Originally posted on my blog at Startup Grind
Taking those first steps when starting a company can be daunting. You’ve got an idea, but how do you know if it’s any good? What if you waste loads of time and money building it, but then no one actually uses it? Ideally, you want to test your idea by doing the least amount of work possible.
Here are the 3 steps to effectively test your idea without having to write any code. Get these right and your company could be on trajectory for success.
Start with The Mom Test
The first place to start is with something called the ‘Mom Test’. When you have your idea, the first thing you may do is start by telling friends. Never be afraid to share your idea: the chances of anyone stealing it are negligible, while the feedback is invaluable. Of course, with friends, you’ll usually get encouraging, gentle feedback. They’ll say it’s great – almost all of them will, in fact. “Digital recipe books? I would love that!”
Are they the right people to use it? Are they going to pay you for it?
Before even hitting the block for feedback, the mom test is there to help you learn to frame questions in a way that generates an honest – and therefore valuable – response. If your mom can understand what you’re doing and why it’s valuable, you’re ready to ask everyone else.
In the example of the digital recipe book: ask if they use online recipe sites. Yes or no? Ask why. Get to know their life and their problems.
If you don’t get positive responses at this stage, no harm done. Reload and start again. However, if it seems like a valuable problem or they seem genuinely interested, get to Step 2 — ASAP.
Next, Build a Basic Prototype
The basis of building a prototype is to create something visual that represents your idea. You want to get as close to a real product as possible, but know the limitations. Essentially, this is similar to a slide presentation — except the slides are linked together in a way that allows the user to demo the usability.
Create a Logo
A logo really helps to bring your brand to life. It also aids you in framing the style and colour scheme of the product, helping to create consistency and therefore the impression of reality.
99designs is a crowd sourced design website. Allowing you to write a brief for the type of brand you are looking to create and attach a cash prize to it, designers then compete to provide you with logos that fit your brief, with you providing feedback on their designs and then announcing a winner through the service.
If you don’t want to pay however, Squarespace have a logo building service that gets you a very simple base logo in 2 mins. So does Hipster Logo Generator.
Create the Screens
In order to do this without writing any code you’ll need to create individual screens that can then be put into prototyping software with hotspots – or interactable areas kind of like buttons – attached. It is also a very natural way for you to start thinking about the actual layout and flow of the product, which then dovetails nicely into when you want to get it built for real.
Balsamiq is a fool proof way of creating digital sketches for apps or software. This is your first port of call, it will really get you thinking about how a product flows and create a framework of logic for what you want your product to showcase.
Pixlr is a great free piece of software for you to take your balsamiq sketch and make it look more polished.
Da Button Factory instantly creates button designs for you, this is essential in making a prototype that looks ‘real’. Once you have designed the buttons you can download them and add them to your Pixlr screens.
Link Up the Prototype
Once you have created your individual screens, you can then use an online prototyping service to add touch points and bring your product to life.
Tools for building mobile apps:
PoP is an amazing app that lets you take photos through your phones camera and build your prototype within the app. You can then share it to others via email which they can use on their phone or desktop. I also like to do this at Balsamiq stage to just help get a feel for the complete product user flow at an early stage.
Tools for web apps:
Invision lets you upload screens directly into their builder, adding hotspots to then help knit your screens together.
Last, Gather Feedback
Once your prototype is ready and the user flows that make it feel like a real app, get it into people’s hands. The idea is to get in contact with potential users or customers and take them through it. You won’t have any onboarding process, so don’t just send it to them – talk them through it until it’s polished enough for them to figure it out themselves.
Find Potential Customers
You should have a good idea of who these people are, you just need to find them.
Tools for consumer products:
Facebook is powerful for seeing a complete list of your friends, then communicate and interact with them intially to schedule a demo call.
Tools for enterprise products:
Linkedin is a brilliant search tool for different industries and jobs, ideally find people who you have common connections with, then just send them a speculative message saying that you have an idea for a product that you would like to get their feedback on.
Carry Out Your Feedback Loop
After you’ve found some valuable leads, you want to set up a one-on-one call with the person. Remove all distractions to take them through the prototype, or better yet, let them use the product themselves and watch their interactions.
Skype has a share screen feature, so you can start a Skype call then either let them open the prototype on their screen and let them click around with you answering questions and providing feedback, or open it on your screen and talk them through the user flow. Both ways create different forms of feedback.
Make sure you segment and write down all of the feedback you receive. You’re looking for natural responses of interest. One trigger to look for: if they ask questions, that shows genuine interest and intrigue.
My company, Pollen, utilized this methodology. Putting theory to practice, we built a prototype using the tools above. No code was written. It was essentially a PowerPoint presentation with hot spots.
We then created what was called our ‘industry innovators’ group. We spoke to over 100 people in our perspective sector. 8 of these turned into Letters of Intent, and we plan to turn many more into customers.
Building a product out in the open as opposed to a vacuum is foundational. Like the Lean Startup Methodology, it’s a way of tackling problems and assessing situations. Removing speculation and replacing it with validated consensus from actual or potential users. As the saying goes… ‘100 heads are better than 1’.