes will significantly increase your chances of success. You should know what problem you’re trying to solve, who has that problem, and how to reach them. In most cases, you should build an MVP first to collect valuable feedback from your customers. Listen to those insights, and they’ll guide your product in the right direction.
An experienced technical partner would deliver the product and help with the strategy during every stage of its life cycle. We can help you build a successful MVP, so do not hesitate to leave us a message if you have any questions.