How to build a prototype for your startup
Originally posted here: https://www.urlaunched.com
Hi Startupper. Last time we were sharing 5 key factors to success. Today, we would like to concentrate your attention on one of the first steps you would need to work on. Let’s imagine that you’ve got an idea for an amazing product or service, and you’ve tested it to see if it is viable. What is the next step in the startup journey? The answer is… to create a prototype. So, how to build a prototype?
Not too sure what a prototype is? Don’t worry.
This guide will explain the different prototypes you can use, how a good one can benefit your business and our top tips for creating an effective prototype process.
What is a prototype?
A prototype is a sample version of your product or service, that you can use for testing before you launch.
A prototype will allow you to get feedback and resolve any usability issues. This will eliminate any bugs and help to make your final product or service better.
There are a lot of different prototype examples you can use, depending on the product or service that you are launching. Prototypes are generally divided into two broad categories, low-fidelity ones (static, low interactivity) and high-fidelity ones (active, high-interactivity).
Here are some examples of prototypes you can use when testing your startup.
- Wireframe drawings or sketches. These are static drawings that give a rough idea of how your website or app will look, and where the key features will be placed
- A landing page. Rather than create a complete website or mobile app, creating one page will let you see how it will look, and also how people use it
- A role-playing situation between two or more people. This is particularly useful if you have a service you want to test. A role-playing scenario will let you see how people react to your service and if they ask any questions that you haven’t thought of
- Scale modelling/3D modelling. If your product is a tangible one, creating a smaller or simpler version will let you see how it will look and how customers will handle it. Modelling is commonly seen in the building design industry, where architects will create to-scale versions of buildings
- A mockup of an advert, data sheet or video. You can then show this to your customers and see how they react to it
- A pop-up shop. You can sell your product or service here, without committing to a rental contract
- A basic version of your product. This may sound similar to a minimum viable product, but there are differences. We’ll go into more detail about this later
There is also a prototype called ‘the Wizard of Oz’ or a ‘smoke and mirrors prototype’. This is when a user thinks they are communicating with a system or robot (for example, a chatbot), but a human is doing the work behind the scenes! And sure, you need to keep in mind the business model of your the next big thing. We described business models and strategic planning previously.
What are the benefits of a prototype?
Creating a prototype can have many advantages for your business, including:
- Finding any weaknesses in your product or service before you take it to market. This will not only help you save time, money and company resources, but also help you avoid negative publicity when you launch
- Helping you refine your ideas and define key product features. For example, you may want to add an additional feature to your website before you launch. A prototype will let you see if customers like this feature, meaning that you can add it in if the demand for it is there
- Seeing how your product or service responds on multiple operating systems, devices and platforms. We’ll go into more detail about this later
- Helping you get funding from investors. Investors want to know all there is to know about your product or service before they commit to investing. A prototype will let them see how it works, giving them the extra confidence they need to fund your startup
- Showing it to an intellectual property lawyer so they can help patent your product or service before you launch. An IP lawyer will want to see your product or service before they can offer their support. A prototype will give them insight into whether your startup idea infringes on copyright law or not
Is a prototype the same as a proof of concept or a minimum viable product?
We’ve discussed minimum viable products (MVP) and proof of concepts (POC) on our blog in the past.
Although all three do have similarities, a prototype is slightly different from a POC and MVP.
A POC is more theoretical and is used to test the potential and viability of your product or service. Conversely, a prototype is a tangible representation of your idea.
An MVP is a basic version of your product or service that the general public can access after you officially launch. You can then gather customer feedback to see what needs improving in future versions. A prototype is created before you launch. It’s not generally made available to the public, with all testing carried out in-house (or with selected partners).
If you are making a version of an app or website as part of your prototype, it will be extremely simple compared to your MVP. Think of your prototype as your alpha-test and your MVP as your beta-test!
For an example of all three concepts in action, let’s say that you are developing a mobile app. You may carry out a proof of concept to see if your idea is viable. You’d then put together a quick prototype so you can see how the app looks, feels and works. Finally, you would create an MVP and launch it to the public.
