From MVP to scale: How 3 LA tech companies successfully evolved their products

by John Siegel
February 8, 2018

As a startup prepares to pitch to potential investors, the team needs to first develop what’s called a minimum viable product. Doing so shows investors several crucial messages: first that the team has clearly identified a problem felt by others, and second, that they have developed a solution in the form of a product or service that has been leveraged successfully by real-world customers. 

Often these MVPs are nothing more than rudimentary mockups developed to express the company's value proposition while the tech team works behind-the-scenes to develop the improved platform. We spoke with three LA tech co-founders about how their platform has evolved over the years, and what exactly it’s like witnessing the growth since day one.

 

tinder social media dating app halloween photo

Jonathan Badeen
Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer

In just a few years, West Hollywood-based Tinder established itself as one of the most popular apps in the world with revolutionary swiping function, but according to Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Jonathan Badeen, the feature’s introduction was far from a red carpet affair.

 

Knowing what the product looks like today, how would you describe how the MVP looked and functioned?

The product looked pretty similar to today’s Tinder experience, but it was it far more skeuomorphic. This was before flat design had taken over, so everything in the app had texture. The basic product functioned the same, though. Press one button to connect with Facebook. Start pressing “heart” to match and “x” to reject people nearby.

It's interesting that many of our users have not recognized that so much has changed in the app. It seems like Tinder is still what it always was, and we are very proud of that. We strive to make simple experiences that don’t clutter and confuse. The fact that they fit so seamlessly tells us we’ve done our job.

 

How long did it take to put the MVP together?

We started working on Tinder in late May of 2012 and it took us about eight weeks to finish. To save time, the first version did not include our now-iconic swipe. A few weeks later, it was snuck in with a bug fix.

 

"To save time, the first version [of Tinder] did not include our now-iconic swipe. A few weeks later, it was snuck in with a bug fix."

What were the investors' initial reactions to the product?

We were very proud of Tinder, as we’d poured our hearts into it. We were obsessed with the visual details and that was definitely apparent to the first people we shared it with. In just a few months, Tinder took off and college students across the country were having a blast using the product.

In those early days, we got an email from an enthusiastic user who messaged to tell us that he and his friends used “swipe right” and “swipe left” around campus. We’d never taught users about the swipe — nor had we originally intended it to be a defining feature — but it was beginning to become apparent that we’d landed on something special.

 

What sorts of new functionalities have been added to the platform since the MVP days?

While many things, including our core philosophies, have remained the same, we’ve added a number of things along the way. For our profiles, we added the ability to include multiple photos and not just the primary Facebook profile photo. We added Instagram and Spotify integrations, and you can now show off your job and education, too.

Our chat experience has evolved to include GIFs from Giphy and our own custom “Reactions”. We’ve released two highly successful revenue products by the names of Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold. Along with that came Super Like and a new “swipe up” to show a potential match that you’re really interested. The aesthetics and features may have evolved, but our goal to bring people together has remained strong.

 

What were the early days like?

We wanted to change the world and how people meet, but I don’t think any of us believed we really would — at least not to the degree that we have today. We worked hard trying to make a simple and fun service, obsessing over every pixel and animation. We were a bit amazed when things began to take off, but that amazement was coupled with a need to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity.

We hadn’t built Tinder to withstand its newfound popularity, so we worked tirelessly to stop app crashes, server overloading and a myriad of bugs. To keep ourselves awake, there were frequent nerf gun fights. We monitored our metrics and were astonished by each milestone. 

There was a thick atmosphere of fun and hope as we worked to prove ourselves and keep moving forward. Those early days were a rollercoaster of emotions. There were highs when we felt that we could do no wrong and lows when we felt we’d surely squandered the opportunity of a lifetime.

It’s incredible to look back on this today and to still be moving forward with so much success, working toward that same goal.

 

 

swell investing fintech company

Given Swell’s investment functionalities, it was apparent to Founder and CEO Dave Fanger that having a minimum viable product devoid of certain security features was not an option. Launched just last year, the company spent the last six months researching the investment platform’s next steps and just recently raised $30 million and opened a new Santa Monica headquarters.

 

Knowing what the product looks like today, how would you describe how the MVP looked and functioned?

As a financial company, we’re in a unique position compared to other tech companies because we wanted our investors to feel comfortable depositing their money with us. Even though our product was an MVP at launch, there was nothing “minimum viable” about our security. We’ve incorporated bank-level security into everything we do since the very beginning.

