5 tough lessons learned from building over 40 MVPs for startups

Published Apr 06, 2017Last updated Jun 06, 2017
5 tough lessons learned from building over 40 MVPs for startups

As as software developer and co-founder of tenrocket.com I’ve overseen the product development of more than 40 startups in the past two and a half years. We have worked with lots of great and passionate developers to build amazing things for startups, and not to mention falling in a couple holes along the way. My goal is to break down some of the biggest lessons we've learned from successfully building mvps for the last 3 years.

You’re probably in a position where a someone has approached you to build an MVP. Building out the first product for a new company, can be very rewarding but also fraught with danger. Founders can be emotional, irrational, all over the place, but also some of the most selfless, determined and amazing folks I’ve ever met. The five guidelines I share below aren’t a silver bullet, but they’re a great starting point for crafting a meaningful experience for you and your clients.

1. Set CLEAR Expectations

The needs around what a founder wants you build in a startup can change faster than a snake walking into a hamster disco. The requirements will change all the time, if you let them that is. You need to be the one to take charge and prevent changes. The way we prevent this at Tenrocket is to essentially lock requirements and allow no changes to scope once the project is approved to start. Any changes cost at this point.

2. Charge money for the scope meeting.

Setting a small barrier to entry will be extremely helpful. You’ll essentially weed out any startups that are not serious. About $500 bucks should be sufficient This does go against the grain in most of the freelance culture world. Though If you don’t have this, you’ll end up wasting your time on a lot of leads that go nowhere. Everyone has a startup idea, but unfortunately almost none of the people are serious about pursuing it, and even less have the capital to pay someone.

3. Be weary of meetings.

Founders love to talk, pontificate, and discuss strategy (I know, I am one). If you’re not careful you’ll get pulled into every strategy meeting, thought meeting, meaning of life meetings, etc… Which only wastes your time, and muddies the water of why your working with them in the first place, to build them an amazing product. We’re usually fine with occasional extra meeting, but we do our best to question the importance of those meetings and make sure we’re adding value.

4. Be careful with equity

Equity is a double edged sword. In the 3 years we’ve been working as MVP developers, we’ve only taken equity in 1 company. Usually the shake ain’t worth the salt. You have to ask yourself what you’re in this for, and go from there. Unfortunately most of us have to make a living, and don’t have unlimited cash so as developers we need to be wise about equity decisions.

Personally I prefer the approach of acting as an outside contractor in the early days. Basically, date before you marry. If the founders show promise, and still have hustle after 8–10 months after the build, then you could consider coming in as an equity partner. Unfortunately from what we’ve seen, about half of the startups people launch end up dropping them within the first 6–8 months.

about half of the startups we've seen people launch end up dropping them within the first 6–8 months.

5. Build the cake, but go light on the frosting.

The cool thing about working with startups is that you basically have free reign on what to build. The world is your oyster, and the founder is going to want you to add all the bells and whistles you can think of, as they are convinced it will help them in the long term. Really the opposite is true. Less is more.

Your goal is going to be focused on building an amazing cake, with some light frosting on top. Focus in on what matters. It’s better to build a smaller rock solid project that’s bug free, well-tested and looks great, rather than having a mediocre product with every feature you and the founder could want.

Some parting words

Building for startups can be, and is, super fun. You get to work on lots of cool ideas, work with great people, and possibly change the world. Though startups are squishy creatures without a lot of structure, you can help them by defining the initial foundation on which they build and grow their companies. This will help empower both of you to succeed, all while building some amazing products and companies along the way!

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