Fe/male Switch
Startup Playbook: success through failure

MVP Case Study: How we built a startup game without developers in 12 weeks

Zero code is a startup's best friend. Today we are going to share a case study of how we were able to get started with zero code tools and build our first product without any previous experience with those tools.

How did we manage to do it? The Mean Startup Method. And in this case study we are going to show you exactly how we did it, step-by-step.

How many people did we need?

  • Idea generator and Senior content creator
  • a Junior UX/UI designer
  • a Junior zero coder
  • an illustrator

How much time did we need?

  • one month to do all the design in Figma
  • one month to build it on Bubble
  • one month to create educational modules and game quests

Could we have done it quicker? Probably not. Looking back, there's nothing that we could have done differently. The MVP served its main function pretty well. We beta tested it with actual users, got actionable feedback and built MVP 2.0 

How much money did we need?

  • software costs for Figma, Bubble, Canva, Tilda (we also built a landing page simultaneously), a few hundred euros. 
  • salaries for the team, around 20,000 eur

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What is an MVP?

You might have heard about an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or not. Anyway, let's quickly go through what it is because we know that many people misunderstand the concept. We can't blame them, because the name itself is quite strange and the concept has evolved since it was coined. 

In general, an MVP is a way for a founder to figure out if they have a business. In many cases an MVP is a DIY scrappy model of a future product that can solve a problem that users have and is used to validate the idea and the business model behind the product. In many cases it involves future users getting on a wait-list or pre-ordering the product without you actually building the product in its entirety. 

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We have done it all: built MVPs that took a year and required hundreds of thousands of funding and many devs. And we built a MVPs in a day that brought first revenue in a week. The ideal situation is somewhere in the middle, depending on the industry and the use case. 

Software MVP can be:

  • An Airtable (or Coda, or Notion) database
  • A visual mockup in Miro, Figma or Canva
  • A blog article with a questionnaire build with Tally Forms
  • an app built with Bubble or Adalo

Hardware MVP can be:

  • A piece of carton and some duct tape
  • A 3d printed prototype

Deeptech MVP can be:

  • Visualization/animation/pen and a napkin
  • a consultation 
  • A landing page as a front, a human in the back if you are building something AI-related

The bottom line is: can it convince enough people to buy into it or not? 

A couple of examples of what can be done:

  • a landing pages with a description of the online course and a Stripe account. No course needs to be built at that moment. You have to drive traffic to the page and see if you want to build it based on the response. 

  • a Discord group or a Slack community and a newsletter that can demonstrate that you can sustainable grow your audience, engage them and have tested a few channels for potential monetization. 

In our case, we needed to find out if a startup game is something that women would want to use to get into startups. 

What are zero code tools?

Zero code tools are software tools that allow users to create and customize applications or processes without writing any code. These tools typically have user-friendly interfaces that allow even non-technical users to easily build and manage complex systems. Some examples of zero code tools include visual programming languages, low-code platforms, and drag-and-drop app builders. These tools can be useful for a variety of tasks, such as automating business processes, creating custom databases, and building mobile or web applications.

These tools can be used to automate a variety of tasks, such as creating custom databases, building mobile or web applications, and managing business processes. Some specific examples of zero code tools include:

  • Bubble: a visual programming language for building web applications without code
  • Adalo is a platform for building custom mobile and web applications without writing code
  • Make: a tool for automating workflows and connecting different web applications without writing code
  • Tilda is a tool for creating websites without writing code.

These are just a few examples of zero code tools. There are many other similar tools available, each with its own unique features and capabilities.

Why did we choose zero code tools?

Let us tell you a few words about us. We are actually a deeptech startup that builds solutions that involve a lot of R&D, blockchain, legaltech and a lot of other complicated things. Here are the links to a couple of our projects:

Back in the day we outsourced some of the development, then we got our own team of devs. So we know all too well how complicated, long and tedious this process is. Especially if you are building something innovative, which we always do. 

At some point we realized that traditional development is a bad fit for MVP building and the whole "test fast" approach. 

A possible solution was found at the moment when the trend was just emerging. The name is zero code (sometimes also called no code tools).

So we started looking into zero-code (no-code) development tools and tested them out by having quickly created a mockup that was demonstrated at a meeting with a potential business partner. At that time we already wanted to invest in hiring people who would learn how to use these instruments and thus save on time and money that would otherwise be spent on outsourcing the development of prototypes. This alone would have been a massive optimization.

Moreover, we wanted to put those zero-coders onto creating automated solutions for our internal use, as we realized that there are no available products on the market that fit our needs. Hence, automation of specific routine processes is another massive gain.  

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate of the Netherlands gave us an unintended push when they announced a call aimed to “bring more women into tech startups” that we applied for. The solution that we wanted to create was a perfect project for the zero-code approach. We decided that it was the right time to expand the team with zero-code skills. Within a couple of months, we hired a zero-coder who has been immediately put onto this new project that we called “Fe/male Switch”.

We started a flashmob that showed how much something like this is needed! Check out the video!

Met de door u aangeboden game kan de doelgroep op een speelse manier de dilemma's en obstakels rondom ondernemerschap ervaren. Dit vindt het beoordelingsteam een leuk en innovatief idee. Er is creatief nagedacht over hoe je deze groep geïnteresseerd kan krijgen. De oplossing is geschikt voor schaalvergroting.

