25: What Does an MVP Look Like?

Published December 10, 2019
Run time: 00:38:16
Listen to this episode with one of these apps:

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a type of app that you can ship to your customers with enough features to get the point across and collect their feedback for future improvements. Tim and Jenny take a look at popular apps and chat about what they would be like in their MVP form, along with the pros and cons to releasing an MVP.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • What core functionalities look like in common apps
  • How an MVP can save you time and money during the development of your app
  • The criticisms of MVPs

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded October 24, 2019 | Edited by Jordan Daoust

Show Notes:

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at mobile app development. I'm Tim Bornholdt.

Jenny Karkowski 0:06
I'm Jenny Karkowski.

Tim Bornholdt 0:07
Let's get nerdy.

So that's a new voice. Jenny, welcome to the show.

Jenny Karkowski 0:26
Thanks. It's great to be here.

Tim Bornholdt 0:27
Jenny's been working with us at The Jed Mahonis Group here for a few months and rocking out our marketing initiatives. And I'm excited to have her on the podcast today because we're going to start talking about... Basically, we're going to take a non-technical look at the core functionality behind common apps in the marketplace. And then we're gonna also talk about what MVPs would look like, at their first launch.

Jenny Karkowski 0:49
Yeah, so we're going to start off by breaking down what an MVP is, in case you're unaware, it stands for, minimally viable product. And when you're dreaming up the next big app, it can be easy to get carried away with all the fancy bells and whistles that you want your app to have. And those bells and whistles can dramatically increase the cost and the development time. So instead of waiting to release your app in the flashiest form, and spending a lot of time and money in the process, you can release your app with some basic yet core functionality that can provide you a lot of advantages to build from and we will speak of those advantages a little further on. But this simple version of your app is the MVP.

Tim Bornholdt 1:32
Yeah. And it's what the approach most people in the industry take when they're building apps. And I think it really makes sense so that you're making sure you're spending your money to develop the app in a way that's going to get it out the door as fast as possible, provide value to your customers and hopefully provide some kind of return on your investment right out of the gate.

Jenny Karkowski 1:52
And what you may not realize is that a lot of the apps that are out there that you use every day have done this, but you probably just weren't aware of it, or, you know, part of the process as they were scaling up. So we thought it'd be interesting to take some of these more established apps and drill down to what their core functionality would look like to make it more approachable.

Tim Bornholdt 2:12
Yeah, and this is going to be fun for us because we, both of us are kind of planners, typically. And while we do have a list of apps to talk about, I really haven't looked at it. I think it's gonna be fun between Jenny and myself going over. We have basically all the categories that are in the iOS App Store. And we picked out a couple of, well, let's be honest, Jenny picked out a couple of apps in each of those categories. And we're going to just go through and talk about what an MVP for that app might look like.

Jenny Karkowski 2:44
Alright, so let's get started. Our first app category would be a utilities app. So that would be something like a calendar or a reminder or simple calculator.

Tim Bornholdt 2:55
Yeah, and I think taking each of those one at a time, starting with a calendar. It's like, what is a calendar good for? I would argue that a calendar is good at telling you what to do on a certain date. Right?

Jenny Karkowski 3:09
So it's kind of like a scheduled to do list.

Tim Bornholdt 3:12
Exactly. So ideally, a calendar would have a view. I guess, like at its core, what I would want is a view of the month or the week or the day. I think it's important to probably have different views so that I can see, you know, my calendar, on an individual day as well as just generally in a week, what's going on, and then also at a month at a notice to see which days are busier than others. I think that would probably be important, but maybe, maybe at its core, maybe it just needs to be today. Or well, I guess if we're talking about scheduling, you want to know in advance of what is coming so that you don't book yourself accidentally on more than one day.

Jenny Karkowski 3:53
Right. And that's the simple form of just a calendar, kind of just like a calendar that you would have on your desk, but then as you add in features for it to become an enhanced app, it's got color coding, and it's got where you can set at what point does it remind you. Is it 15 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour, two hours?

