I'm the founder and CEO of Indiez, and over the last few years, I've spoken to hundreds of founders from all over the world who reached out to us after using Upwork to build a basic prototype. And I love those founders. They are ruthless. They want to get their product out there as quickly as possible, and save money all the while. Upwork is a great way to test the waters for only a couple hundred dollars, and I commend them for choosing it.
This is actually the typical route for most entrepreneurs and small businesses. And for the most part, hiring dev workers via marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com to build introductory products works out just fine. Business is booming for them, in fact. Last month I hung out with Upwork CEO Stephan Kasriel at a conference in New York, and he confirmed my bias toward the gig economy -- it truly is the future of work. So there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing dev work for your MVP.
But have you put much thought into what comes next?
Before we get into that, I’m going to run through a few steps you hopefully took before building the MVP. Then, if you’ve got the proper foundation, we’ll look at where to go from there.
Did you validate your idea?
Before you built your MVP, I hope you validated it. To understand why validation is so critical, we have to look at human nature. You are, without a doubt, bias toward yourself. To you, it’s a billion dollar idea that’s impervious to failure. But if this were the case, why do 90% of startups fail?
No, you need external validation. Failure to do this could mean wasted time and money. Here are a few simple and cheap ways to gauge whether your idea is worth pursuing:
Run some Facebook ads
Allocate a budget toward Facebook ads -- either boosted or promoted posts -- to gauge interest. This is an extremely straightforward way to determine if the idea will resonate, and can be measured by clicks alone.
The best part is you can do this before you even have a website or app. Just create a free landing page with HubSpot or MailChimp, give an overview of the idea, and invite them to learn more with an email sign up. This approach allows you to:
- Measure the number of people who click the ad (a measurement of interest).
- Build an early email database that you can use for a newsletter down the road.
Note: Be sure to come up with a few different ads with slightly different design and messaging. This way you can account for various personal tastes in ads, and get a wider sampling. Also, release the ads to similar audiences at similar times for consistency.
If there is an even level of high engagement among all the ads, you’ll know you may have something people want.
Assess the competition
Measuring competition is a balancing act. If you look around and see that there’s zero competition for a product that solves the problem you identified, consider the fact that maybe someone’s already tried to offer the product, and in the end no one wanted it.
In this sense, a tiny bit of competition is a good thing. If you can identify a few groups attempting to solve the same problem, this is a form of validation in itself. Use tools like Ahrefs, Similarweb, or Spyfu to estimate their monthly web traffic. If it’s high (in this context we’ll use a safe, general number like 3,000 new users/month), then they’ve done a bit of the validation for you.
Now, of course this comes with the challenge of differentiation and offering a better product, but at least you know the demand is there.
Meet with Industry Experts
Sometimes you can validate an idea just by speaking to experts. They’ve typically seen it all, and can tell right away if your idea is, for lack of a better word, shit. Put on a thick skin and ask them straight up if the idea is worth pursuing.
But how do you find these experts? First check out cofounderslab or similar online communities. This is a free community of nearly half a million entrepreneurs and cofounders, whom you can access from the comfort of your couch.
Aside from that, getting out in your local community can yield surprising results. Talk to small business owners, listen to their stories, meet their contacts, and you never know who you’ll be introduced to.
Lastly there’s always the cold email or LinkedIn message. If you identify an industry expert and you’d like to run your idea by them, the worst that can happen is that they don’t respond. Be bold, craft your message well, and send it off.
Did you take the time to understand the market?
In addition to validation, you need to know the ins and outs of the market you’ll be trying to target. You can glean some information on this from your Facebook ads, but only so much, such as demographics.
The best way to do this is to take a sample of 10 people who may be interested in your product, and speak to them. Ask them questions like:
1. What value, if any, do you see in this product?
2. How are you solving the problem (at least the problem you think your product solves) today?
3. When and how you will you use this product?
Then, once the MVP is built, you can speak to 10 more users to determine if the product addresses the answers you received from the first part of the exercise.
Now, we’re up to speed. You’ve validated your idea, learned exactly what problems users want solved, and built the product on Upwork. Let’s continue.
Where to go after your Upwork MVP
Upwork is great for a quick, hacky way to test things out. However, being a developer on the platform myself, I can also give you some inside info: It’s not great for high-quality, scalable applications.
