Startups begin with a great idea. Typically, founders believe their new idea will change the market and provide a new value to customers. Taking the time to build a perfected product seems like a sensible goal, but really it is smarter and more cost-effective to build an MVP first. A minimum viable product is the most basic iteration of an idea, while still containing the core functionalities that are central to its value to others.
An MVP will help you gauge interest in your concept, observe how users interact with your product, get clarity on what you should prioritize in subsequent iterations and probably even gather insights for marketing your launch. Taking the MVP route will help you invest money more efficiently in hiring and other resources and ultimately launch a better product. Many of the tech community’s most successful companies, from Dropbox to Spotify, used MVPs to test their core ideas, and many use the principle to test new features to this day. We have assembled the most important categories for building an MVP, and have curated a list of our favorite tools for each.
Wireframing & Prototypes
Wireframes and prototypes represent the usable approximations of a completed MVP. The easier they are to build, organize, and rework, the greater value they serve in helping startups accomplish their intended purpose and troubleshoot problems. Here are some tools that serve the objective of building a useful MVP.
Life’s too short for bad software!
“Balsamiq is great for wireframing quick, low-fidelity mockups.” – Diana Murakhovskaya, Co-Founder of Monarq
Balsamiq Mockups will allow you to build rapid, effective, and fun wireframes for your MVP. Using a digital whiteboard design, Balsamiq produces quick, simple sketch-like designs so that your team is quickly able to view and create new iterations. Their simple interface and application encourages quick turnaround on mockups so that teams can have more time for discussion and coding. With revision history and branching capabilities, Balsamiq presents an easy, organized solution for wireframing.
Price: Single-User License, $89.
The Full-Stack UX Design Platform
“I could go high fidelity with UXPin, and do that just as fast as Balsamiq. It enabled my conversations and thinking on design to become much deeper.” – Latif Nanji, Co-Founder and CEO of Roadmunk
UXPin allows for more detailed prototyping and wireframing. Its platform allows teams to design powerful interfaces, test UX across platforms, and co-design on the same project at once. Even clients can be brought into the design process via the platform, without needing to get an account. With integrations for Slack, Sketch, and Photoshop, UXPin saves design teams time and allows remote teams to collaborate on an MVP.
Price: Prototyping for 1-3 users, $29 per user per month.
The #1 Online Wireframing & Prototyping Tool
Claiming to be a giant in the space, Fluid UI has the star power to back it up. Product design teams at Dell, Google, Samsung, and Salesforce, have all used Fluid UI to collaborate on projects. Their desktop-based platform provides exponential capability, and allows you to test on mobile, brainstorm via in-application video hangouts, comments, and chat, and upload existing designs. A real-time wireframing function makes Fluid UI a great choice for advanced teams ready to build fast, yet functional MVPs.
Price: There are solo, pro, and team plans for $99, $229, and $499 a year, respectively.
User-Testing and Surveys
One of the key purposes MVPs serve is in helping to get a product into users’ hands as fast as possible. No matter how good an idea is in theory, only physical users can prove its utility in practice. These tools help collect and sort user feedback in the MVP stage.
SurveyMonkey, Typeform, Gleam.io, and Google Forms are great ways to capture user information and feedback in a classic survey or email capture. SurveyMonkey is well-known, while Typeform presents itself as a “human” alternative that interacts with your users in a personable manner. SurveyMonkey, Typeform, and Gleam.io offer basic plans with options to pay for more features, while Google Forms are always free and already in the G Suite.
For user testing and to learn about the actual UI and experience of your users, there are applications that offer many different kinds of information. Usability Hub presents a suite of tests (navigation, five second, click, question, and preference). This tool is best suited toward design questions you may have, as well as picking the best layout of your website. Lookback offers moderated testing and response on a device anywhere in the world. Perfect for testing your MVP at a distance, Lookback can give you simple, but powerful user data and help you record UX in person, keeping all your feedback in one place. FullStoryoffers instant playback of user interaction, with fast and intuitive page insights and video recordings of your users as they play with your prototype. Like a DVR, Co-Founder and CEO of Inkshares, Jeremy Thomas says:
“FullStory has been an amazing tool to find usability issues and help troubleshoot customer support problems–we can see exactly what our users see.”
Turnkey sites are a great option for MVPs that are not web-based. For companies that just need a landing page to describe their product, many tools offer readymade options to cut the time spent fussing over a website.
Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are website builders that create expertly-designed sites for companies. Wix and Weebly offer free starter plans, while Squarespace does not, but their prices are comparable for advanced business websites. Stacklist founders find that Squarespace produces the most beautiful outcomes of the three, but many note that once you require higher content functionalities you will have to switch platforms. The advantage of paying to use website builders like these is that no coding is required, and drag-and-drop, template, and photo gallery features make it easy for anyone (especially the non-technical) to build a great site.
For people with some web design skills, Joomla and Drupal are free, open-source options for your CMS. It will take more effort on your part to get your site running, but if your team is up for it, in the long-run it will be more cost-effective and provide a more unique website.
Finally, The Mexpert is a paid drag-and-drop website design builder that pulls from Joomla templates and WordPress themes to make creating your site easy. Their page builder Quix is fast and efficient at managing responsive designs and offering options for customization at every turn. They provide support and a money-back guarantee, presenting a medium ground between these two groups of options.
Mobile platforms continue to be a hotbed of innovation, just as the business opportunities in mobile continue to draw the focus of startups and developers. continues to. If your project is strictly within the smartphone space, here are some mobile-friendly tools.
Prototypes that feel real
“Proto.io allows us to create clickable versions of mockups without having to code it up.” – Karthik Sridharan, Co-Founder of Kinnek
Proto.io is the perfect solution for teams not ready to get into tech specs yet. Their high-fidelity prototypes for mobile apps promise testability on real devices and user experiences that feel real. Without having to write a single line of code, teams can test the flow and animations of their design, and receive video feedback from hand-selected users. With integrations for additional user testing, Proto.io is a dynamic MVP platform.
Price: On an annual billing cycle, a freelancer plan is $24/month and $40/month for startups.
Make Your Impression Online
Strikingly promises a slick, but simple design interface, and zero coding skills required. Their collection of features, from a domain name register to add-ins for e-commerce, social feeds, and sign-up forms make it easy to build a company website in 30 minutes. In addition to 24/7 support and site analytics, Strikingly is an easy solution for building a mobile-friendly web platform, making it a one-stop shop for the first iteration of your website.
Price: Free! With options to pay for upgraded features.
Simple design, prototyping, and collaboration.
“We just started using an InVision competitor called Marvel, for mobile and web prototyping. So far, it’s really nice. It’s a great way to collaborate on work coming from design.” – Derek Skaletsky, Founder & CEO of Knowtify
Marvel App promises an easy-to-use interface to build prototypes across devices. With the option to build for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Android, Marvel is a great option for niche ideas. Additionally, its free plan for 1 user working on up to 2 projects is a cost-cutting alternative to other tools, especially in a company’s early stages. Marvel’s integrations Google Drive, Dropbox, and other cloud storage mean designs can easily be uploaded, and collaboration function allows for real-time feedback from both clients and colleagues. Promising to be the prototyping tool for the mobile generation, Marvel is a simple interface to get your mobile MVP rolling.
Price: Free! With options to pay for larger plans.
While getting an MVP into the hands of your first users is the most important step in working toward a successful tech product, it’s still important to be thinking about design – both in terms of how your final product will reflect the brand, as well as how design will affect the overall UX of the MVP. These tools help startups easily design and select logos, color schemes, and layouts to visually represent their company.
Logo Design Made Simple
Tailor Brands promises that its algorithm can produce a unique, attention-grabbing logo for your business in 20 minutes or less. Their logo generator will attempt to understand your company name and vision, and create a brand new logo for you on the spot. Allowing you to preview before you pay, and pay on varying schedules for their small-business focused services, Tailor Brands represents the best in logo creation at a fraction of agency prices. With over 20 million designs to date, your startup can be assured by their promise of affordable and professional design, fast.
Price: $2.99/month for a dynamic logo and $10.99/month for a premium plan.
Design Better. Faster. Together.
“We really liked using InVision! Before InVision we would type out really long powerpoints and screenshot and comment on things. InVision made it easy to see things in the dimensions of the web page and what our site would look like. It’s great for seeing a semifinal product.” – Anne Gottschall, Co-Founder and CEO of Revelr
InVision takes the friction out of the design process. Offering expert collaboration methods, anyone on your team can comment and check the project management portal to design quick mockups without the need to code at every stage. Their features allow you to add animations, gestures, and transitions over existing screens, making for truly interactive and functional prototypes. Perhaps InVision’s most impressive function, the tool’s presentation options allow designers to launch meetings, give guided tours, and present mockups to stakeholders in the later stages of MVP design.
Price: Free for one prototype.
The super fast color schemes generator!
