Mobile app development and product quality have become so consequential in recent years that companies can’t rely on network effects alone to secure market leadership. To meet organizational objectives and unlock new value with mobile, product development needs to follow an iterative cycle. Iterative development allows organizations to continually test assumptions against user feedback and make fast product changes as new information presents itself. Building a minimum viable product (MVP) is an iterative process designed to identify user pain points and determine the proper functionality to address those needs over time. An MVP app provides quick market entry and a foundational user experience that allows companies to learn how users react to the app’s core purpose. With this insight, companies can make logical decisions about how to achieve both business and product goals.
Today’s most successful mobile apps use an MVP process to prove that people will use the product. From there, they build functionality over time, based on user testing data and feedback.
Here, we’ll explore how three brands added value to their MVP app over time and grew into colossal trail blazers. Additionally, we will describe the proper planning process to follow to emulate the success of these brands.
Spotify is a force to be reckoned with. Since the company’s launch in 2008, it has completely revolutionized the modern listening experience, and today dominates the music streaming market. Currently, Spotify lays claim to 422 million active listeners and 182 million subscribers in 183 markets globally. The Spotify mission is “to unlock the potential of human creativity – by giving millions of creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.” Fourteen years later, the company continues to deliver on this promise by continuously introducing new ways to experience and share music. What’s more, they provide a platform that allows artists and their listeners to build authentic connections.
The answer is simple. Spotify grew into its modern success thanks to its ability to act on user feedback and learn from in-app user behavior.
Successful apps follow the “build-measure-learn” cycle for the purpose of developing a small, quality product to test. Utilizing the principles of MVP app development, Spotify released iterations of their product. This ensured long-term value and user alignment, gradually. Over time, Spotify discovered new ways to add value to the listener experience while helping artists use the mobile app to maximize the impact of their music at every stage of their marketing funnel. On top of incorporating new features to delight users, Spotify also strategically aligned every addition towards achieving specific product goals.
Spotify began with a narrative; unlock the potential of human creativity. From there, they delivered product iterations that struck the right balance between minimalism and completeness. Consequently, they were able to intelligently plan solutions to new customer pain points as they became apparent.
The very first version of Uber, UberCab, set out to connect customers with cab drivers, and accept payments. Uber accurately identified a single and pervasive pain: hailing a cab. As a result, their MVP app was widely accepted. Uber’s concept was simple. That allowed them to quickly enter the market, receive real user feedback, and grow into the brand they are now.
The cab app initially targeted San Francisco, offering users the ability to communicate with drivers and pay for their ride. It was only after collecting enough of the right user data that Uber added other features and services.
Uber then entered the market in New York City before growing into Seattle, Boston, and other large cities. Uber slowly built out new features based on validations that were made in those target markets. Then, in 2012, the company finally deviated from its MVP, and UberX was born. As they learned more about the target market, they discovered what features were most valuable to their users. For example, with Uber’s MVP, they were addressing a specific problem: getting an affordable taxi, quickly. Now, Uber offers a wide variety of features such as live-tracking for drivers, fare splitting, automatic credit card payments, fare estimates, and more.
On October 6, 2010, Instagram launched as a location-sharing application; users could take photos from the app, edit them, and geotag locations. Overnight, 25,000 users signed up for the platform. Today, Instagram has over 2 billion monthly active users and 500 million people use Stories every day. With time, Instagram’s unique value proposition changed entirely and today, the platform is ubiquitous.
Over the course of twelve years, Instagram has enabled video content support, introduced direct messaging, added Stories, and much more. As Instagram iteratively improved their product, the MVP app turned into a full-fledged social media platform.
In 2017, Instagram introduced Stories, a new feature and a noticeable shift from the product’s MVP app. Over time, Instagram iteratively improved the Stories feature as well, based on how users shared content. What started as simple video moments, transformed into a rich media sharing and creative editing experience, with the ability to mention other users, and include links, stickers, questions, and polls.
Each of these companies addressed a pain point for a core set of users, focused on what features drove the most value, and improved upon them incrementally. Here’s how.
Consumers often don’t know what they want from a product until the concept is introduced to them. For this reason, it’s difficult to validate a product; people can’t always explicitly tell you what they need. Consequently, as a first step, it’s important to identify who your customers are. Then you can understand if they need your product, how often they’ll use it, which features and functionalities they like the most, and which ones they dislike. By focusing on a targeted user base, you can accurately refine your findings and improve your app with iterative updates.
Once you know who your audience is, you can create a thorough product roadmap.
A product roadmap is essential for guiding the strategic direction of an MVP app. A roadmap is designed to communicate the “why” behind what you’re building. However, when you begin your development project, it’s important to remember that a roadmap is not set in stone. Instead, it is made to accommodate ongoing change. This complicated process helps determine which aspects of your mobile app will be the most valuable for your user base.
A product roadmap has several objectives:
The most important step in creating a roadmap is Design & Discovery. This stage is when you determine the vision and goals for your mobile app.
During Design & Discovery you need to devise a plan for what your mobile app will accomplish, why, and for whom. Start with a high-level strategic vision and don’t stress the fine details or feature requirements. Instead, focus on how the roadmap fits with the strategic direction of your business.
This method of Design & Discovery helps you articulate and defend your product’s mission, the problem it solves, its target users, and its unique value proposition. This top-down approach to planning makes it easier to identify priorities, as well as elements to set aside for later product releases.
As a part of your Design & Discovery process, you’ll need to determine the product goals that will guide your initiatives for iterative development. Establishing product goals helps you transform your strategic vision into actionable deliverables. Again, keep these goals high-level, but linked to a key performance indicator (KPI). Here are a few examples of product goals:
By the end of Design & Discovery you will have answered the question “why are we building this product?” The reason could be an organizational need or a customer need, as long as it addresses a current gap in the market. Not only is a product roadmap essential for communicating the strategic purpose of your mobile app, it also helps you make informed decisions about how to enhance the user experience with every product release.
When you begin prioritizing the features for your product, you should start by answering these questions:
During the MVP planning process, it’s critical to limit the number of features you’re prioritizing and focus on only what’s necessary to take your app to market.
To identify the features that support your MVP app’s core functionality, it’s best to create a master wish-list of all the features you want to eventually offer. Then you can start organizing and cutting features to keep your MVP lean. A common best practice for determining the necessary features for a mobile app MVP is employing the MoSCoW matrix.
MoSCoW is a prioritization method that stands for “Must, Should, Could, and Won’t.” This method determines which features to complete first, which features will come later, and which features to cut entirely. Identifying the essential requirements for your product up front dramatically reduces scope creep. Often, as a project progresses, more features come into the light. If you can’t scale back the features in the “should” or “could” sections of your MoSCoW matrix, it could blow up the MVP. If too many features are unnecessarily deemed a priority, the timeline, the budget, and the ability to achieve business goals suffer. The MoSCoW method keeps the scope of your project on track.
User feedback is a gold mine of information that helps you pinpoint the areas where your product is doing well and what areas you need to improve. This information will help you decide to stay on the track you’re on, or pivot and change direction entirely. Examining user behavior and feedback will tell you more about what your users want and need from your product.
When your initial product is minimal and feature updates are iterative and driven by real user feedback, you’ll be able to adjust your product roadmap and respond properly to market demands. Developing a mobile app iteratively is the best way to identify user needs and build quickly. Building an MVP app will help minimize project resources and maximize efficiency, ultimately leading to lower costs, fewer risks, and higher overall quality.