The success and achievements of any business are just the tip of the iceberg. The real story if often not visible but comprises many struggles, failures, lessons and lots of hard work.
A start-up may pass through these broadly categorized stages:
Stage 1: Early stage
Stage 2: Seed stage
Stage 3: Growth and establishment
Stage 4: Maturity
Stage 5: Acquisition or IPO
Each stage has different requirements. Taking necessary actions accompanied by the choice of the right set of tools at each stage increases the chances of success.
You have an amazing idea and you want to translate that into an actual product. But, jumping straight into the product-building phase is risky and can be expensive. You must test your assumptions and make sure the product is financially viable and technically feasible.
The early stage of any business sets up the foundation for future success or failure. It may involve:
- Refining and shaping up the idea
- Studying the market/competitors
- Defining a proper product vision
- Validating the concept or product for its feasibility and viability
- Pitching your idea to others –Industry experts, sample potential customers or even investors
How would you do all that? A pitch deck is a great start but that only presents your idea theoretically. You need something more than just a pitch deck. Something more concrete and visible. Something that shows the basic working of your product.
A prototype is a great tool to do just that and using them at this stage could be highly beneficial. It not only will help your audience understand your product better and validate but will also help you get more clarity about your business.
What are Prototypes?
A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process.
What Can A Prototype Do for You?
- It allows you to refine your idea, polish and shape it before you take it out to the world.
- It is more explanatory than a pitch deck but less risky than the final product.
- It is a great complementary tool to use along with your pitch deck for explaining your idea to your investors and other key stakeholders.
- It can act as an eye-opener for you as well to identify any loopholes or areas of improvement.
- It is more flexible to take any corrective actions here than in the final product building phase.
- At this stage when you have limited resources it can prove to be cost-effective.
- It helps you define the process.
- It sets a foundation to get the ball rolling.
Prototypes are undeniably a great tool but the key to its effectiveness lies in certain Dos and Don’ts. Let’s begin with the Don’ts first as it is more important to learn how not to mess up the real purpose of this amazing tool.
The key point to remember while working on a prototype is that it is not your actual fully functional product. Once you fully understand and accept this key principle, the process becomes a lot smoother.
Here is a list of prototype no-no’s you must avoid:
- It’s not the final product. Do not treat it as a fully functional final product.
- Do not make it complex. Stay away (as much as possible) from adding any complex features at this stage.
- Do not over-spend. Do not spend many resources on incorporating highly advanced technology unless it is a must.
- Don’t get trapped into the vicious cycle of perfectionism. Be mindful of when to stop. Revisiting your requirements document might be helpful as soon as you realize you are running around in circles😊
- Don’t let the schedule slip. Don’t confuse others and get confused yourself. Keep a shared tracker to avoid confusion and keep everyone on the same page.
- Don’t lose sight of your idea. Don’t create a replica of existing players in the market, do your homework, study them thoroughly and build your product around your USP.
Important points to take care of while building prototypes:
- Identify the key players in your industry and study them thoroughly to know their products USPs, weaknesses, customers or any other relevant info that could be useful for you.
- Define a product vision by determining the long-term and short-term goals, identifying your USPs, key features and requirements to define a product vision.
- Have a clear set of requirements by making a list of minimal, and most critical requirements needed to show the basic workflow of your product. Prioritize them and remove what you can avoid at this stage.
- Create small tasks, group the similar ones and prioritize them. Prioritization would help you set timelines and stay on track.
- Use smart hacks to save time and effort. Identify the sections of the product that are repetitive with a minor tweak here and there. Use the agile approach by developing, testing and locking out one section first. Then, use it as a base for other similar sections.
- Set clear timelines for all the individual tasks and also for the entire project. It will give you a clear vision of what has been achieved and what is pending.
- Document the entire process and any blockers, loopholes or any other important stuff you come across while working on the prototypes. It will come handy when the actual product building phase starts.
- Establish uninterrupted faster communication channels to avoid any confusion and delays. To turn things around quickly, make use of instant messengers and collaborative documents to address any questions or doubts.
- Follow KISS (Keep It Simple Silly) and keep away from adding any complex features or advanced technology at this stage. The beauty of a prototype lies in its simplistic and minimalistic nature.
Tools Available for Building Prototypes:
One thing to note is that people should not get obsessed with the tools used for building a prototype but instead focus on an appropriate medium. If the prototypes are for internal use only, the traditional pen and paper approach or a whiteboard session might be enough. If the prototype is to be used for pitch events or to solicit investment, then a higher fidelity prototype might be more appropriate. Even the tools discussed here differ in terms of their complexity. A tool like Balsamic may work very well and it is very easy to use, but it makes relatively low-resolution prototypes. In contrast, Adobe XD allows for higher fidelity prototypes but has a steep learning curve associated with it.
Below is a list of few good tools that you could use:
The prototype building tool if accompanied by a few other complementary tools can make the entire process of creating prototypes a lot faster and smoother.
Below is a list of some useful tools:
- Google Docs – For creating shared docs
- Trello – Task management tool
- Slack or Skype – For faster communication than email
As a founder, you are bound to be occupied with a never-ending to-do list, so it makes sense to leverage the expertise of a partner who has the domain knowledge and experience to help you realize your vision.
Venture services firms can become a great partner to young and passionate entrepreneurs who initially lack the resources and technical skills to not only build amazing prototypes but also guide them in other aspects – from setting up a proper product roadmap and strategy to pitching to the right investors.
Hope this article gave you useful insights on building amazing prototypes for your product. You may also like to check What I Learned From My First UX Project for designing perspective.
A prototype is not a fully functional product.
Happy Prototyping! 😊