How to Build a Great MVP

By Jesulayomi Adetola

“Early-stage founders should focus on no-code tools and technologies that they can leverage to build faster, quicker and efficiently without spending too much money.” — Nelly Yusupova.

Although most startups begin with an MVP, about 90% of them eventually fail — why? According to CB Insights’ recent report, most startups fail due to a failure to raise capital or depletion of funds (38%), no market need (35%) and an inability to compete in the market (20%). A great MVP can address all these issues and answer whether your target audience needs your product, who your major competitors are and what investors think about it.

Michael Siebel, Y Combinator’s CEO, describes the process of creating an MVP as one that you repeat over and over again — identify your riskiest assumption, find the smallest possible experiment to test that assumption and use the results of the experiment to course correct. Nick Swinmurn overtook this process while building his company, Zappos, which was later acquired for $1.2 billion by Amazon.

Earlier this year, we hosted a Clubhouse conversation with Thato Schermer (co-founder, Zoie Health), Yele Bademosi (founder, Bundle Africa) and Nelly Yusupova (founder, TechSpeak) on the subject of building a great MVP. This blog details the insights they shared during the session.

Develop a mindset shift

Most founders make the mistake of jumping into development too early, including too much in the MVP and getting stuck in the iterative building process. For Nelly Yusupova, “Finding a real pain point and finding a market big enough is the most important thing.” As such, early-stage founders need to focus on low or no-code tools, instead of investing heavily in building technologies to test a hypothesis. This strategy will help you release a product that will receive excellent feedback.

Speak with users and other founders

Be informed about the experiences and advice of other founders in the tech ecosystem, in order to make better decisions. Like Thato Schermer says, speak to users to get constant feedback, then measure the data and analytics.

Focus on a core feature that will solve your users’ problems

According to Yele Bademosi, two key things that matter a lot when you’re trying to get a product off the ground are:

  • Knowing who your users are, and
  • Having a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve

As an entrepreneur, identifying the problem you’d like to solve introduces constraints at a product level and reduces the scope of what you should be building. Using the Pareto Principle, find the 80:20 leverage point, where 20% of your feature set provides 80% of user utility within your product.

For instance, at Bundle, the focus was on building a user-focused retail product that the average African — with no idea of cryptocurrency — could use. The product’s success was measured by transaction volumes; rather, by user signups, which were fundamentally influenced by a few key features.

Achieve idea-market fit

“For us, we consistently got people paying for the finished product and this reconfirmed some of our hypotheses, which was the key target — follow-up consultation and asking for help in other areas of their life. Seeing such patterns made us see much clearer who our user persona is and for whom it is that we’re building.” — Thato Schermer

For a B2C company, you may need to speak to 30 or 50 potential customers (early adopters) to validate the core solution to a problem they are looking to solve. Getting specific makes it easier to do marketing: you know exactly who the customer is, how to talk to them and oftentimes, use their words in your marketing copy.

If you’re in the B2B space, you should be talking to fewer potential customers, which should be about 10 to 20 customers depending on what industry you’re in. As Nelly Yuspova says, the key is to understand the type of business you are building.

Founders also need to forget about their own solution and focus on proper customer development. Leave your customers to fall in love with the solution, then listen for problems. With these insights, you can recognise patterns that will (or will not) validate your next steps. It could be in the way customers are not willing to do certain things or change their behaviour.

As Thato Schermer said, “For us, we consistently got people paying for the finished product and this reconfirmed some of our hypotheses, which was the key target — follow-up consultation and asking for help in other areas of their life. Seeing such patterns made us see much clearer who our user persona is and for whom it is that we’re building.”

Find technical talent cost-effectively

As a non-technical founder building in Africa, one key to finding cost-effective talent is to reduce the scope of your product and ask, “what is the smallest thing that I can build that allows me to verify my hypothesis? Remember, you’re just starting and don’t want to spend so much money on a product that may not work.

Like Yele Bademosi said, do as much as you can without even needing to build a tech product. Then, focus on getting a technical co-founder. There are certain development agencies that can help you put a team together, build an MVP and scope your product.

Earn a technical co-founder

It is important that your technical co-founder is trustworthy and has the right skill set. As co-founders, both of you should have the same vision and agree on how the company should grow.

Earning a technical co-founder involves two things: on one hand, you’re validating your idea, while building a functional prototype and a community around that idea. It shows that you have the marketing skills necessary to promote the product. On the other hand, you’ve invested a little bit of your own money into building the MVP, if required. This will give you flexibility in deciding on a technical co-founder.

In Yele Bademosi’s opinion, “If you are building a startup, getting involved in early-stage communities and engaging in hackathons is the best time to meet both non-technical and technical folks. It also improves the odds of meeting a technical co-founder down the line.”

*Recommended reading by Yele Bademosi: Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet.

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