Fishburners Boot Camp: Week One

The 3 Things You Need to Know Before Building Your MVP

It’s often assumed founders need to have a tech background in order to start and grow a startup. But this is not always the case.

After helping hundreds of non tech founders over the years, Fishburners tech expert Dan Zwolenski found himself giving the same advice over and over again.

He decided to break this advice down into a blog post for the Fishburners community and we’ve share some of the key takeaways with you here.

If you’re not technical and looking to take your idea to the next stage this post is a must read.

Let’s get into it.

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1. Don't start with the tech

This first piece of advice might be quite surprising: don’t start with the tech.

Yes, you read that correctly. 

A lot of people who put the tech first end up spending too much time and money without getting clear on three things:

  1. What their customers actually wants
  2. What their customers can afford
  3. Understanding if their customers already have something good enough


Life’s too short to build stuff no one uses or really wants.

Before you do anything else, check out the competition. As a developer I get a couple of people a week telling me they have a great idea for an app. 

What’s more, they want me to build it for them, for free, because it will make us millions. 

The first thing I do when I hear this, is type in the exact term they used to describe what they want built into google or the app store and then show them the list of options (usually dozens). 

The questions I then ask are:

1. What have you got that these companies don’t?
2. What else is out there and what are they doing right or wrong? 
3. How much are they charging, can you afford to charge less (why?) or why would people use you over them?

Be honest. Check your reasoning with someone who will be even more honest. Preferably brutally honest.

That brings me to my next point. 

2. Do your research

I can’t stress this enough. Search google, check out the app stores, ask questions on industry forums, talk to potential customers, get as much critical feedback before you build anything.

It helps if you can find ways to get customers to ‘buy into the idea’ before you invest a lot in development.

There’s a lot of ways to do this from simple surveys to running a short advertising drive to push people to a ‘coming soon’ landing page where they can sign up to be notified about the release. 

If no one is interested you need to tweak your idea or your messaging until they are.

As a techie, I’ve been guilty of not doing a lot of this and had to learn the hard way. 

Being around a startup community like Fishburners is invaluable for getting this kind of insight and feedback though. 

You might also want to check out a book, Running Lean by Ash Maurya – it’s full of really useful, practical advice for this is and definitely worth grabbing a copy and reading throug

3. Build the smallest thing you can sell.

Assuming you’ve sorted your business model out and you have a product with a real market, you can then look at your tech.

Your first goal is to build the simplest smallest thing possible – usually called a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). 

What this is, is up to you, but the smaller and simpler the better. 

The less you can build the easier it is to adapt to new information and change and you want to take advantage of that.

Ask yourself what’s the smallest incarnation of your system or product that someone would pay for? Then, start by building only that.

A lot of people use the question “do my users need this feature?” to work out their MVP. 

It’s a good place to start, but you nearly always end up with a list longer than it should be. 

You don’t want to solve all your users’ needs, just the most important need in the simplest way.

A good idea is to take your first list and go through everything on it and ask the following question:

“If I don’t include this will my customers still sign up and pay me?”

Usually you end up with a much smaller list when you cull using that question. 

Everything may be needed to make their life better, but what you are trying to work out is what’s the smallest thing they would pay for right now.

Keep culling and refining until you get really clear on what’s needed for your MVP.

A great outcome is an MVP that you can get up and running in less than a month. Anything over three months would raise alarm bells (unless it has really special needs like hardware or something never really done before).

So there you have it, now you know the three things to get clear on before you build your MVP.

To recap: don’t start with the tech, do your research and look to build the smallest thing you can sell. 

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