Tim Bornholdt 4:12
Exactly. I would say one of the features that I use a lot with my calendar app is inviting other people to an event. Is that an MVP type of feature? I would argue not at its core. What a calendar should do is tell you what to do on a certain day and tell you what's coming up in the future. So things like you said color coding to have multiple different kinds of calendars or having it like I said, with inviting people to it, I would say that those aren't MVP features. What is core to have an MVP would be just being able to add items into your calendar on specific dates and times.

So yeah, so the next app was reminders. And I think one thing we can do, I use my reminders app all the time. And I have, I think I use like the iOS, the built in iOS reminders app, in as MVP away as you possibly can where I just open up the app and I hit new reminder. And I type in my reminder and it's done. I think taking it to the next level, things that I do with it would be using Siri to add a reminder to my reminders. I wouldn't say that that's necessarily MVP, although you could make an argument for it, I guess. But I think at its core, what you really need a reminder app to do is just to have a list of things. It's like a to do list, a checklist of things that you want to get done in the future.

Jenny Karkowski 5:31
Yeah, an enhanced feature of a reminder app could be location based to where, you know, you can put into it whenever I arrive at home, that's when I want this reminder to pop up.

Tim Bornholdt 5:41
Exactly and time based as well, of remind me in three days at 9pm to take out the garbage or whatever. The last app in utilities that we were going to discusses is calculators. And there's actually a really cool calculator app that's made by a third party developer for iOS. It's called p calc, and if you haven't seen it, it's insane. So it's a calculator, like at its core, it's just a calculator. But he has like, all these cool advanced features into it, like you can do scientific notation, you can do like anything you would ever think to do with a calculator. And then on top of it on the about screen, he has built in this entire augmented reality racing game that drops in like random bananas, and you can race a car around a track and it goes way off into the weeds. And it's like this playground for him to explore new technologies that iOS comes out with, but at its core, it's a calculator. That's all it needs to be, you know.

Jenny Karkowski 6:37
Calculator turned video game is what it's starting to sound like.

Tim Bornholdt 6:40
Yeah, exactly.

Jenny Karkowski 6:41
So a feature that I started to notice on calculators that wouldn't necessarily have to be part of an MVP is the history. So you know, as you're typing something in and you get whatever your total, your subtotal needs to be, it saves it so that you can access that further on, or it saves it so that you can look back and access that number, especially if you're doing multiple equations, and you need to remember totals that you added up before. You can scroll back. And it's almost like note taking for you.

Tim Bornholdt 7:11
Yeah. And there's other apps too, like, I think there's an app called solver, where it's like a calculator, but you can type in, like formulas and functions, and it does computations while you're typing things out. So you can come up with like a table if you're trying to add a bunch of values together, and it will just intuitively know to add those values together. And like, that's not MVP, you know, for an app. Maybe if your app is that, then maybe that is MVP.

And that's a good point of like, with all of this stuff, it's like, maybe for these general purpose things for what is a MVP for a calculator or a calendar that's something specific whereas when we get to these apps later on in the episode, it's like, what works specifically for Instagram might not work specifically for your social network of photos and you really need to drill down on what is the core idea that differentiates you as a calculator from the other ones. It's like what we're talking about here is like what are table stakes to even just play in the space of being a calculator app on the App Store. And then you need to throw on your flair to make it minimally viable to be whatever you want it to be for selling it to your customers.

Jenny Karkowski 8:17
All right, so let's get into some fun ones. The entertainment category, let's start with Netflix.

Tim Bornholdt 8:23
So Netflix, at its core, is, I have a video that I want to watch and I want to play it on my phone and I can search for what show I want to watch and it comes up with just that show or I can browse some categories of programs and browse through that. I think this is is definitely more, I think it's the barrier to entry to be a minimally viable product in this category, especially I mean, I guess in any category nowadays. There's a million apps on the App Store. So being minimally viable is going to be more. I think it's gonna take more to play in these arenas if you're trying to compete with Netflix, like good luck. But I think like at its core, all Netflix did was before they were just the DVD streaming or DVD shipping through the mail. And then when they did their streaming service, all it was was just a website you could go to on your computer. They didn't have mobile apps or anything like that. You just went on your computer and loaded up their website, and you could see a list of categories and a list of of movies and pick one and stream it. And that's it.

