Clever.do Blog

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Clever.do Blog

How to build an MVP for less than $10,000 (And You Should, Too!)

Mitt TarasowskiMitt Tarasowski

You can grab all the documents and tools we’ve used to build our MVP inside this post.

I spent five years running a consulting business. Two years ago I gave away everything I owned to my friend. I moved to a new country and joined Libertex.com as a management board member. Last year, something bad happened to me: on the 31st of December a family member passed away. It was one of the worst events in my life. After recovering from this shock, I realized I need to change something. I had spent lots of time focusing on the wrong things.

The first thing I did was delete my Wunderlist account. Wunderlist did one thing well: It drove me crazy with hundreds of unfinished daily “to-dos.” I started to search for time management hacks, and found a hack from a former Linkedin executive. I used it for a while and realized it helped me to be a lot more productive. So, Anastasia (my girlfriend) and I decided to build Clever.do in our free time.

Anastasia started with customer development on Linkedin. Two weeks later, it was clear that people have problems setting their priorities. Since we wanted to build Clever.do for ourselves first, there was no real user testing needed in the beginning. We immediately jumped into the creation of some wireframes. I used Balsamiq free version for that. After a few tries, we managed to create wireframes for the first version. It took us one weekend to build these wireframes. As I’m a terrible writer and my writing skills suck, I recorded three screencasts to explain how the app should work. I uploaded them to YouTube to show them to designers and engineers.

I spoke with some folks about the correct technology stack to use. The original idea was to create an app for mobile, desktop, and web. To be lean, we needed something where most of the source code is reusable. I even bought an hour of email consulting from an HTML5/Ionic specialist. We made a decision to use Firebase, HTML5 and AngularJS 2. Now it was time to find a developer for our project.

In 2009, I studied in Australia. While there, I spoke to a guy who run a startup program at the University. I wanted to raise some money for a student startup, and he gave me the following advice: try to pitch your idea to the “3 Fs”—friends, family, and fools. I used a modified formula to find a developer. Instead of talking to fools, I found something better. It’s called Facebook. I asked all my friends, hackers, and hustlers on Facebook for contacts.

Booom! Two hours later, I got a message from a developer and pitched him the idea. We made an agreement on payments and he started to work on prototype. The first version of our prototype was pretty ugly, but it was enough. At the same time, I created a product requirements document (PRD). Also, it helped a lot to create a separate features list with priorities. Every feature has business impact and ease of implementation. Google’s performance team uses this framework all the time. They gave it to me during an another project. Here is a link, you can copy and reuse it for your own projects.

It was the middle of July and everyone was ready to go on vacation. At this time, I scored the biggest fuckup of the project. Instead of using my magic “3 Fs” formula to find a designer, I hired a guy who did a redesign of Google Play. He wrote a Medium post on that topic. He’s experienced, crazy fast, and did amazing work. But it was too expensive for an MVP. We paid him $6,500 for the initial design (5 screens or so). And every change would cost us a hell of a lot of money. Back then, I wasn’t experienced in building products. I didn’t know that we were going to change everything again and again. We changed our original design 10 times or so, but with another designer.

"The first draft of anything is shit."
— Ernest Hemingway

In parallel, Anastasia started to acquire our first beta sign-ups. She built a landing page on kickofflabs.com and started to drive some traffic from Facebook. Back then, she had no clue how to build good performing landing pages. She managed to get a 30% conversion rate from visit to sign-up — it blew my mind. We spent approximately $1,498 on Facebook ads, and acquired 348 beta users.

In September, everyone came back from vacation. Our developer started to work on the MVP. He took the documents, asked me 5-7 questions, and disappeared. After three weeks of coding or whatever he did, he came back. He showed me the alpha version. We set to work fixing all critical bugs, and, on October 12th, Clever.do went live. I’ve paid him exactly $3,082 for his work. It was the best decision that I made. We are lucky to work with such a talented and hardworking person: no meetings, no talks, no bullshit.

After finishing the first version of Clever.do, I realized we used AngularJS 1 instead of the second version. At the beginning of the project, I thought this was an important thing. But now, I don’t care about the technology stack. As long as our developer builds a stable product, everything is fine. If you want to build an MVP, don’t spend lots of time thinking about it. Try get “some shit” done—you can always rewrite it later.

Our total expenses to release MVP (without advertising costs):

Total: $9,956

You can copy and reuse our current profit/loss calculation. Also included is a revenue projections calculator, which is very helpful if you need to make forecasts. But be aware:

"Projections are just bullshit. They’re just guesses."
— Jason Fried, Basecamp

What I learned from building an MVP of Clever.do:

My whole life is like a big entrepreneur’s journey, from 5 A.M. in the morning ‘till evening I generate tons of new ideas. But I didn’t realize any of them to their full potential. Because most of them weren’t solving my own problems. You need to start with solving your own problems first. I think this is the reason behind my persistent passion for Clever.do.

Photo by Jeremy Paige.

If you enjoyed reading, please support my work by hitting any of the little share buttons!

Executive Growth Hacker at Libertex. Co-Founder of Clever.do.

Comments 7
  • Erik Stoddard
    Posted on

    Erik Stoddard Erik Stoddard

    Reply Author

    I agree on the solving your own problems. I wrote about this a few days ago. I am getting ready to launch getblogposts.com and it was one of my bigger frustrations with my previous web biz, writing blog posts. Good luck! I’ll be checking out your app soon.


  • Richa Gangwani
    Posted on

    Richa Gangwani Richa Gangwani

    Reply Author

    Amazing content! Thank you for sharing. I found it helpful and informative.


  • Paresh Patel
    Posted on

    Paresh Patel Paresh Patel

    Reply Author

    Very inspiring article. We went through something similar at my startup Abhisi. A startup is a lot of work and constant changes.


  • Roman
    Posted on

    Roman Roman

    Reply Author

    I like the origin story, but how did you go from the rough MVP to having people actually pay for your product? It seems like a big leap, considering it’s so hard just to get eyeballs on your product let alone have someone pull out their credit card. Thanks!


    • Mitt Tarasowski
      Posted on

      Mitt Tarasowski Mitt Tarasowski

      Reply Author

      Hi Roman, thank you for your comment. Regarding the payments, that’s an issue for us right now. Currently, we have huge churn rate, but we’re working on it. We tweaked already our product several times. We’re currently working on the education, our users don’t understand the concepts behind the productivity workspaces.


  • Vikram
    Posted on

    Vikram Vikram

    Reply Author

    Nice set of information. Well written. Looking forward for on how you beat the churn rate. Am sure you will manage to. All the very best.