Prototyping can de-risk product development by providing entrepreneurs with key insights to build an app that customers need and will buy.
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Prototyping is not a novel concept for entrepreneurs. It plays a significant role in every startup stage, whether in defining and testing product features, preselling an idea, or presenting it to team members. It provides critical product insights on design and functionality, making product development a more efficient process.
In my startup journey, I have realized that prototyping at a rapid pace minimizes development risk and expedites the entire development process. Here is how you can use it to develop your startup app idea.
1. Start at the simplest level
The rapid prototyping approach has the underlying economic motivation of producing functional models of the product, to validate its design and functionality quickly and at a low cost. The process allows you to rapidly develop several prototypes, incorporating new insights at every stage and refining your prototype through iterations while successfully capturing the core functionality of your solution.
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Starting at the simplest level doesn’t necessarily mean developing hand-drawn prototypes. Whether or not you are a technical founder, you can begin with no-code tools to visualize the concept and use readily available open-source tools to develop wireframes with clarity of your product concept, content, and layout. You can use alternative design tools to develop product mockups without writing a single line of code.
2. Review your prototypes with future users
Entrepreneurs are known to be risk-takers. When it comes to building a startup, entrepreneurs bet that their product is a valid and viable solution to a problem people need to solve. If you are making a bet with the desired outcome of building a product that people use and pay for, would you bet all of your resources and efforts in one product launch? If things don’t work out, you fail. But if they do, you can be ahead of the competition.
Data shows that most startups don’t hit it big the first time. Even those that do, if you look closely, you’ll find months if not years of development, iterations, and pivots. Twitter is an example of a startup that was born out of a failed venture.
If you had the opportunity, instead, to make tens of smaller bets where the failure of a bet doesn’t significantly affect the overall system and where the next bet depends on the result of the earlier ones, your job as a startup founder becomes much easier since you’re always learning and backing your decisions by recent insights. In the worst case, you fail fast and cheaper, instead of waiting months to learn the same. This is what rapid prototyping allows you to do.
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Once your initial prototype is ready, capture customer insights through interviews to learn how different aspects of your product will work for them. This is an opportunity to validate your startup app idea and build a product in response to demand. Furthermore, take these opportunities to simplify your team’s job of learning how your users want to interact with the product and what features and functionalities are essential to them. In other words, let the customer tell you what they want.
3. Refine your prototype to higher fidelity
Based on user reviews, add more depth and functionality into your prototype and progress towards a high-fidelity version. This is a key prototyping stage as it usually precedes building your first product version. At this stage, your goal is to identify and then validate the features and functionalities that must exist for the user to successfully get their problem solved through the product while eliminating the ones that don’t seem essential or must-have.
Several cost-effective cloud-based tools are available to expedite the development of your high-fidelity prototype and produce an automated and integrated version of your app. If you are developing hardware solutions, 3D printing can be eventually used to build physical product components.
4. Repeat the process
The main goal of prototyping is to fail quickly and cheaply in order to build with higher success predictability. The process allows you to make small and quick mistakes that help you build the next version of your prototype or product based on tested data.
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The idea is to keep the designing-reviewing-refining cycle rapid in order to come up with improved prototypes at a fast pace and effectively begin developing a product people will use.