Jenny Karkowski 9:33
So the same could be said for Hulu and YouTube. You know, these are all video streaming apps. They all have a search function in them in their MVP. What are features that allow them to scale and to be unique?

Tim Bornholdt 9:48
I would say I mean, the biggest difference between something like Netflix and Hulu and YouTube would be one is curated content, like Netflix I guess is more known nowadays for their own hand rolled content that they produce themselves. Hulu is well known for being like a show aired on NBC or CBS or whatever. And now you're watching something super popular. And YouTube is the place where you go to get user generated content and videos, that I made a video and I uploaded it somewhere and people can comment on it. And they have the whole social aspect where it's like, it's not like on Hulu, you're going and leaving comments and liking five star, subscribe, whatever, like you do on YouTube, where that is the the culture on YouTube. So that'd be kind of the different, I'd say the differentiating things between those platforms.

Jenny Karkowski 10:36
So the features that aren't necessarily in an MVP would be maybe like the social share aspect of the app?

Tim Bornholdt 10:43
Correct and again, maybe it is. If you're trying to build a competitor to YouTube, maybe at a minimum, you need to have some kind of user system for uploading videos, but things that could be like not MVP, might be like, you know, maybe like closed captioning, like automatically generated closed captioning. That's a nice feature that YouTube has that say, I don't know if Vimeo has that or any of the other competitors, but I don't think that they do. Maybe they do. But that would be something where it's like, that's not a core thing to YouTube like automatically AI generated closed captions. That's a nice to have thing that can come after you have this whole core platform of, I can upload a video and people can interact with it and share it.

Jenny Karkowski 11:28
Okay, our next category, which should be a fun one, is gaming, taking games like Angry Birds, or Candy Crush, and kind of scaling down what those would look like at their MVP level. And I really think that's the only reason that I'm here on this podcast, because I have been deemed the Candy Crush semi expert.

Tim Bornholdt 11:48
I still have not played. I'm not calling myself perfect. I've played plenty of trash games on my phone, but I've never played Candy Crush so that's why you're on the show.

Jenny Karkowski 11:57
That's why I'm here. Iwas trying to think of what an essential, what an MVP version of Candy Crush might be like. And in a sense, it's like a modern day Tetris. You're kind of just, you're lining up at least three things to get them to match and you're getting points based off that. Having played Candy Crush for more years than I'm willing to admit, they have definitely added features all the time that weren't there whenever they first launched. They're doing, you know, you get rewarded if you play consecutive days. They give you bonuses for that. You're rewarded based on your score. You can spin for extra moves when you've run out of time. You get boosters and power ups and there's challenges to compete that whenever the game first launched weren't necessarily there. It was more just, you know, lineup these three yellow jewels, yellow pieces of candy, now I'm getting into another game. Line up these three yellow pieces of candy and get bonuses for that. And that was the game at its core. I actually even saw that they, apparently, there's, I mean, this is something that I never saw, but they even created a TV show. So that's definitely scaling the app in a way... That TV sho w has now been cancelled, which you probably could have guessed, but that's scaling the app in a way that it's definitely not necessary in the MVP.

Tim Bornholdt 13:24
I think I watched like five minutes of that.

Jenny Karkowski 13:26
Did you?

Tim Bornholdt 13:26
I think it had like people flying around, like attached to like rigs that they could like do, like you know, if Peter Pan's flying in a musical or whatever. It's like they had that kind of thing going on and then people could drop like stuff.

Jenny Karkowski 13:39
Essentially like a reality challenge show.

Tim Bornholdt 13:42
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I'm a huge game show sucker. So I'll watch any game show anywhere anytime. So yeah, that's why I checked it out. And I was just like, I feel gross watching this.

