A few months ago I came across so many recommendations for The Lean Startup that I decided to read this book and see if it could offer a solo developer any guidance on building a successful app.
Let's pretend you come up with an idea for a mobile app, get excited about it, build it with a lot of cool features and then release this shiny new app to the App Stores. And then nothing happens... just a handful of people download it.
You can spend months or in some cases years on building that app and then find out that nobody cares about it.
Unfortunately this is the reality for many app developers, most of them have full-time jobs and build an app in their limited free time.
So how can you stop wasting your time on apps and features no one wants and actually build a successful app?
What usually happens is that you make (incorrect) assumptions as to what your customer wants and is willing to pay for.
That's where The Lean Startup comes in, it offers you a framework called the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop that helps you identify which features are important to the customer and which are not.
“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”
The first step is figuring out which problem you want to solve and create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that will help you start the process of learning as quickly as possible. It's the fastest way to get through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop with the least effort.
This means building a product that has only the core features, just enough to solve the problem. This is hard for many developers, we're always thinking that there are features that the customer absolutely must have, but that is not what the MVP is about. It's about figuring out what your customer cares about.
“As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.”
You should release an MVP to "early adopters", these are generally people that will accept that an app is not fully functional yet, but are eager to get their hands on it anyway. An MVP is not a launch of your product, no marketing or press should be involved.
When that MVP is released to the early adopters you can start measuring. This means that you must have analytics in place to be able to track the behavior of your customers.
You're probably already familiar with the concepts of Usability testing and A/B testing. These are some of the ways that are described in the book to measure what customers want.
Don't fall into the trap of vanity metrics. These are metrics that are not providing real value, a very simple example is: the number of downloads. On it's own, this number can fool you into thinking that it's the actual number of customers.
When you analyze the data you've collected, you will start to get the real picture of what is important to your customer.
You might even realize that your product is not at all interesting to them and move on to something else.
Or, you find out that you're on the right path and you have learned much more about your customers needs and behaviors and can use that as input for your next Build-Measure-Learn cycle.
It's not easy
To be honest, when I read through the book and thought about using this Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, it seemed like a lot of work, and I can sympathize with other developers who just want to code.
But, if you want your app to be successful, I do believe that you stand a better chance using the strategies in this book than just hoping your app will somehow just be exactly what your customer wants.
The Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop is just one part of the book, it also has many real life examples you can learn from. I definitely recommend it to every app developer.
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