There’s no doubt that in order to minimize early-stage startup risk, the first version of an app should be a solution that tests the riskiest assumptions and collects the maximum amount of validated learning with the least effort. The fact is, applying this startup launch mindset is easier said than done.
Most of the time, a one-page app development plan with a few key features and a month of estimated development turns into a year project with ten times the cost. The worst part is that three out of four startups fail before launch. Delays and unexpected expenses are two reasons why.
Have you ever committed yourself to complete a task or project just because it was too late to stop even though you knew you will not accomplish your goals? This situation is described as involving an escalation of commitment and it is one of the reasons many startup founders quit as soon as they take their product to market and quickly learn that major changes are needed. In this common scenario, entrepreneurs are quick to lose interest in their startups due to delays and extra required costs and efforts.
While there is no right or wrong answer to how your first app version should look and work, there are a few guiding principles that will help you focus on building the solution that will allow you to collect the maximum validated learning with the least effort. Here are two.
1. It Must Solve The Problem
It’s not a product until it solves a problem and you may only need one feature to solve this problem. To this, one can argue that while it may be true, a startup cannot compete with existing solutions with just a feature or two. However, is competitiveness the goal at this point?
Focusing on launching a competitive solution in the first version assumes that the product is validated and users of competing solutions are lined up to switch to it. More realistically, the goal of the first version is to test if what we want to compete on is as valid as we expected, not a guaranteed competitive solution.
This doesn’t mean that the first version should be buggy and look bad. Depending on the market and pre-launch validation tests, you can start with one or two features done right. The point is, if customers don’t find compelling value in the core of the solution, they will probably not care to switch to it with good to have features.
2. It Doesn’t Have To Be Automated
The innovators are the first people who will try your solution even if it is not fully functional or intuitive. As long as the first version of the product gets customers’ job done and allows you to test the riskiest assumptions, it does not have to be fully automated. This means that in addition to app features, the founders can take the role of key parts of the solution that may require a lot of time and money to create.
To use an example, Tinfoil Security is a platform that scans websites for vulnerabilities. The first version of the platform allowed users to submit their websites while the founders manually created and emailed the security reports. This approach accelerated execution, reduced the development cost of the first version and successfully tested the riskiest assumptions while validating key hypotheses.
It can be tempting to overbuild the first version when all the signs point to the envisioned solution. The truth is, there are many ideas that looked great on paper but failed as startups. Your first app version is how you can de-risk your startup and build bigger on stronger foundations.
This post was first posted on Forbes.