How to move from prototype to minimum viable product

Microsoft Startups

As a startup founder, once you've built your prototype, the next step is to start working on your minimum viable product (MVP). Use these three tips from experienced tech founders to fine-tune your MVP strategy and maximize learning along the way.

1. Collaborate with the right technical professionals

When you're ready to begin building a working product, you'll want to first find a collaborator who has the right knowledge and experience to help you.

Even if you're confident about your technical expertise, having a partner who can provide diverse business insight, or a specific technical skill is a big asset. While many founders may find short-term hires and engineering interns valuable at this stage, keep in mind that not every partner will provide you with the support and commitment you need to work efficiently and effectively.

Lindsey Goodchild, Co-Founder and CEO of Nudge, a communications platform that empowers deskless employees to drive better business outcomes, said that she teamed up with her now co-founder to build her MVP only after losing time and money with an outsourced development agency.

"When you're starting a tech startup, I recommend having the technology chops in-house from the start," she said. "Even though you might get by from outsourcing your MVP, you have to have capital to do it, and it might not give you best the product in the long-term."

2. Test on the right users

By now you should know that customer feedback is crucial for a successful startup. Once you've built your MVP, the relevance and usefulness of any feedback session will depend on who is testing. This means you need to include both purchasers and end users in your sessions.

Julia Regan, CEO and Co-Founder of RxLightning, a digital platform that automates specialty medication enrollment, carefully curated her MVP testers to ensure they were also her target customers.

"We identified beta groups based on specific experience within the healthcare technology industry," she said. "By narrowly targeting this group, we had interest the moment our MVP was ready."

Goodchild noted that she made sure to test her MVP with hundreds of end-users who were employed with a potential customer. After the users downloaded the app, her team conducted focus groups where each employee shared what they liked and what they didn't like about it.

"I think a lot of founders forget that their purchaser might not be their overall end user. And then there's just a lot of boxes that are left unchecked when developing their MVP," Goodchild said.

3. Be creative with your feedback methods

Whether you are testing with a purchaser, end-user, or both, keep in mind that many testers will need encouragement and direction. You can enable them to provide useful critiques with these creative feedback ideas:

  • Ask customers to speak their thoughts out loud as they use your MVP.
  • Let customers take a collaborative role in your design by asking them write, draw, and sketch to demonstrate their idea of an improved feature.
  • Create a second version of your MVP with a few different features or designs to gauge reactions with separate groups.

Creative thinking can also mean re-imagining how to gather feedback at all. For Regan, this came into play when doing beta testing at home during the past year, when everyone was working remotely.

"It wasn't ideal, but I ran customer discovery sessions virtually, showing features on screenshares and asking questions around them," she said. "If I've learned anything, it's that if you want to keep moving forward with your product and startup, you have to stay flexible."