How to build a cheaper startup MVP

By Shaun Symm, March 09, 2022
Man holding a dollar bill

Over the years we’ve used most of the leading web development and frontend frameworks and looked at various ways to speed up development and to save money when building minimum viable products (MVPs).

Now more than ever, we are committed to getting the cost of startup development down as far as possible. This list provides ways that early stage bootstrapped startup founders can save money on the development of the first version of their product.

1. Save on Web design

Does your marketing website have to have a custom design?

Startups that put a huge significance on brand will probably want a unique design, and website layout, but most early stage startups don’t have to have a completely unique marketing website.

The design needs to be good quality, and professional, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a one of a kind design.

What’s more important is to get your copywriting perfect. Communicate the the problem, solution and benefit to the user quickly and in as few words as possible.

A great way to get started rapidly is to engage a Webflow designer and discuss your requirements. Ask if purchasing a Webflow startup template (they usually cost anywhere from $50 - $200) would be a good way to achieve your goals.

If you do purchase a Webflow template the designer can add your content and customise the template to fit your needs. Go easy on customisation though if you want to save money.

You want to make enough changes that the website looks like it belongs to your brand but not too many that renders the decision to purchase a template redundant.

Plus, this option not only saves you thousands of dollars on web design but also on web development. Essentially you’re purchasing a template that already works as a website, and in most cases will have a blog too. After changing the logo, colours, images and text you’ll be ready to go live.

Building your first startup marketing website this way could reduce your investment from a few weeks of work to only a few days, or in some cases just a few hours.

2. Lower Web development costs

This section specifically refers to the development of your marketing website and not your actual product (the software or application).

In the web design section above I mention how purchasing a Webflow template will accelerate both design and web development. It's a great option and if you’re still not convinced you can read more about Webflow for startups.

If you prefer to not use Webflow, but still want to keep costs low, then other options include developing a static website, using something like Gatsby.js, or even a Wordpress website.

Whether you opt for a static site or a Wordpress website look at purchasing a theme or template to get you going rapidly. There are many online marketplaces where you can purchase HTML / CSS themes and Wordpress themes.

Like Webflow, purchased HTML or Wordpress themes can be customised but you will need a developer to do it.

Keep in mind that if you really want to watch the pennies, avoid web hosting fees, and have an almost hassle free website then opting for a Gatsby website hosted out of an AWS S3 bucket behind Cloudfront CDN will cost less than traditional website hosting.

3. Do you really need a CMS?

In our experience most website owners want a content management system so that they can edit and update their website without engaging a developer.

However, in many cases for early stage startups, a CMS is used so infrequently that it isn’t worth having.

If you use Webflow or buy a Wordpress template then you’re probably getting the CMS out the box, so you won’t incur many additional costs.

However, if there is going to be work for your web developer to hook a CMS in then think hard if you really need it and if the funds to develop a CMS could be used better elsewhere.

4. Frontend Frameworks

When it comes to developing your actual product there are also similar methods to those mentioned above that you can use to save money.

For example, using a CSS framework like Tailwind CSS will get your developers started faster. You can even even purchase Tailwind dashboard themes if you want to move even faster.

Other options include Bootstrap, and if you’re using a JS library like React you could look to use React Bootstrap or Material UI.

The key here is to ensure that the decisions you make about designing and developing your marketing website don’t have negative cost implications when creating your application’s frontend.

For example, if your marketing website uses a purchased Webflow theme and you decide to purchase a Tailwind theme for your authentication, onboarding and user dashboard screens will they look similar enough to remain on brand and feel like they’re part of the same product?

In all likelihood, if you did do this, then there will be some frontend work for your developers to get the application screens to match the marketing website or vice versa. However, overall this method will still save time and money.

5. Leverage infrastructure tools

When developing your startup, are there any infrastructure tools you can use to speed up development?

For example, Amazon Web Services offer tools like CDK to accelerate development, and many services which can speed up development such as Step Functions for logic flow, and Cognito for authentication.

6. Be the software

You probably don’t need all the features that you think you do for version 1 of your product. Focus on only developing the features that your core user needs.

For everything else, can you be the software? Are there features that you could do manually in the background?

This methodology is called ‘do things that don’t scale’.

You essentially only develop the absolute essentials and for everything else you, the founder, manually do the work. Your users might think everything is automated but it isn’t. You’re pulling the strings behind the scenes.

As the name of the methodology suggests, this doesn’t scale at all. However, it is something you can do to reduce your initial development costs until you validate that you can make sales.

Once you’ve validated that, or it becomes impossible to do everything yourself you can start to create software to replace yourself and to scale.

7. Recruit your first users without paying

This is also part of ‘do things that don’t scale’. Instead of paying thousands of dollars on an SEO expert or on an advertising campaign, can you recruit your first users on your own?

As the founder you’ll probably be very close to your target audience or even be in the target audience. You’ll therefore know where your market is and in some cases you might have some sort of personal connection to them.

Use these insights to recruit your initial users by talking to them face-to-face, or calling them, emailing them or reaching out to your existing network on platforms like Linkedin.

8. Solve big problems to reduce advertising costs

A great way to reduce your advertising costs is by offering your users huge value.

If your startup solves a very painful problem, or is much better than incumbent products, then your costs to acquire new customers will be cheaper than if you develop a product that either doesn’t solve a painful problem or isn’t any better than products that are already available.

Thus by offering a valuable solution you'll reduce your advertising costs and your cost per acquisition (cpa). By offering little value with your solution you'll end up paying more of your margin to the likes of Google and Facebook for ads and your cost to convert a website visitor will be higher.

Startup developers

Launch Lab are startup developers in Sydney and Canberra.

If you are looking to develop a startup and require any of the services mentioned in this post please contact us to see how we can help develop your MVP.

Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash.

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