Over the past years working at Oursky, I’ve worked with a lot of startup founders, product owners, and entrepreneurs. I’ve joined many startup communities and even shared some of my experiences with them. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my work (apart from the coffee!). I’ve listened to ideas of all shapes, sizes, and color. Most were creative ways to solve the same problems. Some were disruptive and very niche, while others were just not technically feasible, if not bizarre.
I’ve previously written about some of them years ago — and why I didn’t take on their projects, even if it means losing a high-paying cheque.
After spending more years working with them, it made me step back and reflect. A lot of things have changed since then. I’ve become more open to what I previously dismissed or thought outlandish. There are more apps than I can count. You can even create augmented reality apps without coding!
By sharing the lessons I’ve learned over the past years, I hope that they’ll help and inspire creators and entrepreneurs in bringing their ideas to life (while also making money!).
Clone the latest best app — but make it disruptive.
“I want to clone the latest mobile app and be the next biggest thing on the internet,” I would often hear product owners and startup founders say.
If they explain that they want to clone, say, an Uber or Facebook app, I used to squint and dismiss the idea outright. I can say, “Let’s go for it,” if I really wanted sales, but I take a step back and curb my enthusiasm. Nobody would want to compete with WhatsApp or WeChat or Uber, especially if you’re bootstrapping or if you don’t know what’s next after developing your app.
I always end up rejecting these pitches. While we can clone the latest best thing, it won’t really translate into anything, because nobody will use it.
Fast forward to several years and I began to better understand what the product owners and founders meant.
Working as a consultant in an Agile team, I’ve become accustomed to using a lot of tools to get things done. I switch between Microsoft Office and Google Docs. I use Slack, Discord, Zoom, and Google Meet to talk to teammates. I use Gmail and Outlook. I switch between Mailchimp, Sendgrid, and MailerLite to send marketing campaigns. See the pattern here?There are so many companies providing the same products and services. Case in point: In Europe alone, around 3,647 marketing technology (MarTech) solutions were listed this March. That’s 66% more compared to last year. The MarTech software-as-a-service (SaaS) market is so crowded with similar tools, products, and services that compete with each other. Just look at the supergraphic below! Navigating the SaaS market is like walking into busy streets full of people, buildings, tramlines, traffic lights, and moving vehicles.
Despite a very saturated market, a lot of these companies still do it anyway. Some even become unicorns or evolve into enterprises. Why? They found something to disrupt, and they use that as a leverage.
Look at the insurance industry. Many of what used to be brick-and-mortar businesses offering the same products and services are going online and adopting an “embedded insurance” model.
What differentiates these same digital products? User experience.
They say that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. It’s an exaggeration, of course. My takeaway here is that a lot of digital products are based on something, so it’s a matter of differentiating the user experience to the customers. Users may feel predisposed to use an app depending on, say, how intuitive the user interface is; if it’s a SaaS platform; or if it has better graphics.
Companies can have a similar mission and vision but propose a different solution.
Now, I’m more lenient whenever a product owner or startup founder asks me about cloning a successful app. I don’t just reject them outright. It’s most likely their way of visually explaining what their idea or pitch is about.
Instead of asking “Why?”, I ask, “How?”
How are you going to differentiate your app from competitors? What is the user experience you want to deliver? Who will be your users? If we start the conversation with these questions, I can help them take the next steps.
If you want to clone something, don’t just copy and paste it. Understand the market. Reinvent it as a disruptive innovation that will provide new value and opportunities to customers.
Launch apps on all platforms right now, but you have to make sacrifices.
Years ago, developing cross-platform apps weren’t quite as big as they are now. Whenever I talk to a potential client, I always make the disclaimer that it’d take thrice the effort. Unless you want to burn your money, launching an app on all platforms simultaneously comes with a hefty price tag.
With today’s modern software development tools and technologies, that’s not the case anymore. You can develop a progressive web application as your viable solution for creating a cross-platform mobile app. You can create apps from a single codebase. You can now launch your apps on all platforms — iOS, Android, and web — and they’ll look and feel like a native mobile app. You can even publish them without going through the app stores.
There are many reasons why a product owner would like to launch an app on all platforms at once. They may not want to lose out on customers. They’d like to bridge a gap when distributing your app. They want to monetize all platforms.
My disclaimers when talking to clients have since changed from calculating the effort and costs to making them understand the pros and cons. The conversations have been smoother and more meaningful. I don’t utterly dismiss the idea. Instead, I explain the caveats — the difference in user experience, timeline, budget, suitability, and technical considerations. All of these aspects help them make a more informed decision before committing to any price point or proposal.
Is MVP dead?
I’m sure that there are brilliant entrepreneurs out there who use MVPs to bring ideas to life. But years of working with a lot of startup founders, product owners, and digital team managers have blurred the lines of what a minimum viable product (MVP) is. We’ve become accustomed to throwing that buzzword whenever we talk about developing apps.
MVP has become overused and overly defined that we don’t know what it originally means anymore.
Quite often I see and hear founders talking about creating minimum viable products to make the best first impression — their own team, investors, customers. There’s a lot of startups out there. In this market, you can’t afford a second chance. They want the perfect design and quality in every feature they cram into the MVP. It ends up becoming more complex than a litmus test it was supposed to be. Ironically, it ends up becoming far too shoddy to be released as an actual product.
