Ayush Singhvi is an experienced engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of Byldd. Byldd is a venture studio that helps early-stage founders build and launch revenue-generating platforms in under a month for less than $10K. We discuss proven ways to find a technical co-founder quickly, the basics of product validation, and how entrepreneurs can build a minimal viable product (MVP).
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Learn The MVP Startup Blueprint With Ayush Singhvi
My guest is Ayush Singhvi, the Founder, and CEO of Byldd, a software agency that helps early–stage founders build and launch revenue–generating investor–fundable mobile web and cross-platform MVPs or Minimum Viable Products in under a month and for less than $10,000. That’s exciting. Ayush, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me, Steve.
Tell me this story. How did you come up with this idea of Byldd? How did you come up with this unique value proposition of launching rapid inexpensive technology applications?
I worked with a lot of early-stage companies in my career. I was at NYU. I was very active in the entrepreneurship program, the entrepreneurship lab, and the facilities there. I worked with a couple of companies over there. Even after graduating, I worked in a couple of startups. What I saw is that especially non-technical founders would have a concept or an idea and reach out to a development agency or hire 1 or 2 engineers to build the product.
There’s nothing wrong with going to a dev agency or hiring maybe even interns to build your product but what happens then is that the conversation is usually very one-sided. The founders tell the engineers what to build. The engineers go out to build them, and then because the founder has such a grand vision of what they want, it takes a long time. The product that comes out of it isn’t what the market needs. It ends up being an unfortunate waste of the founder’s time and money. Everybody is dissatisfied at the end.
What I had come to realize was that founders typically need a thinking partner at that stage or someone who can push back and tell them, “Don’t do this. Do this later. This is a better way of doing it,” or whatever it is. That’s what we are trying to do. We are coming in as the thinking partner. The reason we are able to hit the price point that we do is that we have an IP that writes code for us.
We come in as a thinking partner and tell them, “This is what you need to focus on for version one. Ignore everything else for now.” We have the IP that writes code for us and accelerates the development timeline. We only spend time or engineering hours building whatever makes that product unique rather than a lot of the generic functionality that ends up being a time suck for early-stage companies.
It sounds nice. I have some questions about this but before we go there, clarify the topic for some of the readers that are not coming from the tech world. They are not familiar with startups. What’s exactly an MVP? How does one develop one?
There are a lot of definitions. The one we adhere to is the MVP is a product that’s good enough for you to sell and get revenue off of. It doesn’t mean that the MVP cannot be complex or refined. It has to be well-made, intuitive, and easy to use in this day and age but the focus should be on solving the core problem that you are trying to address and avoiding the bells, whistles, and all of the extra things that don’t directly move the needle for your business at this stage.
Can you gimme an example? What does it look like? Give me an example where you identified an MVP and what it was.
As a founder, you have a vision of all of the problems that you want your product to solve but the MVP should ideally be focused on a particular user group and solving their problems. For example, we built a platform called Rake. It’s a sales gamification platform but it focuses specifically on salespeople and how to gamify the sales process for companies. When we built it, COVID was in full swing. Sales teams were remote. The competitive atmosphere that usually happens in an office with the sales team was missing. Companies had expressed that to founders. This is something that they are struggling with.A founder has a vision of all the problems that they want their product to solve. But the MVP should ideally be focused on a particular user group and solving their problems. Click To Tweet
We were like, “Gamification is a broad topic. There are lots of ways to gamify things but this is an area that we need to focus on. Sales managers specifically are feeling this acutely. Let’s build something for this audience exclusively and make it simple so that they can plug in their CRM, get their data, and then have leaderboards or that typical gamification functionality.” In itself, that simple product would be enough to sell to these companies and get revenue.
You developed the formula for this. Maybe we can call it the startup formula, the development formula, or whatever it is. Can you explain how it works? There were three steps that you followed to get this Minimum Viable Product so that people can then generate some revenue and get their startup going.
The idea comes from knowing that most startups fail because they fail to find product-market fit. They fail to find a customer base that would be willing to pay for the product that they are building. One of the observations is that a lot of founders want their businesses to cater to all sorts of different customers. More customers mean more potential revenue. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The methodology we use addresses that gap. First, you want to start with the problem. You either start with the problem that you want to solve or with your initial customer.Most startups fail because they fail to find product-market fit. They fail to find a customer base that would be willing to pay for the product that they're building. Click To Tweet
Those are the two extremes. Realistically, you are probably going to be somewhere in the middle where you have a decent idea of who your ideal customer is and what problem you want to solve. From there, you start talking to them, having those interviews, and refining that process so that you know what problems customers are feeling very acutely in a way that they would eventually pay you to make that problem or pain go away. You identify the problem you are trying to solve. You identify the people or ideal customers that will face this issue through interviews. You realize that and then execute it.
