Turning your idea into a viable prototype is an exciting endeavor. With software, development costs are extremely high until you start generating revenue. Because you can’t generate revenue until the application is finished, many entrepreneurs start with a minimum viable product (MVP) to get their idea to market with the lowest possible development costs possible.

What Exactly is an MVP?

An MVP is your product without all of the bells and whistles. It’s all the features needed to test the market. You include just enough features to build a user base and test the market for public interest. It’s a “test” in a way. You are testing the market with your basic prototype to see if users are interested, and to obtain valuable feedback from those users.

You might think an MVP is the same as a beta test, but it’s much different. Beta software is the full application without the promise of stability. It’s similar in the way that you invite users to run the software in an effort to get feedback, but it’s not your product without all of the extras. Beta products are switched to the full, stable product with bug fixes. An MVP is a basic app with progressively added features as you gain user feedback.

Several large products started with an MVP. Take Twitter for instance. Its original home page had very little content and just one text box where you could send a tweet. There was no market for Twitter when it started, so the company identified if there was a place on the Internet for micro-blogging.

Of course, now we know that Twitter is just as popular as Facebook, but the company started with a small MVP to first test the market. Once they identified the application’s strength and weaknesses from user feedback, they were able to expand to the enormous web giant they are today.

How Do You Create an MVP?

If you developĀ an MVP it saves you money, but you still need to come up with a prototype that has enough features to penetrate the market. Your next step is to separate “bells and whistles” from critical components that make or break the application.

Take a chat app, for instance. You need to know if it has a place in the market, so you create a basic MVP that has the text chat features and any unique features that separate your software from the others. You might want to include video options, but this increases the cost of your MVP too much. Ask yourself if having video for your product is necessary for your users to identify the unique quality of your app versus your competitor’s.

Identifying important features might take some market analysis. You should go through the market and find any similar apps with similar features. Read the feedback from other users to get some feedback on the app’s features. This can give you a glimpse into what your competitors are doing wrong, and what you can do to compete against an already popular app.

Coming up with the right MVP often takes time, and most app owners must consult with a developer to find out which components are the most costly. You can add features to your MVP if they will help attract users. It’s also useful to add a feature if you plan to expand it into a larger portion of the app.

An MVP can cost anywhere from $50 to $100,000. The cost is dependent on the complexity of your code. In some cases, you might need to purchase the rights to patents to use engineered technology. This is usually cheaper than building your own code from scratch. Any external APIs or dependencies will also have a factor in your MVP price.

Your developer can discuss costs with different options, but just be aware that even MVPs must be maintained and upgraded as you continue to collect input from users.

Penetrating the Market and Asking for User Feedback

After your MVP is coded, it’s time to launch. You can’t just launch and expect users to come to you. You need to market your app and ask users for feedback.

Some app owners give the app away for free to initially gain a user base. Others choose to charge users regardless of the app’s development stage. It’s generally thought that paid customers are better than free customer feedback. The reason is that paid customers have a better incentive to give you good or bad feedback. Free users don’t generally give any feedback unless the app has critical bugs.

It’s also a chance to identify competitors. Your users compare your product to others on the market, so you can then get feedback that helps identify what you’re competitors are doing right or wrong. You can take this feedback to improve your own product.

It’s important as you gain feedback to add to your MVP. MVPs are good to show investors, and you can show a better app to them when you’ve built off of the current market and your user feedback.

You will have power users, and these users are the ones that you should interact with the most. They will use your product the most, so their feedback is the most valuable.

Can Your MVP Be a Success?

Many big, well-known sites started with MVPs. You probably don’t remember them before they were bigĀ because the MVP wasn’t popular before it was determined that it was worth the investment.

Remember that an MVP tests the market, so you might find that you don’t have a place. It’s meant to save you from investing too much money with a failed product. Whether your product is a success or not, an MVP can save you thousands of dollars on initial development costs.