When Swell launched in May of 2017, we were proud of our product, but we also recognized it was an MVP. The first version of Swell showed where your money is invested and how much it’s worth. The product was answering the question “What do our investors need to know?” After launch, we took six months to research the next phase of the product, which answered the questions: “What do our investors want to know?” And, “What will take our product from functional to educational to delightful?”

This research led to our launching an entirely new account experience for our Swell investors earlier this year. When Swell investors sign in to the platform, they now see analysis on overall market movements and investment performance, as well as an investor reading list illustrating how each portfolio company is engaged in impact. Our investors can now access newly-designed portfolio pages, with a deep dive on the portfolio’s performance and the companies in it.

 

How long did it take to put the MVP together?

The process of building Swell’s MVP took about a year. We enlisted IDEO — a global design and innovation firm — as our partner to help design the product. While designing Swell, we held hundreds of consumer research sessions. This meant sitting down one-on-one with hundreds of consumers, showing them various prototypes and collecting their feedback. We went through 59 prototypes during this time.

 

"[We sat] down with hundreds of consumers, showing them various prototypes and collecting their feedback."

What were the initial reactions of your investors to the product?

The Swell team meets with investors nearly every week to understand how they're interacting with our product and how we can continue to innovate and improve. The initial responses were very positive and we experienced double-digit week-over-week growth figures from the start.

 

What sorts of new functionalities have been added to the platform since the MVP days?

Since launch, two of the most significant new functionalities are the addition of Impact IRAs and the new account experience.

In addition to the new account experience, late last year, we announced that users would be able to enjoy the tax benefits of an IRA while investing for impact. Swell now offers Impact IRAs, including SEP, Roth and Traditional offerings, as well as 401(k) rollover assistance.  

 

What were the early days like?

There were certainly fewer team members with which to collaborate. At launch, Swell had just a handful of employees. Now we have 25 and continue to hire. Until recently, part of our team was working out of the development firm that built the initial platform, Carbon Five. Now we’re about to move into our own office in downtown Santa Monica. The whole team is excited to have an office space to call our own.

 

Local Roots Los Angeles AgTech startup

Eric Ellestad
Founder and CEO

 

LA-based cleantech startup Local Roots has developed a hardware-software platform capable of nearly eliminating food that is often wasted in transit from the grower to the distributor. Recently named to Built In LA’s 50 Startups to Watch in 2018, Local Roots looks almost nothing like it did when Co-founder and CEO Eric Ellestad helped conceive the idea.

 

Knowing what the product looks like today, how would you describe how the MVP looked and functioned?

We started growing our first plants in my garage, testing various commercially available components and equipment. There were a few hilarious conversations with my neighbors and landlord to convince them we weren't growing anything illicit. We built our first full prototype TerraFarm in 2014.

 

How long did it take to put the MVP together?

There were a few years of research and diligence before launching the company, but around nine months for design, sourcing and completion of the prototype research and development TerraFarm.

 

What were the investors' initial reactions to the product?

Honestly, they were overwhelmingly positive. There was a little bit of shock and some disbelief when we first introduced the concept, but once people realized that we are using technology and innovation to improve access to food and nutrition — while solving serious environmental challenges — they became strong advocates.

...once people realized that we are using technology and innovation to improve access to food and nutrition — while solving serious environmental challenges — [the investors] became strong advocates.

What sorts of new functionalities have been added to the platform since the MVP days?

We’ve added a number of new features. High-performance and more efficient dynamic lighting. Additional sensors and visual data collection methods. Remote monitoring and control, cloud-based growing algorithms and an advanced process automation, among others.

 

What were the early days like?

A lot of hard work. Building, operating and maintaining a farm is not as glamorous as it may sound. Floods and lost crops were commonplace as we tested and integrated new prototypes and improvements to the system, as well as each component. The study of our initial crops involved repeated crop trials and 24/7 support and data collection. The challenges and failures outnumbered the successes by several orders of magnitude, but those were the most valuable learning experiences and ultimately became the inspiration for future innovations.

 

 

Jobs from companies in this blog22 open jobs
All Jobs
Dev + Engineer
HR
Operations
Product
HR
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Operations
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Product
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Tinder
Los Angeles
Developer
new
Swell Investing
Santa Monica
Developer
new
Swell Investing
Santa Monica

Los Angeles startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Los Angeles
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Software Engineer Jobs in Los Angeles
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Tech Offices in Los Angeles
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Sales Jobs in Los Angeles
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Los Angeles Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Marketing Jobs in Los Angeles
LOCAL GUIDE
Your Guide to Virtual Reality Tech in Los Angeles
LOCAL GUIDE
Your Guide to Media Tech in Los Angeles