May 27, 2019

How to build an Enterprise SaaS MVP

Average Reading time: 5 minutes, 31 seconds

So you want to build a SaaS product for your Enterprise customer? That is great news. 👍 Building complete enterprise products from scratch, however, is hard: they are bulky, demanding from both security and functionality standpoint, and require a deep understanding of industry workflows.

Thus you need a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), to validate the value proposition of your product with a minimal development effort.

Below, I’m going to show you how you can apply Lean methodologies to build an initial version of your Enterprise SaaS product. 👇

Step 1: Identify the problem

In order to sketch out your MVP, you’ll need to narrow down your focus to one important problem purveying the industry.

Be very specific. Instead of taking a macro approach and stating that the entire industry is overdue for a technological overhaul, pick a specific niche, workflow process, or a department where your solution can make the most impact.

Enterprise SaaS mvp

Compare these two statements:

  1. “Commercial real estate industry has barely evolved over the past 100 years. We will bring it into the 21st century with the help of technology.”
  2. “The process of drafting commercial leases has barely evolved over the past 100 years, and is filled with manual, low-value data-entry tasks that can be automated with the help of technology.”

Clearly, the first problem has no particular focus. It won’t be feasible to create an MVP to solve the entire industry’s problem.

On the other hand, the second one is focused on a very specific problem of drafting lease documents, and advocates using technology to improve the process.

Step 2: Prioritize the end-user

Once you’ve identified the problem you’d like to solve with your MVP, the second step would be to learn about the person whose life you’re about to improve 😉

Your product won’t cover the needs of the entire department. Neither should you attempt to achieve that.

Focus your development resources efficiently

Instead, focus on helping a person that spends most of her time dealing with the problem. In our case, it could be an administrative assistant in charge of drafting lease documents.

It’s not to say that all other stakeholders involved in the workflow need to be ignored. Enterprise processes are complex, and will need to be considered in whole rather than in isolation. Let’s address this caveat in the next step.

Step 3: Define user flow

Employee tasks are very rarely performed in isolation. Usually, they are highly dependant on outputs from other departments, involve multiple stakeholders, and comprise a larger web of interdependent activities, information, and input.

That complexity is the reason why new product adoption within large enterprises is so steep. Learning about the existing process will help you design Enterprise SaaS MVP in a way that can be easily merged into the department or a larger organization with minimal disruption.

Userflow and adoption research

Think back to the real estate example: an administrative assistant is in charge of drafting a lease document, but the lease creation as a process involves multiple other stakeholders: tenant, broker, market research team, and landlord.

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An administrative assistant is highly dependent on stakeholders around her. Thus for MVP to be successfully adopted, it needs to account for other shareholders’ while designing a solution to the problem.

Step 4: Watch out for competing products

There are 7.7 billion people in the world, and chances are somebody has tried to solve this problem before, is working on it right now, or will attempt to solve it in the future.

It doesn’t mean, however, that you should abandon the initiative to solve it yourself.

Indirect competition is good. Other companies may have tried to solve this problem in a different way and failed. Learn why. And don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Similarly, you can incorporate aspects that worked, instead of re-inventing a wheel. Many successful SaaS platforms re-use workflow and functionality that worked elsewhere.

Avoid direct competition — identical products that solve same or similar problems. Having one small competitor half the way across the world is acceptable. But launching an MVP into an industry that already contains dozens of similar companies is a recipe for disaster, unless your product has a clear, quantifiable advantage.

Use tools like Crunchbase, BetaList, Product Hunt, or Similar Web to gain some insight into the competing products.

Step 5: Map out your solution

Now that you’ve identified the problem and got intimately familiar with the user workflow, it’s time to sketch out what your MVP would look like.

A lot of entrepreneurs tend to overbuild during the MVP stage. They add unnecessary functionality that doesn’t solve a critical problem, or spend too much time polishing the look and feel of the product. Don’t.

Your MVP is not a final product

MVP is not an end-product. It’s not meant to solve all the problems and satisfy all the users. Here is what MVP is meant to be:

  1. MVP solves a critical problem;
  2. It focuses on a single use case;
  3. It involves minimal development effort.
MVP is not an end-product. It’s not meant to solve all the problems and satisfy all the users.

And here is how you can put that to use:

  1. Cut out features that are not solving a key problem;
  2. Replace lengthy development cycles with hacking sprints;
  3. Leverage the open-source ecosystem of code libraries;
  4. Deploy with minimal design (if it looks better than Windows 95, it looks better than most of the existing enterprise software 😉).

Focusing on the impact, rather than the number of features, is a good framework for designing enterprise MVP. Prove to your end-users that it makes their lives easier. Make your solution ten times better than the existing product. Make people fall in love with your MVP.

Now that your MVP is ready, give it to your intended users and see how they respond to it. Collect their feedback, prioritize feature suggestions, and track usage patterns to inform your product roadmap. MVP is only a start, but now you're officially in the game! 😎

Considering building an MVP for your business?

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