A guide for launching successful MVPs quickly

The first launch of Instagram was a check-in app for travellers (the full story). They launched quickly and a bunch of beta users used their product. Along the way, they discovered that people loved to communicate using photos. After some time they re-launched their product with just the photo sharing feature (here is the first post). It took them at least 8 months to find what users wanted. By launching fast you have more chances to succeed.

The idea of an MVP is to understand whether your product is meeting users’ needs. How to achieve this? The Essential Startup Advice says — launch now. My 13 years of experience working with startups also shows that founders who spent over 6 months to launch their MVP have failed. By contrast, every one who launched — and moved — fast for the first few months is very successful today.

By launching your product fast you can validate your assumptions and better understand customer problems and the only way to do this is to launch something. You should be uncomfortable launching and your product might feel mediocre, but you should put something into your user hands as quickly as possible. Let’s learn how.

Build few essential features

It might be tempting to build a lot of features to please your users, but most times this is the wrong decision. By limiting your product to a few features you can launch faster. At pre-MVP stage you don’t have a product, just hypothesis. Before building more you need to verify them.

Why building a lot of features is a bad idea:

  • it will delay your launch
  • you’ll spend time building something which does not solve users pain
  • you’ll burn more cash than you should

The 90/10 solution

A piece of advice by Paul Buchheit, creator of gmail, is to look for the “90/10 solution”. Always look to accomplish 90% of what you want only with 10% of work/effort/time. Try hard to find that solution. Work closely with your engineering team and tell them about this rule — the solution is there. The two most common use cases where this rule applies are:

  • Pricing. Instead of building custom pricing solution, you can just use Stripe components
  • Registration. There are many tools (e.x. Firebase, Supabase) and starters which come with all you need.

If you apply this 90/10 solution to everything you do at your startup — you can launch you product with 90% of features in 10% of time. 3 months ⇒ 2 weeks.

Keep reducing MVP scope

Prior to building an MVP you should have a product plan. This product plan already includes a few features you want to launch with. You might want to just hire a team and let them build the product. The team will discover a lot of details and build a much more complex product than you need. Get your hands dirty and work with them every day to reduce complexity and find 90/10 solutions. Stay involved and work closely with your team.

Engineers can help you find quick solutions to your problems. You should be transparent that MVP is a not the best phase for perfect solutions, but instead we all just need to focus on getting things done. As you get more users there will be time to improve the quality of the solution. On launch day Instagram was crashing every minute, but that didn’t stop anyone from using it.

A product team and founders can help find no-code or low-code solutions and use them to build things. They can keep simplifying the product and reducing the number of features. They can use automation tools to connect different parts of application. They could keep a lot of things to be done manually.

We’ve seen some of the best teams launch apps in weeks. You can not launch every product in a week, but you need to keep reducing scope to get as close as possible.

Talk to your customers and iterate

If you’re ashamed of your product — you launched at the right time. You don’t have a perfect or even good product yet. It’s time to start talking to the users and support them in things they’re trying to achieve with your product. Be patient and helpful. Learning from the users will bring you a lot of insights.

Remember Instagram’s story? They found users like to share experiences using photos and launched a new product. Launching a new product might be a radical idea, but iterating on the product based on users feedback is the best thing you can do.

Talk to your users, find their pains, help them to solve their pains — just keep iterating on this. Along the way you’ll discover a lot of things you didn’t know when you started and that will make your product work for users. It takes time to build the perfect product.

Stop telling yourself:

“I am not ready.”

“We’re improving our onboarding.”

“We still have too many bugs”

“I need to build few more features to make sure the product is completed”

These are all excuses which increase your chances of failure. Launch now.

Your plan for launching quickly is this:

  1. Choose a few features to build for the MVP
  2. Apply 90/10 solutions to everything you do
  3. Keep reducing MVP scope every week
  4. Once launched, talk to your users and iterate

Written by Andrew Orsich. Thanks to John McTavish, Artem Gorodetsky, Roman Gritsak and Anna Reutovich for reading drafts of this.