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This is the fifth article in a series on how to start a company in 2020. See the previous article, Step 4, Conducting Primary Market Research.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” – Steve Jobs

This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of customer validation and market traction.

Nothing succeeds faster than a functional product… or at least a good visual representation of the product you want to build. The quicker you can develop a prototype and show it to prospective customers, the sooner you can collect the feedback necessary to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). There is so much good know-how information, and so many good tools available for building a minimum viable product, there is no excuse for wasting time and money on building a product that no one wants. There is an entire cottage industry dedicated to inexpensive and rapid product development.

Product prototyping and development is a six-step process:

(1)  Collect product, market and competitive data (with an emphasis on primary market research), to validate the “sweet spot” of your product.

(2)  Brainstorm features and focus on the one or two critical features that customers want most.

(3)  Develop a prototype – even if it is a paper mock-up (aka story boarding).

(4)  Test the prototype with target customers.

(5)  Measure the customer feedback; rinse and repeat until you have a product specification that customers love.

(6)  Build the *real* product on a rapid development schedule and get it into the hands of customers for further testing and refinement.

Things to Think About and Decide

First, think about the key value proposition of your product.

Second, think about the key metrics needed to determine whether your product is valuable to users and whether it is getting traction.

Third, decide on the least amount of functionality you need to have to test the product with real customers?

Fourth, determine what skills you need to have or source to build a Minimum Viable Product.

Fifth, think about the fastest and least expensive method and tools at your disposal to create a functional prototype.

Things to Do (or not)

  • Create a use case and a user persona for your product. Validate it with actual users.
  • Write one paragraph describing the entire offering that you are trying to create, or have created. Write at least fifteen different key “Features” that your offering needs to have at launch.
  • Arrange the “Features” into logical “Groups,” and sort the “Features” by placing the most important “Features” at the top of the “Group” list and the less important ones at the bottom.
  • Order the “Groups” by placing the most important “Groups” first, building a basic “Development Roadmap.” Eliminate any less important “Features.”
  • Organize “Features” in the most important “Groups” into releases, and identify your first minimum viable product (“MVP”) release that is simple. See http://fndri.com/yVKzvp as a template.
  • Write two sentences describing each “Group” and two sentences on the key “Features” in your MVP, and provide a strategy and time estimate to develop each “Feature.”
  • Use basic prototyping tools, such as Balsamiq or Protoshare  to develop a non-functional mock up of your MVP.
  • Develop a proposal for an aggressive two-week product development sprint to complete a series of key features.
  • Launch a professionally designed landing page on your domain that states your vision and collects email addresses of interested customers or users. Alternatively, use https://www.launchrock.com/
  • Sign up for Microsoft BizSpark, Amazon AWS, or Google for Entrepreneurs to access development tools and services.
  • Depending on the complexity of your product, write a detailed product specification.

Recommended Readings & Resources

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank

Product Design and Development

by Karl Ulrich – The book presents a set of product development techniques aimed at bringing together the marketing, design, and manufacturing functions of the enterprise.

Lean Startup Methodologies by Eric Ries

Nail it then Scale It

Best-selling book on creating a product that people love and want to buy.

Database Design for Mere Mortals

by Michael Hernandez – Explains the technique of using sentence subjects to build a database model outlined.

How to Bring a Product to Market

by Venture Hacks – Nivi interviews Sean Ellis on how to get to product/market fit, how to measure fit, and how to survey your users so you can improve fit.

Squarespace

A fully hosted, completely managed environment for creating and maintaining a website with mobile-ready template designs.

Creately

Collaborative wireframe and prototype tool.

SnapPages

Website creation tool.

Mockingbird

A web-based wireframing tool.

FireFox Development Tools

Web development tool, integrates with Firefox. Edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript live in any web page.

BasecampMantis and Pivotal Tracker

Low cost project management and bug tracking applications.

Google Analytics

A must-have tool for websites.

Google Developers

Developer tools, API’s and technologies.

Google Webmaster Tools Optimize your website.

Building a Minimum Viable Product Video, by David Meadows

Product Building and Innovation Video, by Mike O’Donnell

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Add Other Resources in the COMMENTS section below. Thank you!

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Stay tuned for Step 6, Scrub Business Plan and Projections

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Post Author: Michael ODonnell