Jenny Karkowski 13:52
So you were one of the fairly low number of viewers that I saw on their chart of how many people were watching the show before they cancelled it after one season.

Tim Bornholdt 14:02
I think it was cause I was in a hotel somewhere and it was just on TV and it was like, alright, I'll watch this. But I think gaming, again, it's interesting because at its core like what you need to create a good game is when you're creating a game you're creating a universe, right? You're creating this world in which certain rules need to be enacted and you follow the universe in these rules to accomplish tasks and the game is either out to get you or it's trying to help you or whatever. But at an MVP for a game is you need to establish the rules for the universe, which would be in the case of Candy Crush, you have to get... There's certain types of pieces of candy, right? Okay. Again, like I feel like an idiot for being like the one person to not play Candy Crush, and I'm talking about it. Maybe Angry Birds might be a better example to talk about this because that's the other game that you had written down. So like in the case of Angry Birds, you have, the core of it is you have these different birds that you're flinging to try to knock pigs over. Like, it sounds ridiculous. But that's the universe that's been created. And there's different kinds of birds that have different types of abilities. Some, you are tiny, and you cna sling very far; some are big and fat and knock over a lot of things, but don't have a lot of distance to them. There's physics that go into all of this. There's all kinds of rules and part of the MVP process with a game is you need to spell out those rules, and then create a certain number of levels to keep the user engaged to be continuing to play the game. Now, the other part of MVP in this specific case is the monetization strategy around your game because certain games like big blockbuster games that are $60 that you play on Xbox are going to be, you pay $60 and you get this game and you're good to go. Some like Angry Birds are they're "free" to play and I have "free" in my air quotes. Where then you have ads that are sponsoring them or in app purchases to unlock certain things. So a big part of MVP is it's throwing it at the wall and see what sticks. So you put together this universe of just a few levels with a few different things into it. And then from there, you can expand it out to take over, you know, there's all kinds of birds now, I'm assuming, and with Candy Crush, I'm sure there's all kinds of candy to consume. And like you said, all those different sub games and little psychological tactics to get people to keep coming back and playing so all kinds of things that you need to do to get this, to worry about with MVPs in games. But at its core, it's, again, creating that world and figuring out how you can profit off of the existence of this world.

Jenny Karkowski 16:46
All right into our next category of, here's a fun one, social apps. Drilling down to, let's start with the core of Instagram.

Tim Bornholdt 16:55
Yeah, and Instagram, whenever I talk about MVP, is always the one that I bring up because I think it's the most fascinating story. They actually were kind of trying to build like a Foursquare competitor. So they had all these features built into it with like checking in and doing all this stuff. And then the part of the app that people actually really cared about, though, was the ability to take a picture and upload it. And they thought, well, this is interesting. Like, what if we just did that and they built some rules, again, kind of like the games, they built this little universe of everything is square, and everything has like, you can put a filter on it. And that's it. Like, it's super simple. Like you just post a picture, you upload it, and that's it. And what was their differentiator, what had to be part of their MVP was that filtering process because people were like, I love taking pictures, but I take crappy pictures. I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't have Photoshop to do all these things. So it was like throwing a quick filter on it turned anybody's picture into A Million Dollar picture, you know, it made them look really good. So it's just interesting to see like Instagram, also, when it started, it wasn't even on both iOS and Android. Like this kind of goes into the whole MVP process in general is knowing where your customers are and what they're going to actually use. They didn't have an Android app until about a week before they launched, about a week or two before Facebook announced that they had acquired them. And at the same time, they still don't have an iPad optimized version of an app. Like the iPad is the perfect device to consume photos on. They still don't have it because they're focused on the mobile experience of just the iPhone and Android now, so I'm kind of long winded but that's my thoughts around Instagram is really the core of that is just take a picture, put a filter on it, and upload it. Make people feel good about their pictures.

Jenny Karkowski 18:51
All right into our next category of news and the example we had for this one was BuzzFeed.

