Picture of a shed

Lean? Mobile? MVP? Me?

Surviving the hordes at Barcelona’s annual Mobile World Congress stampeding the Samsung stand for Galaxy S5 news and sidestepping Neil Young’s PONO audio launch at SXSW, we bring you the shiny launch of part four of our top ten tips for creating a mobile startup. Following on from our guide to mobile analytics and why you should bother, we move swiftly on to the latest buzzword in startups, becoming ‘lean’ and creating your mobile MVP. What does that mean for me I hear you wonder?

“Hide not your talents, they for use were made,
What’s a sundial in the shade?”
― Benjamin Franklin

Stay lean, MVP, wherever you can

A mountain
Everyone has to be lean and green when it comes to mobile startup MVP projects.

The concept of being lean seems to apply to most things in life and has now hit the startup world. Is your project lean? Well, consult the following lean principles:

  1. Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere – you don’t have to work in a garage to be in a startup.
  2. Entrepreneurship Is Management -  A startup is an institution, not just a product, so it requires management, a new kind of management specifically geared to its context.
  3. Validated Learning - Startups exist not to make stuff, make money, or serve customers. They exist to learn how to build a sustainable business. This learning can be validated scientifically, by running experiments that allow us to test each element of our vision.
  4. Innovation Accounting – To improve entrepreneurial outcomes, and to hold entrepreneurs accountable, we need to focus on the boring stuff: how to measure progress, how to setup milestones, how to prioritize work. This requires a new kind of accounting, specific to startups.
  5. Build-Measure-Learn – The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate that feedback loop.

For many mobile startups, these principles apply to two key areas. Firstly, the people you need to bring on board for your project to get things up and running, during your first year and secondly, the product you need to be able to build. Taking the people side first of all, would would be your M.V.T. or Minimum Valuable Team…three you say? Oh, you mean…

A Hacker, Hipster and a Hustler…

Man skating across concrete.
To create a mobile MVP, your project needs a hacker, hipster and a hustler.

These three areas break down into the three key focus areas for any new mobile startup. The hipster deals with design and user experience, how the app is going to look compared to others on the market, current trends and the brand. They also make sure the app feels good in the hand, that it meets the overall business purpose and looks great (with or without hipster facial hair of course). Expect a strong view on everything from the Windows Metro interface to the one year iOS7 birthday and the colour of their shoes.

The hacker, clothed in black and spare pizza, eats, sleeps (rarely) and breathes developing, working on all of your coding as well as creating the backend systems that allow you to control your mobile app and find out about your users. They will keep up to date in trends and convince you to use *insert-name-of-new-database-software-here* without really being able to tell you why. They won’t like sitting next to hipsters.

The hustler is a more precise animal, often spending large amounts of time out on the road, looking for new business opportunities and partners for your app project. When they are back, they will be busily updating social media, amending the latest marketing plan to work out how to tell which demographic about the amazing new app you are working on. They will be constantly pushing the hacker and hipster to move faster towards the “we are selling to Facebook for 1 zillion dollars” moment. This may not come. Possibly.

Next time, we will focus on where you can get these skills if you only have one or two of these areas covered, which you can outsource and which you should try to grow from within, if that is achievable on your project.

I have people what do I build? An M.V.P.

A computer and desk, with a notepad.
The tools of the job? Laptop, notebook, pen. Done! What to build though?

Once you have your team in place, creating a first version as soon as you can is imperative. We explored earlier some new techniques for creating interactive app prototypes so hopefully, Blue Peter style, you have done that already before arriving here.  The reason why people focus on their Minimum Valuable Product is the realisation that you won’t capture everything in version 1, but you need to have version one out there in the world so that you can listen to your users and hear how things go.

  • To that end, what are the key features for your app?
  • In your elevator pitch of thirty seconds, what do you list and talk about?
  • If you had to get that down to ten words, or five, what would they be?
  • Which features are essential for your app, which desirable?
  • What features would you like to have after one year, two, five?

Once you have that list of features boiled down to the key ones, you are ready to build your M.V.P. without too much worry. The team at 37 Signals often mention in their Getting Real book focusing on lean software development about how handle request for features. The plain and simple truth is that your users will contact you repeatedly about the features they really want and rarely about ones that don’t matter, allowing you to jump and plan accordingly, but only once you have your M.V.P. out there, for review.

Release early, release often

Boats leaving a harbour
Why should you release early and often for your mobile MVP? Read on…

Once you have your shiny, new M.V.P. , lucky you, how and when should you release it? The mantra of startups has always been R.E.R.O. or relase early and release often, from the wise words of Eric Graham. Traditionally cited as one of the ‘hardest lessons for startups to learn‘, this process of pushing out releases more often that either the hacker or hipster may be comfortable with does one valuable thing. It shortens the feedback loop, getting you valuable information back from the people that really matter, your users. As Matt from WordPress even vouches, usage is definitely the oxygen of ideas, the trick now is how to capture those and when to record them.

Life in perpetual beta

So, because you are always testing and releasing your app project, does that mean you are in perpetual beta mode or should be? Gmail is the industry standard joke on the subject as it appeared to be in Beta for about five years or more. It did however release feature after feature, platform after platform and continually develop during this period. Heck, after they eventually rolled out, they even allow you to turn the Beta logo back on! Love ‘em. espite the recent film about this, being in this particular phase of development doesn’t really matter as long as you are constantly developing and listening to user feedback while you do so.

What do you mean, does it come in white?

Channeling user feedback is always difficult but necessary to provide some direction as to what phases should come next in your software development. We covered how to create a community for your app project and why previously, as well as the tools such as Testflight and HockeyApp to distribute and monitor your releases. Since then, Testflight has been purchased by Apple so watch this space for future development. Android apps can still use the free and great beta release service that runs from the Google Developer console. Even Mark’s using it for his Facebook App on Android at the moment so do check that out.

Do I have a Minimum Loveable Product?

At the end of the day, you need to make sure you still love your product. Lawrence from Spook Studio talks about his Minimum Loveable Product, Hiut Denim just try Do One Thing Well and even Google try to do One Thing Really, Really, Well. By keeping your app startup lean you will create an amazing M.V.P. and take over the world. Well, one at a time anyway. Let us know how that goes and send us your comments below. Next time? Come with us and learn how to, Choose your design and development partner wisely. If you have any questions or want us to cover a particular area in a future post, leave a comment below and we can follow up. Thanks y’all and see you next time! [Image credit "Bike outside house" - Florian Klauer via Unsplash ]

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