When these founders come to us to help “fix” their MVPs, it becomes time-consuming. We also worked with clients and realized that doing an MVP has become so unproductive because we’re spending too much time on what to put in the MVP.
This made me ask, “Is MVP dead?” Things have changed so much. You can slap a couple of great features in the MVP and people will eat it up. Now, the stakes are higher. There’s a lot more expectations. Investors and users don’t just expect a “viable” product — they expect something that they’ll enjoy and love at first sight.
Adopt minimum viable product as a mindset.
After working with many startups, I’ve come to embrace minimum viable products as a mindset instead of a tangible deliverable.
Every startup is different, so using the same approach will not work. We always say “less is more” when creating MVPs, but it’s not always appropriate advice. You may invest less in security features for entertainment apps, but they’re a must-have if it’s an e-commerce app. You can spend more time on the graphics for a gaming app, but you need to make it more straightforward if you’re creating a banking app.
The first step: Include only what is reasonable. Reach out to your users and involve them in the development. Build the product incrementally and iteratively. Use MVP as a mindset instead of a deliverable.
Instead of thinking of MVPs as fully-featured and initial iterations of your app, consider making an earliest showable, testable, and usable product. Successful entrepreneurs and advisors Sam Wong and Henrik Kniberg explain them as iterations or versions of digital products with specific objectives.
Earliest Showable Product
An earliest showable product is meant to show the flow of the app. It can be a bunch of webpages that demonstrates where a click would redirect to. Each page can have some elements, like where the banners, text fields, and buttons will be. It doesn’t have to include any functioning feature. The principle behind an earliest showable product is to show how the users will navigate through the app. It also visualizes the flow for your engineering team. Once they’re familiarized with the flow, they can start making technical decisions for building out the app.
Earliest Testable Product
An earliest testable product is the release that users can actually interact with. It is an iteration of a digital product that enables your users, investors, and team to test and validate your ideas. An earliest testable product is not a fully usable product. It may not even be able to solve their problem or accomplish tasks. At the very least, they can give you feedback that you then use to improve the product. The idea behind an earliest testable product is learning and gaining valuable feedback from potential customers. By creating a functional product and getting users to try it, you can minimize your own biases or confirm your assumptions.
Earliest Usable Product
An earliest usable product involves taking user feedback to enhance the digital product. It’s the first version of your final product, with enough features and functionalities that customers can use. An earliest usable product sits between development and deployment/launch. Users may not necessarily like or love how this version turned out to be, and that’s okay. The next step is to incrementally deliver improvements and updates so you can maintain your momentum and get users to like and love your app.
The earliest showable, testable, and usable products are by no means finished products. They’re simply ways of quickly validating your ideas, learning from users, and understanding the market. It also depends on what your app wants to do. It’s enough for some to be an earliest showable product, while others need to be an earliest testable product.
Nowadays, MVPs have become nebulous. This is why we often take a step back with a digital product and UI/UX design first so we can further clarify what we need to do. Sometimes, we also help create pitch decks and landing pages, especially for earliest showable products, so we can envision where we need to go.
Take advantage of low- or no-code MVP development tools.
A common concern I found among founders is the cost involved in creating an MVP (or even a wireframe!). Sometimes they opt out when they see receipts. Other times, they become overwhelmed and stuck with technical details. When they let others create it for them, it becomes problematic when their expectations aren’t met, or when it doesn’t translate their ideas well.
There’s a lot of free and open-source tools that product owners and startup founders can use to kick-start their MVP or wireframes. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create the earliest showable or testable product and reach out to customers. Even if you’re a business-oriented or nontechnical startup founder, you can take advantage of low- or no-code tools to get things going.I’ve even started recommending different tools to clients I work with. There’s Webflow for creating landing pages; Powtoon and Canva for product videos; and Ghost and WordPress for blogging. There’s Seedrs and Crowdcube for founders who are looking into startup funding and crowdfunding options for their app; and Figma and Balsamiq for creating UI/UX designs and wireframes. There’s even Maze that lets real people test your app!
Don’t design according to your personal taste. Design for your customers.
It’s easy to get caught up in your personal aesthetic and fall into this trap. I’ve worked with many founders and clients who had to go back to square one because the design didn’t meet their users’ expectations.
It’s very difficult to anticipate what your users want, especially if you’re just creating an earliest showable or testable product. After all, an app is only as useful as the people who use it. People will use the app according to their habits and preferences, which is why it’s important to get to know them before even starting to develop your product.
Personify your potential customers through user personas. They will help you define your main target audience and narrow down the design and features you can include in your app. Creating user scenarios will help you double check if these features echo your users’ needs.
At the end of the day, creating an earliest showable, testable, or usable product means learning about your users and finding out if your ideas are worth its salt. Every project has its own unique needs. Tackle the technological uncertainties first. Engage with your users. You don’t need to bring a digital product to the market as quickly as possible, but you should make sure you’re delivering the right one.
At Oursky, we’re all about helping entrepreneurs, creators, and startup founders succeed. Get in touch with us if you’re looking for a partner to help build your next digital product — from digital product design and MVP development to cloud-native mobile apps.
Note: I shared these real-life lessons and insights in a series of webinars for startup founders and entrepreneurs.
Subscribe to Oursky for more business and dev hacks!