So you have an idea that you think is perfect for a startup. It’s unique, it’s original, it’s promising to help a lot of people - in other words, it has all the prerequisites for success. The only problem is, you don’t have sufficient funds, and you don’t have wealthy business partners to sponsor you either.
A lot of people would stop there, and it’s not their fault: some factors are unbeatable, and the lack of financing is one of them. Not being willing to risk getting into debt for the sake of a project that’s not guaranteed to succeed is completely normal.
There is, however, a way to get around this issue. Did you know you could check the viability of your business idea with the entry-level costs? All you need to do is create a visual design prototype and test it on your focus group.
What Is A Visual Prototype?
The term “visual prototype” is pretty self-explanatory: it means a model, simulation or sample of the final product specifically made for testing and improvement. It is the step between the idea in your head and the practical realization of that idea. You can make a visual prototype of your product, website or even software service solution.
The benefits of visual basic prototype are numerous, and it requires significantly less funding than a full-scale product.
Steps To Creating A Visual Prototype
It might sound complicated, but there is a defined set of steps you can follow to create a good prototype that would represent your idea and attract investors. For your convenience, here is a small guide.
1. Define your goals and target audience
You probably already have a good idea of what you want your product to be, but do you know the details? How are you going to measure its success? Can you define the exact goals you want to achieve? Do you see the ways it could evolve in the future?
Answering these questions will also help you get closer to defining your target group. Having a target group is a very important factor: you can try to target everyone, but it’s usually niche startups that succeed.
It is also not enough to say you are targeting middle-aged females, or business owners. While this gives you an idea of where to start, it’s better to get even more specific. The target group needs to share a characteristic, or an interest, that both unites them and makes your product valuable to them.
It’s a good idea to analyze your competition. See what niche they are targeting, how successful they are - and then go for a slightly different niche, not yet occupied.
You also need to analyze your product. Write out the list of features it offers, and think about what sort of a person could benefit from these features. Think about their approximate age, gender, education, marital status, job, income, ethnic background, location - anything that could allow to assign them to a particular demographic. Their lifestyle, hobbies, values and personality would be a great addition to this list. Try to imagine when and where this hypothetical person will be using your product. Is it a young office worker who spends a lot of time commuting? A stay-at-home mom who has to do all of her shopping online? When you know who you are targeting, you know the best channels to reach them and the best message to attract them.
Do keep in mind, though, that you don’t want your focus group to be too narrow. It might happen so that there are simply not enough customers for your product to pay off.
2. Write a spec of your idea (or hire a team to do that)
A spec, or technical specification, is a list of defined requirements that the prototype needs to meet.
There is an algorithm to writing these specs:
- Decide if it is going to be open or closed. An open spec leaves far more freedom by simply listing the requirements without dictating how they will be achieved. A closed spec, on the other hand, adds all the necessary tools and technologies to the list.
- Start with a table of contents. Make sure you begin with more general requirements and proceed to specifics later.
- List the requirements and conditions in as much detail as you can think of.
- Reread it to make sure it is understandable to someone who does not know anything about your product yet.
The spec is an important thing that requires quite a bit of technical understanding. If you are not experienced with this side of things, you might want to hire a team to take care of it for you.
3. Visualize your concept
Start with the rough concept. Just draw a picture by hand, trying to include all the important details - this is just a rapid visual prototype that will help you later.
When you find a technical team to take your visual concept to life, this sketch will help them make the concept as real as possible. Along with your technical spec, this is all you need to create the prototype. No experience in creating visual content or developing websites needed - there are always professionals who can do it for you. And even if you do have some experience, it is better to rely on people who have dealt with this exact sort of task before. This is a very important stage of your project: your literal future depends on it, so the prototype needs to be done as professionally as possible.
If your product is an app or a website, you will need a visual prototype website to fully represent its features. It needs to function roughly the same as the finished product will, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Here are a few tips:
- Start with a list of absolute priority features your product needs in order to work.
- Add non-essential features that will add to the quality but are not crucial.
- Finish with the features that can be cut from the prototype without sacrificing the quality.
Analyze all the components to find the best way to include all the most important features while cutting the costs. This might be a hard task that will require professional assistance, but at the end the effort will be worth it.
4. Test it
Now that you have your prototype ready, it’s time to test it.
There are some things you can do on your own or deligate tasks, like turning to social media. You already have your focus group, you know the channels they use, so go out there! Find Facebook groups devoted to your niche, or ones where members share the same interests, and reach out with a good SMM strategy. Every target audience has a “voice” that appeals to them - find it and use it to attract attention to your product. If everything goes smoothly and people enjoy the prototype, there is a high chance they will be willing to purchase the finished product later, especially if you have already established a sort of a connection with them. If not, you need to hire specialist that will run your tasks for you. In the most cases it is the best option to start, othervise you risk to pay twice for the same result.
Crowdfunding platforms are another great choice. You don’t have to look for serious investors: regular people like you could fund your project. There are so many great products that have been made possible by Kickstarter - yours could be one of them!
A disadvantage of testing the prototype on your focus group is that this testing will not be as thorough as you want it to be. You will get the general idea of public response, that much is true. You won’t get comprehensive analysis of all the pros and cons, or the technical side of it. For that, you need to have a special person who will make sure that everything can and will run smoothly when you take the next step and try turning your prototype into a finished product.
Ideally, of course, that would be the same team that worked with you on creating the prototype. Having a good team to support you every step of the way will make the task of developing and testing your prototype much easier.
The lack of funding should not stop you from trying to implement your idea into life. A startup visual prototype is a great way to present your product to potential customers and investors without spending a fortune. Don’t miss your chance to launch a successful startup - start thinking about your prototype now!