Tim Bornholdt 18:57
Okay, so my wife is addicted BuzzFeed.

Jenny Karkowski 19:02
So don't ruin this for her.

Tim Bornholdt 19:04
No, I know. You know the MVP, I guess BuzzFeed was novel in like they kind of were the ones that pioneered like listicles. And like the shocking headlines to grab your attention and get you engaged with with stuff. And their whole MVP approach was, it's interesting because it's like the technology behind it is pretty basic. It's just a news CMS, content management system. And the idea behind it, though, that the main thing that made it stick was they use algorithms and they were constantly testing news stories and headlines and seeing what was shocking or what was engaging with, again, with big air quotes, to get people to keep coming back and reading their content. And then eventually, once they... So that algorithm was really their MVP of taking in and figuring out what makes people want to engage with the news and then from there, they were able to scale up into, you know, actually doing like hard hitting journalism and investigations and stuff like that. But at its core, it's like, you know, what character from the office are you or whatever, like that's their core. That's what they found got them into it. And I'd say like for in terms of news, that's really what their MVP was, was that whole engagement part of it.

Jenny Karkowski 20:19
All right into productivity apps, let's start with Dropbox is a good one.

Tim Bornholdt 20:24
So at its core Dropbox was, you can take a file, put it in a folder in your computer, and then that file is everywhere. That's all Dropbox was. And all it should be. They've started to make some decisions that are having us in the development community very concerned, because they're starting to branch away from their core of, I put a file in a box and it syncs everywhere. And now they're trying to be like Microsoft Office 360, 365 or whatever, of being able to, you can do like word editing on Dropbox and you can do like team communication. Like they want you to do that instead of Slack. And they're kind of getting all over the place with how, where their product has gone. So they're an interesting case of, they have a cool core concept and the core...

Jenny Karkowski 21:14
That's still essentially an MVP.

Tim Bornholdt 21:15
Yeah, like the MVP is all they need to be and they could build like, maybe, you know, they took venture money so they need to make big returns and they need to make billions of dollars so that's why they're going on all these side tangents because they have the capital to do it. But at its core, and what became their biggest thing, is focusing on this was in the era where people would take a flash drive and bring it from house to house and how annoying was that, like when you're in college to have to take a flash drive and put into your computer and save the file, bring it to where all the printers are printed out. Like Dropbox prevented all that.

Jenny Karkowski 21:49
Right. And maybe you didn't want someone to be able to see everything that was on that flash drive, you know, and with Dropbox, you have the ability to control what folders you're sharing and what people are seeing within your files.

Tim Bornholdt 22:01
Exactly, yeah.

Jenny Karkowski 22:02
Okay into our next app category, our lifestyle category. I've never used Tinder. Can you speak to the...

Tim Bornholdt 22:10
My wife and I downloaded Tinder when we were out at a bar one time just to see what it was and how it worked.

Jenny Karkowski 22:17
What a fun social experiment.

Tim Bornholdt 22:18
Yeah, exactly. And you know, she got way more swipes back than I did. But you know, not going to hold that against her. Tinder was like the first one to do the whole swiping thing, like that was their big MVP was they focused heavily on UI to make it an engaging way to hook people up. Basically, just the whole, like, swipe left, swipe right sort of thing.

Jenny Karkowski 22:43
So that's an interesting tidbit is that the MVP may not be so much about what the app does, but the user experience of the app.

Tim Bornholdt 22:50
Exactly, right. Yeah, you can, like all these ideas, it's all about, like we were kind of saying before, there's table stakes. Like if you're making a calculator, it's got to calculate, you know, like that's just table stakes. If you're making a dating app like this, it needs to have some essentials to it. It needs to be able to, you need to create an account, you need to be able to matchmake, like browse through people's profiles and find somebody that you want that you're interested in and then see if they're interested in you. But the way that Tinder did it by making it you know, left right swiping and kind of going through it made it kind of fun. It was almost a game in that sense. And that's what set their MVP apart from all the other thousands of dating sites that are out there.

