Minimum Viable Product
The Ultimate Guide for Non-Tech Founders

So… you want to join the startup race, huh? When we think about the tech industry and startups in it, the first thing that comes to mind is often “coding.” So is it possible for someone without technical background and zero coding experience to build a successful tech startup?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes! There are quite a few tech startups with non-technical founders which are very successful in today’s world.

Non-tech founders often hold themselves back once they’ve got an idea, because they feel like recruiting tech talent to build a proof of concept is essential. Tech entrepreneurs, on the other hand, usually jump into product creation early on, before validating their business ideas. In both cases, the outcome is usually a lot of wasted time and money, either building a product that no one needs or not putting an idea through the proper validation.

So what exactly is a proper way to succeed? In this article we will describe the basic steps needed to create a successful digital product:

  • Building your MVP,
  • Building a tech team,
  • Creating value as a non-tech founder.

What is an MVP

MVP or minimum viable product is the very first and mostly single feature-oriented version of your product for your targeted customer segment. Why single feature? Because by focusing only on one strongest feature you can test your concept’s workability and its continuous development.

Minimum Viable Product Development Stages

Building an MVP is not a one-time thing. It's a simple process of implementing the ”ship early, ship often" rule and building back in feedback from your customers at every stage as you evolve the product-market fit for your product.

The MVP is also tricky because it is not just the expression of your idea or concept, but it is also a carefully constructed test of your business and marketing assumptions. Developing a valuable MVP is much more than just hundreds of lines of computer code.

The point of building your MVP is to learn as much as you can about your product and your market. In other words, you test the demand for your product.

Why is It a Good Idea to Start with Non-Tech MVP?

The best way to start validating an idea is to use a completely non-tech solution. In short, you should aim to break down your process to the simplest of steps the user has to perform to complete the process. This will allow you to set up some basic testing assumptions which you will validate with your MVP.

Then you can begin building the first mockup of your MVP. We usually use plain pen and paper or whiteboard to sketch out the basic process and mockups. This makes it easier for everyone in your team to understand the product and to contribute their ideas. This process will allow you to spot potential problems in the product early on, before you invest your time and money into actually building it.

Also be sure to incorporate a draft of the business model into the non-tech MVP. This can be just a simple PayPal button, an Add to Cart or more complex monetizing technique. The most important part is that you know exactly where you want to make money and also to test in the very early stages if you can actually make it.

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Start Building An MVP as a Non-tech Founder

Since you don't have a tech background, it will take you a while to get to a point where you can start coding yourself. When you are trying to develop an idea, time is your most valuable resource and is not to be wasted. As a non-tech founder you basically have two options to follow:

  • Getting a co-founder with a tech background
  • Finding a development partner that can build the MVP for you

The first option is very hard these days since good and experienced developers are really hard to find as demand for their expertise rises.

Development companies like us that specialize in helping startups build digital products usually have all the resources that you need. They master the whole product development cycle and will help you go through the entire process so that you are informed enough to be able to make good business decisions regarding your product and company.

Usually the choice depends on your specific situation, but generally you'd want to invest the least amount of time and money you can while still quickly learning as much as you can.

MVP Ingredients

Minimum Viable Product is all about value, so have this in mind when you start planning out. Oversimplifying things can very often lead to misunderstandings. Remember that a minimum viable product is actually a product. Landing pages, customer interviews or live demos are just ways that help you to define the scope of your MVP, but they are not MVP themselves. The MVP is definitely not a dream product; it doesn’t have all the features you might imagine, but it offers the early adopters some defined value and has a real shape.

Important Minimum Viable Product Ingreditens

When you are thinking of outsourcing MVP development, a well-written brief will allow your development partner to asses the project and your vision more accurately and thus largely increase your chances of success.

So when you start to prepare a brief for your MVP and your business, here are the most important ingredients you need to include:

  • Do your homework and prepare user stories for the basic and most important functionalities,
  • Draw some wireframes,
  • Try hard to get initial traction or first customers,
  • Get customer feedback,
  • Set business and product milestones for the first few critical steps.

It is also important to consider the following:

  • Outsource MVP development as it brings you the most efficient time to money ratio,
  • When you have something to show, start searching for a CTO as your options for attracting someone will increase greatly,
  • Once you have a CTO, let him take over the product development and deployment operations and keep the development partner in the loop as CTO’s right arm until you build a larger team that can fully support your product.

How to Build Your Prototype and MVP

It is time to start building your MVP. The most important thing at this stage is to capture the primary goal of your product. Let’s say you are building a product that helps people build a custom flower pot. The product allows people to select a plant, a pot, change pot colors, pot size, flower size, etc. As a result, each customer gets a customized product which suits their individual preferences. So we need to understand exactly what our product does and what customer problems it solves. What we get out of this is the primary goal, which must be fulfilled to satisfy our customer. For our example, a good definition of a primary goal would be: “Allowing customers to receive an individual, customized flower pot”.