You build a basic version of the product, bring it to market, go back to these people, and tell them, “This will solve the problem that you are facing. It will cost you X dollars.” It’s a loop. You do that and get it in front of them. Some of them will buy it. Some of them will give you some other feedback saying, “This is great but if it had this, it would make me happy to pay for it or whatever it is.” That cycle is how you start your feedback loop and drive further product development.
What I’m curious about is how people identify this problem. Is it that they talk to people, and then a problem pops up? They encounter something and they develop a hypothesis that this may be a problem, they go out, test the market, and talk to people. Is that a problem for you as well? How does that work? How does it come about?
The idea here is the idea of the earned secret. This is something that I learned from one of my professors at NYU, Steven Kuyan, who taught entrepreneurship. The idea is that an earned secret is something that you learn or figure out after spending enough time in an industry or function. It’s the thing that isn’t public knowledge and only in the minds of people who have done the work and have been in an industry.
There are two ways to uncover those. You either are in the industry yourself and you have learned it yourself, or you do deep interviews with people in the industry, try to gather that information, and learn about those earned secrets. When you have them, that’s the gold mine. You are looking for things that are being solved by patchwork solutions or workarounds. These are issues that are so problematic that people are adjusting their normal workflows to manage this. When you get those, that’s what you want to focus on. That’s what you want to build the product on.
I love the idea of this earned secret. What you are saying is that the way to do a startup is to get good at something and narrow the scope of the area of work that you do. Maybe go and take a job, keep your eyes open, and look for things that could be a problem that no one addressed yet. Go out, talk to people, and figure out whether it’s just you, or if other people have this idea. You can figure out some product out of this.
What about developing tech products? I read years ago that the way to launch a startup and what the funders are looking for as well as some partnership between the entrepreneurial person and the developer. It’s a big deal if you don’t have a partner. If it’s just one person, then you don’t even get funding because people will not believe that you can do both the visionary and the coding piece as well. What you are explaining to me is that you are replacing that cofounder who is the coding cofounder with your service. Is this what you are doing?
To an extent, we do come in as a cofounder or the technical partner for the CEO when they are starting. It’s warranted because it’s so difficult, especially if you are a first-time founder who doesn’t have the money to pay for a technical person. It’s difficult to do any fundraising and hiring on equity because as an engineer, even before I started Byldd, I would get a pitch for a revolutionary startup idea. They would want to pay me in only equity. It would take 40 to 50 hours of my time per week.
There’s so much demand and noise there that it’s difficult to find a technical cofounder without a reputation. What we are trying to do is make that easier process. It’s not a complete replacement. You will eventually need somebody who’s working on this 24/7 with you and who’s your real business partner or cofounder but finding that person becomes so much easier when you have a business that’s making money.Finding the best business partner becomes so much easier when you have a business that's making money. Click To Tweet
If you have a product that’s making revenue, it’s so much easier to raise money and prove to technical partners that you have validated this. It’s not hypothetical in the air. You have de-risked it to a large extent. You are telling them that this is not something that you will spend three months building, and then it’s going to flop, “It’s something that we have built to a large extent. We have validated it. We are getting paying customers. We want to take it to the next level and bring a full-time technical founder on.”
When someone hires you, how do you know that it is going to work? Are there some minimum requirements that you post to decline and say, “You have to talk to X number of people. You have to have an idea that has some lags. It sounds reasonable.” Are there certain minimum parameters that they have to produce for you to even take the job so that you can generate for $10,000 the demands for something sellable?
It depends on a lot of things. To an extent, we do encourage founders to get that initial validation and do those interviews. After that, make a landing page where you are selling the product without building it and see how many people sign up and are interested in what you have based on whomever you think your target audience is and so on. We try to do validation that way and make sure that the founders have that in place before any development is done.
At the same time, we work with a lot of people who have been in the industry for a long time. They know their industry in and out. They are like, “I know for a fact that this is a problem because I have been doing this for the last few years.” That’s another validation. It’s not the traditional lean startup interview of random people validation but it’s the same earned secrets. It depends but we do encourage founders to get those numbers and leads from landing pages or interviews before we start development.
There is a founder. They have an idea. They put up a landing page. There is interest. There are some people out there who are interested to explore that product or this potential product. You come in and put together an MVP with this founder within a month, and that’s it. The startup is on its way. There are other things that are needed for a startup tech company. Do you have a startup checklist that you can share with me?
It’s not a checklist in that sense but what I do encourage is that while the development is going on, get sales. Even before technology, sales is the most important thing. Find customers for your product. Even if the product is still hypothetical or even if it’s still in the development phase, figure out how much they would pay for it. Get them to pay in advance and get them to promise to pay for it. Do those things while the development is going on so that once it’s ready, you have a list of potential people you can go out to and get money from.
That’s the secret. You need to have an idea to pay customers. You can put something together. That would be enough to get those customers that are interested to change some revenue. The founder can go out, raise some money, bring this tech cofounder on, be able to pay them something, not just in sweat equity, and then get the ball rolling. That’s the idea.
