The internet makes everything easier, faster and cheaper. People are using mobile devices to access their data and services on the go. At the same time, enterprises are no longer willing to pay large licensing fees and handle maintenance for on-site applications. Cloud platforms are thriving and with cloud infrastructure being cheap and widely available, Software as a Service is becoming an increasingly more attractive and lucrative business model.

Written by:
Vitaly Plitchenko,
Market Research Specialist

Contents

Introduction

What is an MVP?

MVP From a Business Standpoint

MVP From a Technical Standpoint

How to Cut Corners

Conclusion

 

Introduction

In recent years, IT startups have been booming not only in the USA, but all over the world. Entrepreneurs with ideas are racing to get them on the market as quickly as possible. This is where the practice of using an MVP comes in. MVPs help small startups to get their ideas out there as quickly as possible, validate those ideas and get feedback in order to keep developing in the right direction.

MVPs are't exclusively used by startups, though. This technique is employed by companies of all sizes across all industries that are focused on creating and launching products. Building the right MVP is an art in and of itself. Debates about what should be considered an MVP and how an MVP should be built are frequent.

This is also a hot topic among entrepreneurs and developers who decided to venture into SaaS. Despite all the confusion, however, MVPs for SaaS projects is an ideal approach, and is widely used in the current market.

At Apriorit, we provide development services and have an extensive experience of working with SaaS MVPs. We've created many MVPs for our clients and now we want to share our experiences with you. In this article we will cover the basics of creating an MVP for a SaaS startup and will try to give you a look from both a business perspective and from our own technical perspective (along with some tips).

 

What is an MVP?

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a way to bring your idea to market and see how it works with your own eyes – in other words, to test it. With an MVP, you can see how consumers react to your idea and whether it’s possible to build your business around it.

Despite the simple concept, however there's no universal agreement on what constitutes an MVP, especially in the SaaS world. Some people think that prototypes and mock-ups can be considered MVPs if they're able to attract investors or bring in leads. That's certainly one way to validate an idea in the wild, but there are no guarantees that the market will give your idea the same positive feedback that investors do. Other people argue that the very term should be changed when it comes to the SaaS model, suggesting Minimum Valuable Product or Minimum Sellable Product as alternatives. The more traditional understanding of an MVP is as a software product that's put into the hands of real customers in order to gather feedback.

In order to define what an MVP is and to make sure that we're on the same page, let’s take the term apart. Here's what each word in the acronym means:

Minimum – this does't necessarily mean small in scope, but rather that the product should be built as quickly and cheaply as possible. You should keep spending resources only up to the point when you get something viable, and you want to spend as little as possible.

Viable – in the context of an MVP, viable means marketable. An MVP should meet existing needs or solve existing problems; in other words, there should be a demand for the product. A product needs to be desirable enough so that customers are ready to pay for it. This is beautifully illustrated in a popular graphic I like:

Develop SaaS MVP

Product – this word is straightforward; you need to produce something sellable, around which you can build your business and make money.

From this we can gather that an MVP is a product that's developed with as little investment as possible, yet is able to bring enough value to the table to make customers want to pay for it. Therefore, the key features of an MVP are that it's quick, cheap and capable of attracting paying customers.

 

MVP From a Business Standpoint

What constitutes an MVP from a business standpoint and how much it costs to build a SaaS MVP heavily depends on the idea in question and the specific vision of an entrepreneur. However, there are several practical tips that will be useful for any MVP project:

  • Don't wait too long

A major mistake with MVP development is waiting for the right time, or spending too much time polishing and adding features. It would be a mistake to treat an MVP as the real full-blown product launch. You should instead threat it as version 0. Plan for a short development cycle and take all the shortcuts available in order to validate your idea with minimum investment on your part.

  • Take your scope and cut it in half

Consider what the minimum necessary requirements are to successfully implement the core idea of your product. Once you have a scope ready, look at it again and think about how you can reduce it even more. An MVP should be very focused and distilled.

  • Gather feedback

An MVP is only the beginning of product development, especially when it comes to such a dynamic market as the SaaS  market, where your competition will be constantly growing and upgrading. To develop your business successfully, you'll need to gather feedback from users and take their wishes into account. Such feedback should come from a variety of sources, such as polls and questionnaires, feedback forms, and opinions expressed by users on social networks and other sites, as well as usage statistics.

  • The worst obstacle is indifference

The perfect launch for an MVP is when your customers are singing your praises and subscribing to your services. But this is rarely the case. Even If your MVP gathers negative feedback, it means that people care about the idea. They want a product based on this idea and they want it made a certain way. Such feedback is the perfect indicator of where to move next and how to grow your business. A much worse situation arises when you get no feedback at all. No feedback means that customers don’t really care for your idea and it went unnoticed. It may be that you failed to bring enough value with your product, but more often than not it’s a sign for you to cut your losses and move on to the next project.

 

MVPs From a Technical Standpoint

Building a SaaS MVP is easier than ever from the technical side of things. There are many techniques and tools and a lot of knowledge out there, both paid and free, as well as companies like Apriorit, that can develop an MVP for you if needed. However, the accessibility of the SaaS model for business owners doesn't necessarily mean that every SaaS project will turn out a success. Success depends not only on the quality of your idea and the set of features you provide, but also on the technical decisions you make.

