You have the next great innovation of the 21st century to unseat Google. Problem is, you don’t have all the cash reserves Google does. Hmm, what to do? Here are some tips for launching what the lean evangelists of the world refer to as a Minimum Viable Product, or “MVP”.
1. Define yourself: Not a 20-page business plan. Who is going to read that? Will it even apply two weeks into development? Debatable. Instead, define your business in the existing landscape. Are you disrupting the industry with a new and better approach? (Hint: you should be.) Who exactly can benefit from your solution? If it’s a new product or service, make sure there is demand. A great product that no one wants is a waste of your time and money. Mixergy just offered a compelling piece on this very topic.
2. Existing solutions: Everyone thinks they’re inventing something that doesn’t exist. Possible, but not likely. Do some analysis. See what’s out there, even if remotely in the same vein. Sign up for their services. Learn what works and what doesn’t. The more you can bring to the table, the less time you’ll spend refining during design and development, which will be more costly at that stage to rethink.
3. Research existing tech: Chances are, whatever your idea is, there are pieces of supporting software floating around the interwebs that you can leverage and integrate, at least for now (a fully custom re-arch in 2 years is another story, but you’re not there yet). And some of them are likely to be open source, aka free! This research will, hopefully, give the digital vendor you partner with, a running start.
Budgeting and Vendor Selection
4. Use your cash: Your bank account is not likely to be bottomless. If it is, stop reading this, go buy a surfboard and relax. For the rest of us, the first piece of the puzzle is determining what you can afford. Angels and VCs should not be a consideration at this stage, nor should substantial bank loans. Budget for what you (and your partners) have at your disposal.
5. Selecting the right digital partner – step 1: Find an agency that specializes in working with startups (they exist). Ask them about their typical project costs. If their average client’s budget is 10 times yours, they’re probably not the right size agency for you.
6. Selecting the right digital partner – step 2: Make sure agency you select is accustomed to helping clients vet out the technology vision to support their business plans without charging you consulting fees for planning and exploration. Most firms will blindly offer a ballpark estimate. The gems will spend time analyzing your needs, helping you craft the solution that fits and then offering a proposal.
7. Start simple: The lure of scope creep is tough to escape. It’s like when you go car shopping. You start out modest, looking at the base model Toyota Carolla. One week later you’re in the Audi dealership trying to figure out if their fully-loaded A8 will do the job. Included features that are absolutely core to your offering and focus on launching only those. An alpha, beta, v1.0, whatever, should be “just enough”. But whatever you do launch, make sure it’s complete. You want 3 features that work, not 10 features that are half-assed.
8. Soft launch: Do not make the mistake of shouting to the world about your newly minted product with press releases and Facebook fan page announcements. It’s in beta because it’s not ready for hundreds or thousands to begin using it. Hold off on the article in TechCrunch until you can handle that spotlight. Once your audience gives you a thumbs down it will be difficult to recover. Tip-toe for now. Form a line and make people sign up for an invite, which may even help to build the sense of anticipation.
9. Listening & trying: If you followed tip #8, you told only a select few about your product. Hopefully you were humble enough to give this version away for free and ask for feedback, in exchange. This is the hard part. You have to listen to the commentary with one, good ear. Steve Jobs listened with neither, but you’re not Steve Jobs, right? You built your product with a vision and certain demographic in mind. Stay true to this. Make it irreplaceable for that group. Don’t try to cater to everyone or no one will love it. Then once you have an idea of changes you need to make, test out variations and see which works better and run with it.
10. Just ship already: The theme here is to disregard your fears about being perfect. The most successful innovators are exceptional about putting their ego aside and having the balls to ship something to market. They listen and tweak and change course until they find their sweet spot. If you wait until it’s “perfect” it’ll either never happen or someone else will beat you to it.
Jay Melone is the CEO of DigitalXBridge (aka DXB). DXB is a digital agency offering web & mobile design and development, branding and strategy/consulting for all things web.