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How to Make Your MVP Truly Cost-Effective Manual-first, then automation.

By Rahul Varshneya Edited by Heather Wilkerson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the best way for entrepreneurs to validate their assumptions about the viability of their business model. Taking the roadmapping approach and starting out by creating a MVP makes a lot of sense from the business point of view.

A product roadmap is a great tool for visualizing the direction the product would take over time and coming up with a strategic plan for the offering. Building the minimum viable product or the product prototype is crucial. While an MVP results in significant cost savings, building one also incurs a significant cost for the company.

So how do you ensure that your development strategy for building a MVP is truly cost-effective? If you are an entrepreneur looking to build your first mobile or web app, here is what you need to do.

Related: Uncover Market Opportunities With This Roadmapping Strategy

Adopt manual workflows for development of MVPs

The MVP aims at resolving the core problems that users face and offering them viable solutions for the same. While automation is a time-saving process, in the initial stages of business, a manual-based approach is what is bound to work best.

Automation of the workflows requires a lot of resources. Involvement of designers and app developers requires a greater amount of time as well as money. A manual-first strategy for MVP solves this issue and makes the MVP really cost-effective.

What is a manual-first MVP?

The manual-first MVP, also called the Wizard of Oz MVP, relies on your MVP appearing to have all the functionalities of a fully-featured product while in reality, your team is present behind the scenes, pulling on the strings manually.

This technique is absolute gold for a service based startup. The MVP consists of a functioning app prototype designed using prototyping tools for use at the client end. At the backend, the service requests are completed manually. After the success of MVP, the actions physically performed can be emulated for coding and automation before the final product is ready for use.

The biggest advantage of going manual-first is that you don't need to lines and lines of code to be written before realizing the need to change direction. Pivoting is easy when the workflows are manual but once automation steps in, you have already invested a lot of resources, and that straps you of the flexibility that is much needed in the early stages of your startup.

Related: How to Make an App When You Can't Code (a Step-by-Step Guide)

Learn from other success stories.

A number of startups have successfully used a manual-based approach for MVP development. Let's take a look at some of the success stories.

  1. Groupon: Groupon founder Andrew Mason -- after having launched his not so successful startup "The Point" without testing a MVP -- went for a manual-first strategy when it came to building Groupon. The company started with a simple WordPress site where he posted deals on a daily basis. After the orders started coming in, he generated PDFs manually and sent out emails containing the vouchers and coupons to the customers from his personal email during the MVP stage. Everything was done manually with the help of third-party resources. It was only after the product idea was validated and there was a genuine need for Groupon felt in the market that automation stepped in and took over the manual aspect of the business.

  2. Instacart: The popular grocery delivery app started out as an iOS-only MVP that happened to be manual-first. The app code was robust and had the acceptable level of functionality at the time of launch but behind the scenes, there was simply no automation. The orders that came in were manually handled as the system pushed them through and the team including the founders themselves went out to shop and deliver the orders. After meeting initial success and validation of the app idea, automation was implemented and the Instacart app then went on to incorporate groundbreaking innovations. Manual approach gave the company the speed and flexibility that was much needed in the initial stage.

  3. Zappos: After realizing the need for shoes being made available to shop online, Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn went online and posted pictures of shoes after having tie-ups with the manufacturers on Zappos (then called Shoesite). Once the orders came in, he would buy the pair of shoes from the physical location and deliver them to the clients. It was only after validation of the idea that they grew in scale and automation really kicked in. The manual-based approach led the founder to show that the product actually worked, people out there were really interested, were ready to spend, and a problem existed for Zappos to solve and be successful.

Related: How I Built a Company the Lean Way -- by Using the Scientific Method

The no-automation strategy during the MVP stage involves having no technology or algorithms running behind the scenes. The front-end product at the client's end is functional, comprising of landing pages or mobile apps that have the option of signing up for the actual product or email lists.

Manual-first is the fastest and the most cost-effective way of reaching product/market fit. It lets you focus on solving the actual problem customers face and leaves out the scope for implementation of technology in the future as the product offering gets validated by the customers.

Rahul Varshneya

Co-founder at Arkenea

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea, an award-winning web and mobile app development agency.

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