Of course, there are some must-have technical components that are important for any SaaS MVP. I'm not going to focus on obvious details like user management or subscription subsystems, but I'd like to draw your attention to several important things that are sometimes missed.

The first thing I’d like to stress, which has been proven by multiple projects of Apriorit's, is that you should decide on an architecture early on, design it and use the “final” architecture even in your MVP. Architecture reworks are the most painful and time-consuming.

As for the other must-have components, I'll would mention the following three things:

  • Protection

Security in the cloud is a hot topic and the first thing you need to do when building a cloud solution is to make sure that your customers feel secure using it. If your system is gathering and processing personal data, you need to make sure that only the minimal required amount is collected and that it's thoroughly protected. Data protection for SaaS solutions should respond to both external and internal risks: data should be protected from unauthorized access from the outside and should guarantee that users won’t be able to access the data of other users, either intentionally or unintentionally. Techniques to use here are multi-factor authentication, encryption, separate databases for each user, and so on.

  • Scalability

Your SaaS platform needs to be designed from the ground up to accommodate the right number of users. SaaS systems are created to service a huge number of people and this should be reflected in the architecture even at the MVP stage. If your software instance is designed to handle a certain number of users, then you need to plan for when this number is exceeded. A solution to this problem, such as using multiple instances of software when capacity is exceeded, should be built into the foundation of your architecture, making your SaaS project inherently scalable. By thinking about scalability at the MVP stage, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches later on.

  • Performance

Users need to feel comfortable using your SaaS solution. Features and visual design are very important factors, but when it comes to an MVP they're not critical and sometimes can even be detrimental. Many users will be able to overlook GUI flaws and the absence of basic features if the project is focused and answers their needs. However, one thing that people will not be able to overlook is performance. You need to create a fast and responsive system, capable of reacting to user actions in a psychologically comfortable 300 milliseconds or less. In some cases, heavy optimization will be required, but this is one area, where you shouldn’t cut corners, even for an MVP.

 

How to Cut Corners

MVP development needs to be fast and cheap, but this is often very hard to achieve. Ambitious ideas mix poorly with limited budgets and as a result many startups struggle to put even a minimum viable product together.

Here are some methods to consider when trying to make SaaS MVP development easier, quicker, and more affordable:

  • Use languages for fast prototyping

Programming languages such as Ruby, PHP, and Python allow for very fast development and are widely used to create quick prototypes. The main disadvantage to creating solutions with these languages is that they don’t scale very well and it may be impossible to get the necessary performance out of them. More complex languages and commercial frameworks, such as ASP.NET for example, will give you better control and better performance on high loads, but require much more time and experience to work with. If you choose to deliver your SaaS MVP to the market faster with fast prototyping languages, be ready to spend additional resources later on to scale your solution. Using tools like ASP.NET can take more time and resources at the MVP stage, but when applied by experienced developers it can save resources during the next development stages.

  • Use Open Source

Open source is a double-edged sword when it comes to SaaS startup MVP development. Open source software can be a very cheap and effective way to implement features, but this approach has its own set of limitations. The main downsides to open source are lack of documentation, high risk of multiple unknown bugs, and the fact that backwards compatibility and support for older versions is not guaranteed. As a result, open source solutions may even prove more expensive than commercial solutions if you don’t have enough experience working them. However if a developer knows all the ins and outs of the software, it can be a great money-saver at the beginning of the project. After your product moves past the MVP stage, it may be wise to replace open source bits with commercial products.

  • Use available solutions

There's no need to write common modules and features yourself. Things such as payment processing, usage statistics, and support chat can be resource-consuming to create from scratch. There are a lot of solutions that are already available for a very moderate price. Integrating as many of them as you can into your MVP will help you save time, money and effort that can be focused on implementing your own unique ideas.

  • Use free databases

Commercial databases are reliable, well-supported and documented and can accommodate a large number of users. It's paramount to use a commercial database when creating an application designed for millions of clients. However, when you make an MVP for a startup, chances are you won't have that much data at the first stages. If you aren't expecting a huge influx of users on your first day, you can use free databases such as MySQL. When your number of customers grows to the point where a free database isn't sufficient, you'll be able to migrate to something commercial, such as MS SQL or Oracle, but note that this migration will inevitably incur additional costs.

  • Reasonable load testing

Load testing is designed to assess how the system will behave under peak loads and extreme conditions. Even if you plan to accommodate millions of users in the long run, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get this many customers initially. When you develop a SaaS MVP, you should gauge the potential number of customers you'll be able to get immediately and test for that number. Load testing is the most expensive type of testing, and pushing these tests back to when you actually need the capacity is a good way to cut some costs if you're operating under a tight budget.

 

Conclusion

An MVP is a great way to start your SaaS project. SaaS in particular is a very rapidly growing market with a lot of potential still left untapped. It's easy to strike gold with the right idea, but the risk is also high due to a high level of competition.

At Apriorit, we have a lot of experience with SaaS projects and SaaS is still one of our strongest suits going into the future. This post gave you some technical insights into building a SaaS MVP, but keep in mind that each project is unique and has to be researched in detail.

 

Read also: SaaS Platform Development Team (for CRM Solution)

 

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