Jenny Karkowski 23:28
Okay into the shopping app category with the app Etsy. One I'm sure you use all the time.

Tim Bornholdt 23:37
You know, honestly, I do. Because my wife is super into like, you know, you want nice stuff in your house. And so it's like they make cool jewelry, like people have like cool jewelry shops and like those like wooden plank signs and stuff like that. So yeah, don't judge me. I go on Etsy sometimes.

Jenny Karkowski 23:54
It's a great way to support local businesses.

Tim Bornholdt 23:56
Yeah, exactly. In terms of an MVP for Etsy, their whole pitch is ecommerce simple for local producers.

Jenny Karkowski 24:05
Small business or maybe people who aren't even businesses, just the the mom at home that's looking for a side income or someone that's looking for a way to get some revenue off the crafts they like to do.

Tim Bornholdt 24:19
Exactly like that. My sister in law is really good with arts and crafts and doing like textiles and things like that. And I keep telling her to open an Etsy store because it couldn't be any easier with Etsy, you just like sign up for an account and take some pictures of your stuff and put up a page and away you go. So that's kind of the MVP for Etsy and the differentiation between, say, like going on Amazon is Etsy seems to have really carved out a niche for themselves for that small person that just wants to, not small, but individual person that just wants to create some arts and crafts and see if people will pay them for it.

Jenny Karkowski 24:55
Into our next app category, our educational apps, Duolingo. for example.

Tim Bornholdt 25:00
So Duolingo being the app that lets you learn a new foreign language, I think they kind of followed a similar path in these in like, especially with translations, like the Rosetta Stone would be kind of the big dog in that space. Or they traditionally were until now Duolingo is, and I think the core thing for Duolingo would be making... They kind of gamified the learning experience.

Jenny Karkowski 25:29
Making learning fun.

Tim Bornholdt 25:30
Exactly. And doing kind of those, you call it gamification, where you introduce levels and challenges, things like that. That would be where they've really excelled is getting you to come back time and time again, and enticing you with rewards and bonus points and things like that. And that's, I think, just yeah, again, their user experience is really what's kind of set them apart at a core MVP level.

Jenny Karkowski 25:58
All right, our final category is travel. This could be, you know, in a variety of different sections whether it's AirBnB and you're renting houses, or whether you're getting around town with Uber or even airline apps like Delta.

Tim Bornholdt 26:18
Yeah, and all three of those are great launching points because all three of them have very different needs for what a minimal viable product would be. Airbnb, for example, you need to be able to say I want to have a place in a certain area, it needs to have a certain number of bedrooms, and I need to be able to, you know, pay somebody to check in and out and they facilitate all of that stuff for you. So the MVP for that is basically the same services you would get from a hotel but just you're renting, you're renting a house instead of renting a hotel room. The minimally viable experience, I guess, for Uber is I need to push a button and a car shows up and it picks me up and drops me helps me off and I don't have to worry about paying them or telling them where I'm going or I don't even need to talk to them. It's... The app just tells them where I need to go. But then the interesting thing with Uber is they also have a second side of things where they need to have a fleet of drivers who have an app as well, that says, hey, somebody needs to be picked up, and they need to be dropped off here and move on to the next one. So it's a little more difficult when you're talking about kind of building a three sided marketplace with having to pair up you know, yourself, if you're the app owner, you need to... You're one side of it. Then you have the drivers on one side and the customers on the third side. So there's a little more nuance when you're talking about building an app that sophisticated; there's a lot that goes into it. But at its core, if we're talking about core MVP things, it's just being able to drop somebody off and pick them up on demand. The last app in the travel category was Fly Delta, like an airline app and this is pertinent because we both just were on vacation, flying and I think what a minimally viable product for an airline would be, I think, being able to see your flight information and check in, like through the app and see the like, you know, basically check into a flight, whether it's through a barcode or some other mechanism. But I think like the airline apps, I don't know if it's necessarily like, I don't know if I would want to use an airline app to book a flight. I probably would book a flight elsewhere, but maybe some people do. So maybe that's an MVP thing. I don't know what your thoughts are on that, Jenny.

