$5000 StartUp: How to make it until you find a Technical Co-Founder

The Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is what transforms and idea into a product. With a great MVP, a startup can generate realistic customer feedback, get its first funding, and maybe even become the next SpotHero. But for startups without a technical co-founder, the MVP can sound like a challenging barrier.

A lot of startups confuse the MVP with the product itself, in its most stripped down, bare-bones incarnation. Really the MVP is a part of the product development process. Startups must first build the MVP, measure its reception, learn what potential customers are saying, and adapt the product. This step is key: if you don’t adapt the product based on customer feedback, you’re doing it wrong. As such, the MVP doesn’t have to be expensive to produce -- it should have just enough features that it addresses some sort of customer pain point and demonstrates your unique value proposition.

A lot of the time, these potential customers have already put together some sort of makeshift solution for their ongoing problem that will keep on barely working -- in fact, this is a good sign of product potential, since it means that you are solving a real problem. But don’t congratulate yourselves too quickly, because converting pain into purchases is not nearly as simple. The MVP is important for getting people to put their money where their mouth is. Talk is cheap -- and it’s easy for potential customers to say that they’d pay anything to get rid of a certain problem. The MVP allows you to put a real product in their hands and ask the same questions.

But what makes a great MVP? And how do you build one on a budget?

Do your research. In the words of Steve Blank, get out of the building. Talk to potential customers until you know what the problem is, what solutions are currently out there, and how your product will solve it better. There are a number of free and low-cost resources that can help you. It can also be useful to create personas of different potential customers. By putting these many conversations into different categories, you can begin to see trends that will help you adapt or pivot your idea. Research will tell you what the MVP should look like, so that hopefully the build-measure-learn process will go quickly and smoothly.

Know your goals. Whether you want to gather users or emails, validate a beta product, or something else entirely, it is critical to establish goals for your MVP so that you can clarify your plan of action and measure success relatively. Set benchmarks for what you want the process to teach you.

Pare it down and keep it niche. After all that talk, you should know what makes your product special. When it comes to finally building the MVP, keeping it small will help you stay within your budget -- and will also make sure you know what aspect of your idea is creating value for customers. If you are having trouble cutting down your product idea to what makes it unique and valuable, it is probably a sign that you need to learn even more about your customers and what product they really want.

Get started with web software or SaaS. It’s an easy and cheap way to start, and then you can scale out.

Do more research. Do your due diligence finding a dev shop or freelance developer you want to work with. It can be tempting (and inexpensive) to look for developers abroad on sites like Elance or oDesk, but especially startups without tech experience will often end up paying in frustration trying to communicate the concept of their MVP to a technical audience, and may run into trouble judging the quality of the final product once it is delivered. Make sure you are working with a developer who is also a skilled communicator, understanding of your vision and your budget.

The path to a working MVP is tried and true. With the right resources at your disposal and enough effort, you could get your first MVP off the ground within a month. The MVP can open doors for funding, networking, and all kinds of other opportunities.

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