More and more people start their adventure with entrepreneurship recently and although they are all connected by common aspirations each founder-to-be has a different set of circumstances and constraints that affects his decision making. Because of that there is no universal solution to building a prototype successfully, everyone needs to make an individual decision based on what is possible in a given situation. By far the most common restrictions that entrepreneurs mention to me are: time and budget. That’s why I put together a summary of the most efficient approaches to prototyping, depending on how much time and money you have.
If you’re budget is really tight you will need to focus on a very simple prototype that will let you test the market interest without actually demoing the product or going into too many details. Essentially you should put together a landing page that will present your company’s offerings in a clean and simple way. As you don’t have means to build the actual functionality of the application you will need to mock it up by using some smart techniques. For example, instead of building the whole payments functionality it will be enough to track clicks on different pricing plans’ buttons. That way you will be able to record initial user interest and preferences with minimal effort. On the next screen you can ask users to leave their email address to be notified as soon as your application launches. I found that people from such lists tend to have best conversion rates further along the way. To sum up, the key is to get as much information about your visitors and their behaviour as possible without providing the actual functionality.
There are categories of tools that may be helpful here:
1. DIY Landing Page
• low budget (free - $149)
• little time investment (few hours to few days depending on a framework)
• some tech knowledge
There are some interesting tools in this area. If you have some coding knowledge (HTML and CSS is enough) you can go ahead and use frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap or Foundation - they are both free and consist of libraries of components that you can put together to create your landing page. Bootstrap’s team has additionally focused their efforts on the look and feel so their components look really good even in their default form.
If you haven’t got any coding experience you can look at Startup Framework which has been built on top of Twitter Bootstrap. You can purchase the tool for a one-off fee and what it will give you is a user friendly interface to drag and drop the components of your choice and create a pretty awesome landing page. It comes with a rich library of images, icons, and layouts and no coding will be required to put it all together. Startup Framework is a really good start although some tech knowledge will be needed to publish the site, add analytics and change the default look and feel.
2. Advanced Landing Page Generators
• low budget (starts from $39/mo)
• little time investment (few hours to few days)
• no tech knowledge
An alternative solution would be to use a bit more advanced tools for landing page creation. We’re still not thinking about building the actual app functionality but these tools will help you take a step forward and have a smarter landing page, not just the static content. You will be able to gather more data, test different versions of the page and compare results or even integrate it with external services. It’s worth to mention two examples of such generators in particular:
Unbounce is a tool that really let’s you configure your landing page in many different ways - it’s got analytics and A/B testing by default and provides numerous integrations with third party apps that let you make the most of your site, whether it’s data collection, email marketing or other activities. It will take you few hours to familiarise yourself with the tool but it will be worth it.
Quick MVP - I love the approach this tool has taken. The embedded landing page generator is quite a simple one and it won’t offer you as much as Unbounce but the focus here have been put on a rapid testing of your offerings through AdWords. You can literally create a page and a marketing campaign in 15 mins, after which you will start collecting stats from visitors. The effort here is really minimal and what Quick MVP does nicely is that it forces the correct way of thinking about a new business venture - focus on sales from day one.
There are cases when you will need to consider building a functional application prototype, for example:
- you’ve already conducted your initial market tests and were happy with feedback,
- the app functionality is essential/innovative part of your offering, without it users won’t understand or perceive value,
- you want to convert your idea into the actual business and start making money.
In this scenario you will need to invest more time and money, although it’s still possible to keep both within reasonable limits.
3. Finding a tech co-founder
• no / low budget
• significant time investment
• some tech knowledge
You can find a tech co-founder who believes in your idea and will help you develop the application prototype at no cost. If you’re new to the startup world you will need to invest a lot of time into events, networking and intros to get access to appropriate people. The huge market demand for developers isn’t helping here but with a bit of patience and luck I’m sure everyone will find a good match. There are sites that can help you with search, try for example CollabFinder or Cofounder's Lab.
4. Hiring software development professionals
• medium to high budget
• medium to high time investment
• no tech knowledge
In this approach you can choose between hiring a freelancer, a software development shop or even employing developers yourself - options are numerous but let’s focus on software consultancies for now. This may be the more expensive but also the most efficient way of building a prototype - you can count on experienced professional teams who developed many apps in the past and there are no restrictions as to the functionality of the app. Some of the software companies have also got designers and UX experts on board which means they can handle the whole process and avoid being dependant on yet another party.
On the drawbacks side, apart from the relatively high cost of such services you need to consider a sometimes lengthy vendor selection and negotiation process. You may also find it troublesome to compare different proposals as each software company has it’s own way of estimating the time and cost of development. What’s more, most software vendors take all projects they come across making it impossible for them to standardise and optimise the work processes as each client requires a custom approach - and this results in inefficiencies. Some will have restrictions as to the minimum project size and may require you to secure an investment first.
Nevertheless once you manage to find a solid and trustworthy partner who is happy to build an application prototype for you, you will certainly benefit from his know-how, experience and guidance. The seemingly high initial cost (when comparing to DIY solutions) may quickly be justified by time savings and priceless advice.
5. Service-as-a-Product approach
• medium budget
• medium time investment
• no tech knowledge
If you’d like a professional team to develop your prototype application but at the same time you’re put off by the complexity of finding the right partner and high costs of development, check out our Application Prototype. Based on our experience from working with tens of entrepreneurs and startups and trying to address the most common fears, we’ve put together a package that combines the best of both worlds: prototype generators and bespoke software development. You get all the benefits of having a customly designed and developed prototype but at the same time you benefit from a fixed cost (which removes investment uncertainty) and quick turnaround time. If that sounds interesting, just give us a shout and we will be happy to provide you with more info.