Jenny Karkowski 28:31
Yeah, I think that I do use it more to book my flight than I do to look up my flights.

Tim Bornholdt 28:36
Really? Interesting. Okay.

Jenny Karkowski 28:37
I find that, especially if it's just got a great user interface, that it's just quick and simple to do on my phone than having to, you know, get on a laptop and look it up that way.

Tim Bornholdt 28:47
Well, there you go.

Jenny Karkowski 28:48
But I think that also works if you know which airline you want to go with because then you're within a specific app. Whereas if, you know if you're searching, you want to find the best flight no matter what airline it is, then it's more, you know, you're going to want a browser open for something like that.

Tim Bornholdt 29:02
Right. That's why I usually am using something like Hipmunk, or one of those services where you just say, I want to fly from here to here and whatever is the cheapest, that's the one I go on. But maybe as I get more into rewards,

Jenny Karkowski 29:16
Right, maybe if you're looking for a certain reward, or if you're looking to fly someone like Southwest whose flight information isn't available on you know, if you're using, trying to book through like Expedia, they don't list Southwest flights on there. So you have to actually go through Southwest's app or their website to get their flight information.

Tim Bornholdt 29:34
Yeah fair enough. Fair enough. So yeah, that kind of leads into some of the advantages to having an MVP of like, different people are going to have different needs. Especially if you're a company like Delta, you're going to need to get people to buy stuff, and you're going to need to be with them at the point of service. So it's kind of a perfect case in point for figuring out what your MVP of your app is going to be as you need to talk to as many users as possible.

Jenny Karkowski 30:02
Okay, so we've gone through about 10 different app categories and examples of what the minimum viable product would be for apps within those categories. So let's talk about some of the advantages of releasing an MVP instead of releasing the app with all the bells and whistles.

Tim Bornholdt 30:19
Yeah, so I think one of the biggest things is you can get your app out the door faster. If you are building out less infrastructure in your app, there's less to test, there's less to develop, there's less to support. It's just, you can get the core concept of your idea out the door much faster. In kind of along the same lines, if you're not building out as much stuff, it's a lot cheaper to build it so you have a much lower upfront development cost. That doesn't mean as you're adding, it's still going to cost money, but you're not having to front load a bunch of money and take a bunch of risk on development. You can kind of get a small amount done and save on money that way. Another thing like we had just kind of talked about was you can get in... All of this comes down to what they call a user centered design. And it's like the MVP process is getting something out the door and asking users what they like and what they don't like about it. So you're really having your users drive development rather than you having kind of, kind of call it like the Moses on Mount Sinai moment where you just come down with 10 commandments on tablets and say, Well, here they are. And sometimes that's not jiving with what people actually want. So as it relates to MVPs, it's like, you might know what you your users want. Maybe you have 20 years of experience in that industry. But maybe there's like, you know, what baby boomers want is different than what millennials want, or whatever. So that's kind of an advantage to having an MVP is you can put something small out there, do some market analysis, collect that user feedback and incorporate that going forward into your app.

Jenny Karkowski 31:50
That kind of leads into one of our other points of less risk. When you release an MVP you're not putting in all this time and money into a bunch of features that maybe your users aren't even going to use.

Tim Bornholdt 32:03
Right. Yeah, app development's not cheap. So if there's ways that you can shorten that cycle, that feedback cycle, from getting something developed and putting it into your users hands, then it's something you should absolutely consider.

That's not to say, though, that MVPs are flawless. And with without criticism, there are cases where you might not want to go just the MVP route. I would say probably the biggest criticism would be if you're entering into an area where there's already a ton of competition, which let's face it, there's one and a half million apps in each app store today. You're going to have some competition somewhere. So it might not be that you can do that minimally viable product, like maybe there's already somebody that's so far ahead of you that you need to catch up to them and the bar is set really high. So you have to build out all this infrastructure just to get to where the competition is, and then start iterating on top of that with an MVP approach.

