Prototyping is a development method in which a prototype (an early approximation or a “best guess” of the final system or product) is built, tested and evaluated. Then the prototype is reworked until an acceptable solution is finally achieved. Final version has to be a sellable system or product can be developed in real life. Prototyping is an important part of the Start Up experience. Usually all the customer/user requirements are not known and by letting potential users test the product, they will give you valuable information about the characteristics and functions they like and use. Prototyping is an iterative, trial-and-error process that takes place between the developers and the users.
For JA Start Up Companies the prototype can be part of customer development process as the prototype is tested with real customers. While doing a prototype, keep in mind “how the functionality is seen by the user?”, not how it actually functions. When a customer orders something, he usually doesn’t care how difficult/hard/expensive/labour intensive etc. it is to deliver the final product. Try to build something that looks real and works like the final end-product for the customer.
Note: During the dot-com -boom there were plenty of examples of companies building the product before asking the customers. You can find the biggest flops here.
Reason for the prototype
You need to have a clear goal on WHY you are creating a prototype and what you want to learn from it . Design your prototype in a way that it answers those questions. Possible reasons for building a prototype can be:
- Testing the customer’s use on some functions.
- Testing the colour/shape/form of a product.
- Testing the customers perception of the idea or concept.
There are also different types of protos that can be built. Some protos can also mix the types below.
Can it be done? Proof of concept
World is full of ”can’t be done” -innovations, that can be sold if someone can figure out how to do it. With the proof of concept you can prove to potential customer (or funder) that product or service can actually be built and used. Also some functional testing can be done. Product may not look pretty or polished at this point of time.
Proof of consept product varies by the purpose for example
- You can create a rudimentary demo product that performs certain functions.
- You can test out the service consept for selected clients that request some limited functionality.
Mock up –proto (Visual prototype)
It can be useful to create a visual prototype of the product idea. This can be for example graphical (3d) visualization, series or images (in case of application functionality) or hand made concrete product that allows users to try it out in real life. Mock up clarifies the idea and allows test group to visually evaluate the product.
Tip: For online mock Up’s you can use Mockflow free tool for bacis Mock Ups: http://mockflow.com
Testing on the on functional prototype
If your product is simple and you have clear goal how it will be used and what characteristics are needed you can well test the demand on functional prototype amongst the customers. Examples can be simple innovations like tangleteezer (http://www.tangleteezer.com) or service that can be performed manually in the back office. This allows the customer to interact with the product and give a realistic opinion.
If you are allowed to sell your products you will gain even more information. Since decision to purchase something is far creater than comment that ”I would buy that”. So always do the live testing if possible.
Your goal is to create a prototype that’s useful for validating your idea. A model can be a service that customers can pilot or it can be a preliminary product that customers and possible investors can try out. If possible a real world testing should be organised.
Check-list for completion
- Written learning goals for prototype;
- Prototype is constructed on the selected level;
- Prototype is tested with customers (test type is defined by the prototype);