Coolors.co is a fast and simple option for creating your company’s color palette. Allowing you to pick a base color or even draw from one of your existing images, it will create a complementary palette of shades that are ready to go every time. This tools lets you even adjust and edit colors with hue, temperature, and brightness adjustment tools, and stores your saved schemes in a cloud for you to access anywhere. Available for download in PNG, PDF, and SVG formats, or for copy in permanent URLs, Coolors.co’s color solutions are perfect for emerging startups.
Price: Coolors + Skillshare for 3 months, free.
Though not singular to the prototyping process, organization and firm schedules can keep startups on track from MVP to launch. Tools like Smartsheet, Trello, and JIRA are great administrative tools for encouraging project completion. JIRA is loved by software teams and developers while Smartsheet is suited for high-level prioritizing. Finally, if you would like a visual comparison of some more of these tools, check out our Trello vs. Asana vs. Basecamp Infographic.
Depending on both size of the team and technical skills of those involved in your startup project, you will probably need to look outside your company for technical freelancers. Well-known sites like LinkedIn and AngelListare industry leaders for both job search and job posting.
Specifically targeted toward freelance and project-based work, Upwork and Toptal present excellent alternatives. Stacklist founders love Upwork because it allows them to expand the diversity of their teams easily, and usually find great engineering and technical talent. Many of them feel that it is the best in its category for contracting small jobs and Upwork is great for employees too, staying with them throughout projects and ensuring proper payment. Toptal has also been reviewed by Stacklist, and while it does present companies with the top 3% of freelance talent, many find it too expensive an option for their small-scale.
For non-technical founders and teams in need of quick, but intense web development training, we’ve put together a list of some of the most well-known and credible tech bootcamps.
General Assembly: A full-time, 12 week web development immersive course costs $14,950. However, they offer a number of online and part-time options across several fields, as well, and even have a free “Learn to Code” course online.
Dev Bootcamp: For an 18 week program, tuition is $13,950 in New York City and San Francisco, with a slight discount in Austin, Chicago, San Diego, and Seattle.
App Academy: App Academy is a merit-based coding bootcamp, so upon admission some may qualify for an upfront $5,000 deposit for the 12 immersive program, upon which the rest of the $17,000-$19,000 tuition will be paid for from the graduate’s salary, given that they receive a job offer within one year of graduation, a program guarantee.
DESIGNATION: The Chicago-based bootcamp charges $15,800 for an 18 week UX/UI design program.
Bloc: Bloc offers a multitude of tech-minded tracks and payment options, but an upfront payment plan for the software developer track will cost $19,500.
Thinkful: For their full-time web development program to be completed in 5 months, Thinkful charges $14,000.
The Flatiron School: The Flatiron School offers job-guaranteed immersive, on-campus learning in New York for $15,000.
Tradecraft: Tradecraft offers a 12-week San Francisco-based curriculum for $14,000.
For the tools we love but which do not have a place within our other categories, here are the odds and ends of MVP-building tools.
Grow your list, Engage your sign ups, Integrate your data
Waitlisted is a great tool for creating early buzz for your product. While still in the MVP and beta-testing stages, you can grow a healthy audience of early adopters and keep them engaged by gamifying your waitlist. This tool adds a waitlist function to your site, allows your fans to check their status on the waitlist, moving up based on based on their referrals to others, and amplifies your sign-ups, creating an effective boost to your early-stage reach.
The best apps. Better together.
“Zapier is going to replace software developers someday. It’s pretty wild.” – Ryan Nash, VP of Technology at Gust
Zapier is an app-linking tool that makes life simpler. Connecting over 750 apps, including MailChimp and Asana, and automating the triggers that you set up, “zaps” complete full actions and save you time for more creative work. Their easy-to-use platform makes it easy for anyone to establish workflows, and a free basic plan mean that any size startup can experiment with Zapier’s integrations and eliminate the need to write more code.
Price: Free for personal use, with options to upgrade for teams.
Viral Marketing Tool for Email Sign Ups
In the five minutes it will take you to create a reward for sign ups and copy and paste the Untorch widget on your new company’s site, Untorch will set a sign ups plan into motion that will exponentially expand your audience engagement. This one tool will create your email capture form, provide unique shareable URLs for your sign ups, share referral information with you, and even send follow-up emails to notify users that their referral link was used. Untorch takes viral email marketing to the next level by automating its key functions, and running the app while you focus on building your final product.
If you are interested in the prototyping stage of tech companies, join us on July 13th with the founders of x.ai, Andela, Nanit, and Troops for drinks, networking, and a panel discussion on “Building an MVP in NYC.”