With the focus set on our primary goal, we need to define what the main user flow in our product looks like. This can be a simple multistep checkout or something way more complex, but simplicity is king here. We need to define each particular stage of this flow. You can do that quickly with a pen and paper by asking yourself how you would explain to someone what steps are needed to accomplish the primary goal.

The rule here is: “Keep it simple and don’t think about the features!”.. This is where non-tech founders usually have an advantage since they don’t look at their product with a tech eye and they are not so much tech and feature oriented. So if you are a non-tech founder, here is where you will stand out the most. So don’t think about specific features like “Product comparison”, “Image zoom”, “Multiple payment methods”, etc. but think about tasks like “Manage my orders”, “Returns”, “Customise a flower pot”, etc. All of these define a process in which most of your customers will use your product.

Finally, you can start writing down the main features for each task in the process. We try to boost our own creativity and define as many features as we can, but at the same time avoid prioritization. What we need now is an unprioritized bucket of ideas which can be developed to help the customer solve their problem. It helps if you create a process map for your product on your whiteboard or paper, where each task represents a step in your process. You can then write down each feature on a post-it and stick it under the correct process step.

What is left is to prioritize each feature while keeping a few questions or rules in your head while doing so. For each feature you need to ask yourself the following:

  • How important is this feature for finishing the process?
  • How often will the feature be used?
  • How much value will the feature bring to the customer?
  • How risky is this feature to implement and use?

Based on these questions we rearrange the features on our map by moving the ones with the high value/priority to the top, and the ones with lower value/priority to the bottom. Keep in mind that less is more, and that simplicity is king if you want your MVP to succeed. So this should leave you with a list of 2 or 3 top priorities per process step. Be sure to validate the feature list with potential customers any way you can.

Sometimes this newly created map of yours is precisely an MVP, but very often this is not the case. In some cases, our minimal viable product is slightly more sophisticated than our skeletal product, so we want to somehow separate the features which are a “must-have” to our users and the features that are more a “nice-to-have” or even a “won’t have”.

Finally, complete the process by drawing a horizontal line on the map which divides it into two parts. Essential features are placed above the line while the others are placed below it. The top-placed features represent our Minimum Viable Product and the rest is a long-term vision of our product – something we can use as a foundation to make the product better in the future.

Choosing the Tech Stack as a Non-Tech Founder

Before any code gets written, you will need to select the tech stack that will power your product. This is often a hard decision for a founder, especially for a non-tech one. The options are overwhelming and they come with a risk factor that committing to the wrong technology will have serious consequences for your product down the road. There are a few factors to consider during the tech stack selection process.

Choosing the Tech Stack as a Non-Tech Founder

Tech stack is usually built from back-end, front-end or mobile, database, automation software, and utility software tools. For back-end, the loosely coupled architecture is your best bet nowadays. This means that technology on the back-end can be held separate from the other parts of the app and REST services are used to communicate. The tech stack depends on the type of your application. If it is mobile, then you can choose between different mobile technologies like Swift, ObjectiveC, Java, Xamarin, or hybrid frameworks like Cordova, PhoneGap, Ionic, etc. If it is web you are focusing on, the scope is a little bit larger, but it basically comes down to a few large and stable frameworks like AngularJS, ReactJS, EmberJS, etc. Sure there are other technologies, but if you are browser focused then HTML, CSS and Javascript will be your friends.

You also have to look at and research other similar startups on the internet. See their job listings. What tech staff are they looking for? What skills do they search for? This can tell a lot about their tech stack.

But the task of selecting the proper tech stack can save you a lot of problems and costs later on in your product lifetime. Your best bet is to find a development partner that you will trust and that will be able to advise you regarding the best possible tech stack for you. This has a lot to do with the type of app, type of data you handle, where you make money, how many users you target and a lot more.

If you would like to get advice regarding your tech stack selection or would like to discuss it with an expert, schedule a free consulting call with us and we will help you out.

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Outsourcing your MVP development

The key issue here is very simple. If you decide to hire an outsourced team that will be developing your MVP the key points are the following:

  • The company must have some references of building similar products and solutions,
  • The person leading the development in the company needs to be engaged and passionate about your idea.

If your product is mobile, look for companies that have built great mobile apps, and if your product is more web based, find a company that has more references there. The mobile and web markets are more and more connected so you will need both in the long run, but keep it simple for start and just go where your customers are.

Outsourcing your MVP development is great as it brings you strong tech expertise, instantly gives you tech resources at your disposal and helps you quickly reach your first business goals. On the other hand it also saves you a lot of time and money by taking the “tech” out of your founding equation.

When you are launching a startup or idea, the key thing is surrounding yourself with the best possible team:

  • Founders,
  • Advisors,
  • Investors,
  • Development partners,
  • Designers and UX specialists,
  • Lawyers,
  • Accountants
  • etc.

We are a team of experienced tech experts that cover everything from planning and architecture, design and experience, to continuous development and growth and we specialize in helping startups build their products. We are on a mission to help non-tech people bring good ideas to life so we offer free consulting hours to all founders. Schedule a free Skype Consulting Call with us and we will help you with expert advice, a quick fix, a complete solution, a revision of your brief or anything else.