Prototyping and testing is commonly only associated with product development, but it’s actually critical for all aspects of business, particularly at the earliest stages of building a startup.
When you prototype, you’re essentially taking all the assumptions you’ve made about your business, developing them into something that can be illustrated and articulated with users, and putting it in front of them for reactions.
These can be assumptions about your product concept (product features and functionality), user experience, branding and core messaging, business and pricing model, target market and customers, customer acquisition channels, conversion assumptions, and acquisition costs. And yes, all of these, can be prototyped and tested with users.
On the journey to building a full-stack startup — an approach followed by some of today’s most innovative and successful companies — prototyping and early end-user involvement is a key component.
How does it impact the full build or full stack? In short, it enables startups to build based on a relationship with the end user and validated assumptions, ultimately saving time and money. Let’s take a few key parts of your business and illustrate:
Streamlining your Product’s Version One
Product is the most obvious benefactor of prototyping. Rather than build everything on day one, why not determine what is truly essential to your users and is going to provide the greatest return on investment early on?
Prototyping and testing with users allows you to prioritize features and functionality, and determine what is absolutely necessary for your version 1, and what can be pushed off to version two or even three. In some cases, you may even find that some of your original features will never end up getting built. And that’s okay.
By zeroing in on the most critical features, you:
- Reduce complexity. Simplicity is key and the simpler your product, the easier you’ll get adoption.
- Increase speed and reduce time-to-market. Fewer features and functionality equals less time spent building and launching the product.
- Lower costs and decrease the need for capital. Focusing on the most essential features will reduce cost and the amount of outside capital you’ll need, thus reducing dilution. This also gives you greater options and leverage at the negotiating table.
- Start generating revenue sooner. Who doesn’t like that?
Testing the Business and Pricing Model
One of the biggest mistakes startups make is waiting until their product is built or in development to start thinking about the business and pricing model.
These two components almost always affect the functionality and technical infrastructure of a product. You don’t want to determine your pricing model after your product has been built only to find out you have make major foundational changes.
Early on, it’s critical to test assumptions about how you will make money, who your buyer is and how much you plan to charge. Are you going to be subscription-based, use a freemium model or generate revenue with in-app purchases? While you may not be able to hone in on specific price-points until you’ve launched your product, you will be able to get a strong sense of your customer’s pricing sensitivity and the reference points they’re using when evaluating your the price of your product.
One easy way to start this conversation is by prototyping simple pricing pages that show the pricing model, packages and product price. You’ll gain user feedback, and determine whether they are unwilling to pay or will pay the amount you anticipated. Or you may discover you’re leaving money on the table by not charging as much as you could. Without a relationship with the end customer, it is very difficult to get paid accordingly.
What’s more, it’s incredibly challenging to make major pricing changes or change your entire pricing strategy post facto. So save yourself a major headache and test this prior to launch.
Messaging and Branding
With so much competition nowadays, having a great product is no longer good enough. You have to build a brand and story that inspires your customers and messaging that gives them a reason to believe in your mission and purpose. You’re creating advocates, not just customers. But this doesn’t come easy. It’s unlikely that you’ll nail this right out of the gate. So rather than guess, why not test?
Prototyping offers a really easy way to do this. Start by thinking about the tone and voice, look and feel, and messaging you want your brand to communicate through your product, website and other elements that customers will interact with. Now mock these up and put them in front of users. You’ll quickly discover what resonates and what doesn’t.
One of the most compelling reasons to prototype early on is to align your entire team.
- You will build a better product all around if you’re inclusive early on. Developers, sales folks, and designers all bring a different perspective to the table. These fresh outlooks will prove invaluable.
- It improves collaboration, teamwork and culture.
- You will get everyone on your team to buy-in and take ownership of the product on day one.
- You might discover technical or sales constraints early on. Waiting until the very end to determine whether certain product features or complicated UX design interactions are viable from a development perspective, or that the product won’t support quick changes to the customer acquisition funnel after it’s been built will not only frustrate everyone, it will result in a final product that is a shell of its original concept.
Don’t operate in a silo. During the prototyping process bring together everyone involved in the company from your developers to your sales team to marketers and product designers. By encouraging their participation early and often, particularly in the ideation stage you’ll gain fresh perspectives, and identify product limitations before anyone has grown too attached to complicated or unattainable features and design elements. You might even identify ways to make your solution even better.
Collaborating on the prototyping will ultimately result in a much better product, and thus a stronger company.
After all, you’re building more than just a product — you’re building an entirely new company that your product must fully support.
Learn more about the prototyping phase of the full-stack process here.
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Written by Tallwave