Typically clients don’t spend more than $5K on the platform for an app. That’s $5K for everything -- design, frontend, and backend. Now, I’ve spoken to thousands of the world’s top developers and designers and built a rock-solid community for them. I know for a fact that the average salary of a stellar developer is about $5K a month.
You can’t expect to get a high-quality and scalable application for $5K in total. We’ve seen it literally hundreds of times here at Indiez: A founder comes to us to build a version of their MVP that’s unimaginably better than the hacky product they received on Upwork.
Now don’t go cursing yourself just yet. Be proud of your Upwork MVP! You took a big step forward in getting it built. Just make sure you know where to go from here.
Put in quality control and feedback
Once the product’s out there, you need to know how users are interacting with it.
Tools like Mixpanel and Amplitude will help you analyze individual interactions across the entire buyer journey. This will help you identify areas where users are converting, where they’re abandoning, and where they’re getting confused. From there, you can use that data to generate and test solutions.
Another way is to join users and watch them interact with the product in person! This may sound old school, but observing a user work with your product will give you insight not only into where they get stuck, but how they react to it. Watch their face. Are they delighted? Frustrated? Bored? These are very real considerations as you head to the iteration phase.
Then, be sure to ask them for feedback. Some strong questions include:
* What would you like to see in the app that isn’t there currently?
* In what instances would they use the app on their own?
* What was the most exciting aspect?
* Were there any difficult areas?
What to do with this data
Once you’ve collected and organized your feedback data, segment it into points ranked by priority. This will help you know which problem to attack first. This could even save you a bit of time and money in the long run, as addressing the most critical issue could have a chain reaction that addresses smaller issues on its own.
Pro tip: Make sure you know how to communicate these changes to your developer. Too often, needs and commands get lost in translation between non-tech founders and coders.
Ok, you’ve made it this far. You’ve got your data that proves once and for all that you’re building something users want. Congratulations! Here’s what to do now.
Show it to investors
You need seed money to scale, and now that you’ve got a polished product, you can confidently arrange and execute investor meetings.
Keep in mind “investors” aren’t just top VCs at this stage. Investors can be friends and family, and in fact this is a great group with whom to practice and refine your pitch. Beyond that, you can find angel investors willing to hear you out by speaking to the same industry experts who validated your idea, other contacts in your industry, LinkedIn, and websites like AngelList.
These days, you have plenty of options for financing, and it’s best to choose the right one for your situation. We document several financing options in our blog 8 Steps to Becoming a Startup Hero.
Hire a CTO (If you’ve got the funds)
This is where it gets very interesting, and more startups struggle with this decision than you even realize. Realistically, bringing a CTO onboard will suck up about $10K per month -- quite the sticker shock for a new company. Still, if you’re a non-tech co-founder and don’t have the appropriate tech background, it may be worth the investment. I presumably don’t have to go into detail about how important it is to focus on technology adoption in today’s business climate.
You digitize, or you die. It’s one or the other.
Or You Could Use a Platform Like Indiez
Again, we’ve seen hundreds of cases in which companies come to us with a very basic prototype, and want to improve it, attract funding, and scale.
Everything you’ve read about in this article is what Indiez specializes in. If you’ve already built your MVP with Upwork, we’ll take it from there and get you up to speed. If you never took the step of building a prototype, we’ll start from scratch, and help you validate your idea (or help you make the decision to scrap it, save money, and think of a better idea.)
You can think of Indiez as getting a head start. You’ll have access to industry experts, world-class design and development talent, product managers, investors, and consultants, and we all love what we do. Seriously, we love helping founders, and we’re really good at it.
Scale, scale, scale!
However you made it to this last phase, whether it was through the traditional steps we outlined or with Indiez, you’re still at a critical junction. How do you use the technology, funds, and resources of your new business to expand your product to millions of users?
This is one of my favorite parts of the journey. It’s when you roll up your sleeves, start making cold calls and emails, go door to door, and do whatever you have to do to get your product out there. I wrote an entire blog about this process, called How to do things that don’t scale, that I think will be extremely useful for you.
So that’s it! If you’ve just wrapped up a project with an Upwork freelancer, now the real work begins. If you built the proper foundation and took the right steps before you built the MVP, there’s nothing stopping you front hitting the ground running. Now it’s time to get out there and spread your vision to the entire world.
And if you ever need any help along the way, your friends at Indiez aren’t far away.