I would like to switch gears here and talk a little bit about the SaaS or Software as a Service business model, which is all the rage. Investors are looking for companies that have recurring revenue. Those tech companies that can create subscriptions can generate that recurring revenue. What is the difference between a tech company, which is maybe project–based, and a tech company, which is a SaaS model? How do you intentionally build a SaaS model tech company?
From a financial perspective, it makes sense. The recurring revenue is there. What it allows you to do is have complete control of your software and push out updates, patches, and bug fixes in real time versus the more traditional model where you have a product that you are hosting on customers’ internal or on-premise server, which creates some restrictions.
A lot of it is the financial aspect of it and the ease with which people can buy SaaS compared to buying traditional on-premise software and how you can create an ecosystem around you as how Microsoft and Adobe have done. Your customers are so tied to your product that they can’t even think of leaving. Microsoft famously switched from the on-premise Microsoft Office installation package to Office 360. They offer so many things. It’s very difficult to work without that subscription on you.
Why would the customer be willing to pay a subscription and commit to being an ongoing customer as opposed to testing the product? If they like it, then maybe they buy a bit more of it but do not commit to being your ongoing customer.
A lot of it comes from having areas of expertise. As a small to medium enterprise if you are buying SaaS, then the person selling the SaaS or the vendor takes care of all of the infrastructure related to the product, hosting, maintenance, bug fixes, updates, and everything. All you have to do as a customer is pay a fixed yearly or monthly fee. The convenience that it offers is pretty significant. This is why a lot of even Infrastructure as a Service like AWS GCP has made technology more accessible to the world because they are providing fractional ownership or partial ownership of virtual machines and the infrastructure that only the biggest companies could afford to have in the past.
Democratize these programs and software. Perhaps people had to get them developed custom–made, or they would have to get a license, and it would be very expensive to have access to it.
It allows small teams like two-person teams to be able to buy software and build a product around it. I’m talking about AWS and the Infrastructure as a Service provider but before that, if you wanted to host something, you would have to buy your server and all kinds of networking tools. You would have to invest so much capital upfront before you even had a validated idea and before you could even bring something to market. It’s all about democratizing it.
The other thing I have seen is that some companies are trying to figure out this SaaS product but they are desperate to get revenue. They are compromising their product. They customize it to their customers and end up with a small handful of big customers who have very high and varied requirements. There’s pressure to satisfy it because they are the source of cash. The company ends up growing but not having a SaaS product. At some point, they burn themselves out. Do you see this happening?
I do see this happening. There is real pressure if you get a big client. It’s not always the biggest companies creating that pressure. Even if you are a small company and you have one major client, you have to be flexible and build your product to satisfy their needs because you would lose that revenue, or you deliberately say no to that process, risk losing that revenue, and build something that you think would have a much wider audience in the market. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a formula for deciding which way to go. Ultimately, it has to be the founders’ research, their insight into the industry, and their decision-making power on which direction to move their company.
Maybe it’s also a lack of a clear vision of a Minimum Viable Product. You are hoping that your customers are going to figure it out for you but each customer has a different idea of that product. That can be a trap. Before we wrap up, I want to ask about how you build your business. To have someone who understands the requirements of that customer or that startup founder and is able to put something together within months, you have to have smart people around you. What is the difference between a good engineer who can do all these things, grasp the business problem, and build code around it and a bad engineer? How do you hire and find the right ones?
You hit the nail on the head. I don’t think the difference between a good engineer and a bad engineer is technical expertise or proficiency. The reason for that is in most cases, you are not building new technology. There are exceptions in self-driving cars, AI, and those kinds of things but in most cases, you are usually applying existing technology in a unique and novel way.
What separates a good engineer? It’s the engineer that goes beyond what the technical requirements are and understands the business case behind the technology. It’s this person that can then make decisions when you are not in the room that is aligned with the company’s vision. They understand the founder’s vision. They are able to drive product development, find issues, and predict things that will happen or may happen in the future from a technical perspective because they understand what the long-term vision is. Those guys are rare. Those are the most valuable engineers.
That sounds like a reasonable plan. It’s not the technical expertise that counts. It’s more being able to contextualize the problem, understand the business case, find the right tools, which are around us, and be able to figure out how to build that MVP or Minimum Viable Product. Thanks for coming on the show, Ayush Singhvi, the Founder, and CEO of Byldd, a software agency that builds Minimum Viable Products for founders for under $10,000 in a month so that the founder can go and raise money and find a tech cofounder who will then help them build that startup.
If you would like a custom operating system for your business that takes your business to the top of the mountain, then visit StevePreda.com and check out a couple of books I have written on the subject. You can download a questionnaire as well. Thank you for coming to the show. Have a great day. Thank you, Ayush.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
I look forward to coming out with some great startup companies from your workshop over there. Thank you.