Prototype First, Build Later

You're an entrepreneur. You're out to build a strong, impactful product or service and you want to build a successful business around it. Whether you have a co-founder yet or not, you are definitely on the right path if building a team is on the top of your list. Building a team isn’t easy though, as you may have realized. A well-balanced team is one that complements each other’s expertise and skillsets, and is always aligned around the core product. How you bring about this alignment depends on how well you are able to bring this concept from your head to the table or the screen, considering how software startups are more popular today. 

A minimum viable product (MVP) or prototype is the manifestation of your product concept in the early stages. It is a crucial part of the Lean Startup tapproach, where you can build something that works and use it to get feedback from potential customers, investors and other stakeholders. Having a prototype also lends an air of credibility – it shows a potential cofounder that you are invested enough in your idea to go through the time and effort it takes to build something around it. 

Many non-technical entrepreneurs claim that the prototype stage is an obstacle, while it really shouldn’t be. Resources such as CodeAcademy can help you setup an HTML page with ease, while more mobile-oriented platforms such as Balsamiq and MarvelApp can help you build a mobile UI fairly quickly. You don’t need to spend much valuable time on a prototype, neither should app development companies make thousands of dollars off of building a product for which you don’t yet have a market.

Technical or not, one thing is for sure – you are better off investing your time and energy in business development and other efforts to grow the business, which means take the MVP acronym very literally. 

Minimum. Viable. Product.

It is the bare skeleton of your product with 2-3 working, scratchy features. 

• It should be easily deployed on any device, via a URL so you don’t waste resources on app store qualifications

• It should be low-cost, quick and powered by free web services and APIs instead of a complex backend

• It should be usable and look good, but doesn’t need the design work of a game studio

• It should allow you to make quick iterations so you can refine the product

Finally, and this does happen more than you think, you should be able to justify throwing it away and starting all over if that’s what your feedback suggests. 

Dan Bricklin, co-creator of VisiCalc and the owner of two successful iOS apps, talks about an HTML5 approach to prototyping on his blog:

“This is a great model to follow: Prototype, iterate, and even first ship, in HTML5. Once you know what you need, if necessary, take the time to do native code. This doesn't just apply to the old desktop (as it has for years). It also applies to today's polished, fluid mobile world.”

The money and time saved in the process will be much better utilized when it goes towards business development, finding a cofounder, low-cost advertising, content creation and finding that sweet, sweet Product Market Fit!

Niket Anjaria manages  Alpha Software 's prototyping and development solutions geared towards SaaS and mobile entrepreneurs. Alpha Software is a CoFoundersLab Matchup Boston sponsor.

Niket Anjaria manages Alpha Software's prototyping and development solutions geared towards SaaS and mobile entrepreneurs. Alpha Software is a CoFoundersLab Matchup Boston sponsor.


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