So another risk if you are in a fresh industry, and you're kind of pioneering this thing yourself, if you put out an MVP, and it has a small number of features that it's not feature rich, but it does the job, you might have a competitor that can come by and see, oh, man, this thing is starting to grow really quickly. And they can go out and raise some venture funding and hire a team of 1000 developers and build out something way faster than you can do. So you kind of run the risk potentially of having a competitor come by and build out a more beefy version faster.

Another criticism, like we kind of said with MVPs, where if you don't have the most fully featured version, and your customers are interested in different kinds of features, you're leaving yourself open to having customers jump ship to different apps. That's valid with any kind of thing. But I think especially with MVPs, if you're releasing something really lightweight, that doesn't do everything that your customers are asking you to do and you can't iterate fast enough to keep up with their requests, then maybe they'll not give you the second chance or the time of day to get those features built out.

Jenny Karkowski 34:09
And do you think that hurts a company's reputation?

Tim Bornholdt 34:12
Yeah, absolutely it can. Yeah. Especially if you're kind of targeting early adopter types and people that are quick to catch on to the next new thing. If you're not playing table stakes, again, like if you're not getting the the core basic things done that people need, then yeah, that can take a hit to your reputation. And unless you have a ton of marketing money to keep your name top of mind with people, then maybe they'll leave and never come back.

Jenny Karkowski 34:39
Or maybe, you know, do you put something out there saying that you're, you know, that you are releasing this in a minimal, minimum form or you're releasing this almost as like a beta test to grow from.

Tim Bornholdt 34:50
You can definitely do that. It kind of depends on your company's strategy because I think at the end of the day, people don't care, like they don't care about your problems, they care about their problems. So if your problem is that we're in beta, and we're buggy and things aren't working, it's like, maybe you released too fast, and you got to that person too soon. And then, you know, you're kind of hosed.

Jenny Karkowski 35:14
And I think that's an advantage of an MVP that we didn't even go over was that it does allow more time for testing, potentially, clearing out some of those bugs.

Tim Bornholdt 35:23
Exactly. And you get to, you can test with a smaller group of people and collect feedback from people that you know, aren't going to jump ship right away. Like you don't go to the mass market with... It's tough to go to a mass market with an MVP, like you want to keep your testing small and keep it with a core group of people. So then, as you grow and add more features, you can take it to more people and get more feedback. And it's, with the MVP process, like when you say minimal, it really does mean keep it small, keep it tight, including all of your testing, your testers and the test group. So then you can gradually add on and expand and grow from there.

So final thoughts around MVP. What did you learn through my rambling for the last half hour, Jenny.

Jenny Karkowski 36:05
It's fun to look at the different apps within each categories and to even think back about what they may have envisioned their MVP being at their early stages. Because you may have an app idea and be kind of overwhelmed by what's already in the marketplace. And to think that, you know, they started out with an MVP, just like you did and grew it from there, just gives you a little bit of confidence that you can scale, potentially scale this and grow it and we kind of went over some of the best ways to do that.

Tim Bornholdt 36:36
Yeah. And I think it's also, that's a really good point that, a big part of the MVP process is pivoting and and reacting to what your customers tell you to do. And there were a lot of examples we talked about up above where it started out one way and then completely shifted into something different and became something else, like Instagram, for example. So the MVP process, you might end up going down one path and unexpectedly turn to become something completely different and be hugely successful. So that's the cool thing about this process is until you know what customers are going to pay for, you have to put something out and see what sticks and MVP seems to be the right approach to get something out quickly and cheaply and kind of iterate from there.

Well, that's it for today's show. Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter or you can talk to us at the show which is @CV_podcast and we're also all over all the other socials as well. Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. Today's episode was edited by the tantalizing Jordan Daoust. This episode was brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group who builds mobile software solutions for the ondemand economy. Learn more at JMG.mn.