Can the prototype stage be skipped?
If you are confident in your product or service or you want to move quickly to market, you may not need a prototype.
However, if you have the time to do so, a prototype is definitely something that will benefit your startup.
Prototyping for mobile apps
While the prototype stage can be skipped out for certain products and services, we would definitely recommend prototyping for mobile apps.
This is because there are a wide range of different user scenarios that you need to consider for mobiles. Not only do you have to take different operating systems and devices into consideration, but varying bandwidths too. As an example, how will your app perform if there is no 5G or Wi-Fi?
It’s important to consider usability on mobile apps as well. A smaller screen may make it harder to carry out critical tasks or find important information.
As it can cost upwards of $120,000 to develop a complex mobile phone app, it makes sense to resolve any issues before production begins.
For an example of a prototyping fail, Qantas airlines got into trouble when it launched an app with scannable boarding passes. People with Apple Watches couldn’t fit their wrist into the scanners at the boarding gates! Testing the app on a variety of different devices before launch would have helped resolve this issue.
Whether your app is for Android or IOS, make prototyping an essential part of your product testing process.
Our top tips for building a prototype
Now that you know more about what a prototype is, you’re probably ready and raring to go and get your first one made!
Here are our top five tips for creating and testing the perfect prototype.
1. Do what works best for your product or service
The great thing about creating a prototype is that there are a lot of different options out there. The option that is right for you will depend on.
- The product or service you have created
- Your target audience
- The budget you have available (there are a lot of free and paid-for tools you can use to create your prototype. If you can’t do make your prototype inhouse, you can also hire a designer to make it for you)
- Your own personal skillset
For example, if you want to launch a retail outlet, the best option may to be open a pop-up shop selling your products. That way, you save money on renting a physical brick and mortar store, and you can ask customers to leave reviews of their experience online.
If you are thinking about launching a new service on your SaaS website, you can add a link to the prospective service on your homepage. If people click on it, they are directed to a page asking for their feedback and how they think this service would be of benefit.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box with prototyping… there is no right or wrong answer!
2. Get the right people involved
When you’re deeply involved in your startup, you’re probably going to overlook any issues that your prototype has.
This means that it is essential to bring the right people on board when it comes to testing your prototype.
Depending on your circumstances, this could be friends, family or staff at your startup. You can even invite some members of the public to try out your prototype and collect their feedback.
Have a look at who your target audience is and ask a sample of these people to test your prototype. Doing this will give you the best, most accurate results.
3. Make your prototype look and feel as real as possible
If you’re creating a test of your website, landing page or mobile app, make it look as authentic as you possibly can. This will help the people testing it get a feel for how the final product will look, and make your final feedback more accurate.
Try to avoid placeholder images and text where possible. Your prototype doesn’t have to be perfect (speed is more important than getting it 100% right), but it should be a solid representation of your product or service.
4. Test early and test often
One of the most common issues when it comes to prototypes is creating them just before launch. Doing this can cause the prototype to be rushed, and the information received to be inaccurate. The best prototype testing is conducted as early in the project as possible, and carried out on a regular basis after that.
Ideally you should complete your first prototype after you have determined viability with a POC. You can then take the feedback and create a refined prototype, testing until you are happy with the final version.
5. Keep it simple
As speed and frequency are of the essence when it comes to prototyping, the best prototypes are the most simple ones. Save the more complicated developments for when you move to the MVP stage.
‘Rapid prototyping’ is a specific type of prototyping, where the focus is on lots of small, quick changes, which can be discarded after they have been created. This type of prototyping is most commonly used by web developers and UI/UX designers.
In conclusion — don’t forget to prototype your product or service!
No matter your industry, a prototype will help you understand your product or service better and iron out any potential issues before you launch.
Prototyping may feel frustrating, especially if you have to go through the process multiple times. However, it is better to find any problems in the early stages of your startup rather than have a customer or competitor spot them for you when you go live.
Are you looking for more tips? Check other articles here.