It’s been one year since the idea of a natural looking stock photo marketplace came to my head and the long startup development cycle started. In this article, I’d like to share some of the stuff I’ve learnt, hacking my way, bootstrapping and launching an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) based on WordPress. Refe is a marketplace of natural looking stock photography of people interacting with technology.
What Is an MVP?
Minimum Viable Product, usually referred as MVP, is simply a product that has minimal value for the highest return on invested time and/or money. The term was coined and defined by Frank Robinson, and popularized by Steve Blank and Eric Ries. Below is a great illustration that explains MVP very clearly.
Image by BiotechStart.
Refe, at the beginning, had to be a viable product to prove that it was worth investing time and money to work on it and build a sustainable business around it.
I quickly designed a landing page and shared it across my network and surprisingly fast, a couple of hundred people shared their email in order to hear more. I thought it was a good sign and started looking for an engine to build the platform on.
WordPress looked like a great choice for quickly prototyping a platform with so many themes and plugins available, but right before building the prototype, user research and testing took place.
Your idea for an MVP must be tested out and based on user research. Any business’ main function is to solve a problem, so you need to identify the people who may have a certain problem and run a poll (I use Polldaddy) with them to find out if your idea has potential and is worth investing time and money into.
If you can design, use InVision for putting designs online and creating hot spots (clickable areas) where users can experience the product in a dynamic way. If you can’t design but can code, use a template/framework like Bootstrap and customise it to serve your needs.
If you can’t code or design, you can still use pencil and paper to draw your concept, use POP or as mentioned, InVision to create an interactive presentation. Make sure to really listen to people, not trying to convince them with your idea – rather observing and adapting to the feedback you receive.
If you’re already familiar with WordPress, you can easily make a prototype with it too – use a basic theme, some plugins or custom code to portray the functionality you strive for and get it in front of your potential users.
WordPress Pros & Cons for MVP
WordPress has been evolving from the times that it was just a blogging platform – today with thousands of plugins and built-in functions, it is a powerful CMS (Content Management System) that is capable of handling hundreds of thousands to millions of users and transactions.
Pros of Using WordPress
- Huge theme base
- Huge plugins base
- Built-in backend
- Super active and helpful community
- Open source, meaning everyone can contribute to and customise the code
- Your problem most likely has been already solved, you just need to find the solution
- Has most basic functions, registration, content creation, security
- Powerful and scalable
Cons of Using WordPress
- Requires basic front-end and back-end programming knowledge
- Too many plugins may slowdown performance
- Plugin updates may ruin your setup
- Security may not be strong if dealing with sales
- People will have to learn how to use it
Some Useful Plugins
Being able to extend the WordPress functionality to theoretically anything is amazing. Currently there are over 30,000 plugins in the WordPress Plugins directory and most of them are available for free with extended paid versions. For the Refe photo marketplace, I’ve used quite a lot of plugins to turn WordPress into an eBay-like platform where people can buy and sell items.
For the marketplace foundation, I’ve used the Easy Digital Downloads plugin by Pippin Williamson. It is a free plugin that allows you to sell digital items easily. There are tons of plugins or add-ons specifically designed to go together with Easy Digital Downloads, so you’ll be in a good company.
Below are some other plugins I’ve used to bootstrap Refe with a short explanation of why each is necessary and what is does.
- Google Analyticator – obviously for analaytics of the website.
- Features by WooThemes – feature showcase plugin for WordPress.
- Grid Columns – this plugin has one function and one function only — to make columns.
- Hide Admin Bar From Non-admins – a tweak of the code by Yoast to hide the admin bar for non-admins only.
- Intercom for WordPress – integrate the Intercom CRM and messaging app into your WordPress website.
- Mailbag – add MailChimp or Campaign Monitor email forms to your website with a simple shortcode.
- Multiple Post Thumbnails – adds the ability to add multiple post thumbnails to a post type.
- W3 Total Cache – WordPress performance plugin. Add browser, page, object and database caching as well as minify and content delivery network (CDN) to WordPress.
- WP External Links – open external links in a new window/tab.
Some Useful Themes
Refe is based on the Marketify – Marketplace WordPress Theme available on ThemeForest.
Refe is based on the Marketify theme available on ThemeForest.
There are so many themes available, and you can find a theme for basically anything. More and more of the themes become subject and industry oriented so you can find a theme for a real estate listing, event booking, job board or a marketplace. My favorite stops for premium, high-quality themes are ThemeForest, WPZOOM, Themezilla and WooThemes. There are many more providers that you can find in the WordPress Theme Directory.
MVP is all about building a valuable prototype to validate your idea whether by getting people signups or first money. Technology, methods and best coding practices don’t really matter at this point so use any tools you find to get started and running. Hack your way through and invest more time and money when you see can see your MVP starting to grow. WordPress has been a great tool for bootstrapping Refe, validating the ideas I had, adapting it to the needs of the market, and bringing in some revenue.
Hopefully this article has inspired you to do something about your idea today to get that prototype in WordPress or any other tool. If you have any questions or need feedback, leave a comment below or simply catch me on Twitter @tomaslau.