Evaluation from the Ministry of Economic Affairs

The project originated as an application to a call “Meer vrouwelijke tech-startups” by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, and the above quote is taken from their official letter of...rejection.

The project proposal was not awarded a final place within this challenge due to the committee's disbelief in our ability to create the prototype in the time frame and within the indicated budget. We encountered a lack of technical expertise in regards to IT development with this committee, moreover the lack of knowledge of zero-code development methods. This is a significant driver why they opted for traditional approaches that are within the comfort zone of the actors involved.

When we are told no, we are inspired to push through and do better. This ‘rejection’ (and validation!) gave us the needed boost to actually start working on the project implementation. Challenge was definitely accepted!

Less than 4 months later we had our first VALIDATED version of our data-driven educational role-playing game for future female entrepreneurs. In essence, it is a startup game for women.

We piloted the platform for 4 weeks with 15 users4 Game Masters5 Mentors2 Modules in Skill Lab, 4 Quests in the Game, and even prototyped our "live certificates" idea.

We did it in less time and with less budget than was indicated in the application. We enjoyed the freedom that zero code has given us so much that we have started building an internal tool for HR needs, but that's a different story.

Before we tried zero code tools, it took us many months and a team of expensive developers to build software. If we were to build the MVP of the startup game for women using traditional methods, it would have probably taken us 12 months instead of 12 weeks, and 200,000 eur instead of 20,000. AND what's even more important is the pain we would have felt when we had to rebuild almost everything to go from MVP 1.0 to MVP 2.0. 

Want to know more about launching a startup without technical skills, funding, business plans and co-founders? Read this article!

Bubble as our choice of zero code tool

Bubble is a visual programming language that allows users to build web applications without writing code. Using Bubble to build an MVP (minimum viable product) has several advantages compared to traditional development methods:

  • Speed: Bubble allows users to build and prototype applications quickly, which can be useful for testing and validating an MVP. It took us 12 weeks instead of 12 months. 

  • Cost: Bubble's visual programming approach means that users do not need to hire professional developers to build an MVP, which can save money. It cost us 20,000 eur instead of 200,000 eur. 

  • Ease of use: Bubble's user-friendly interface and pre-made templates make it easy for non-technical users to create and customize an MVP without needing coding skills. We hired a junior zero coder and her learned on the job by building the MVP. 

  • Flexibility: Bubble allows users to easily make changes and iterate on their MVP, which can be useful for testing and refining the product. We were able to fix bugs and introduce changes on the go during the beta testing without any interruption of service. 

Overall, using Bubble to build an MVP blew our minds and we fell in love despite it not being perfect because it is also a startup. 

Do you want to build your first web application in Bubble in a couple of hours? Join our FREE Startup School and go to the "Bubble" module. 

The step by step

The process of building our MVP on Bubble involved the following steps:

Step 1:

We identified the problem that our MVP is intended to address. It was utter lack of women in tech startups and inability of available methods of attracting women into startups to move the needle. We used the problem identified by the Dutch government, coupled with our own experience (yep, we are a female-founded startup) and passion for innovative multidisciplinary solutions to come up with an idea of blending gaming and startup building. Why is this stage important? The problem is vital because it  guides the design and features of your MVP.

Step 2:

Then we defined the key features and functionality of our MVP. The core features that were necessary to test and validate our product idea were Skill Lab (the educational part of the platform) and the Game (the fun part of the platform). We built the flow around the idea that our users would first learn the basics in Skill Lab and then start the Game. That assumption failed because users got excited about the Game and when they entered the platform and didn't see it, some were disappointed that they had to wait and jump through hoops to finally be able to play the Game. We of course fixed that in MVP 2.0, but it was impossible to know this without doing the beta testing. 

Step 3:

We used Figma to design all the parts of the platform and Bubble to build the key features and functionality of the MVP. This was of course the hardest part because neither the designer nor the zero coder knew anything about Bubble. We did it on purpose: we wanted to build the MVP without developers to demonstrate to our users that it is possible. We wanted them to believe in the power of zero code by playing the game that was built with zero code. What can be more powerful and inspiring than that?

Step 4:

We tested and iterated on our MVP a gazillion of times to ensure that it worked as intended and meet the needs of our target users. We constantly made changes to the design and features of the MVP, the workflows and the game mechanics. We alpha tested the game with the whole team, found a lot of bugs but our users found a lot more once they started beta testing. And that's a normal process. 

Step 5:

We beta tested our MVP with 15 users in a pilot that lasted 4 weeks. It was probably the most intense part of the building process, but the feedback we gathered was priceless. This tremendously helped us refine the MVP and improve the game for the second pilot. MVP 2.0 was magnificent in comparison with MVP 1.0, but that's a story for another case study. 

Step 6:

We are currently continuing to iterate and improve the MVP 2.0 based on user feedback from 300 users from the second pilot, until it is ready for a full release in Q1 of 2023. Exciting! If you are a women, get on the waitlist of our startup game to actually build your own startup!

We also have a completely FREE startup school where you can learn about starting a business, building your audience and geeting first revenue . Sign up for the free startup school and become an entrepreneur. 

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