Prototyping is one of the most exciting parts of entrepreneurship. How do you create the best prototypes for your venture? What can you learn from other businesses and their product prototyping journeys?
As part of the EWOR Academy, Daniel Dippold gave a lecture on product prototyping rules and mistakes. As the CEO of EWOR and a serial entrepreneur, Daniel knows the value of creating the right prototyping plan for every business.
In this article, you’ll learn basic prototyping principles from case studies. If you’re looking for a beginner’s introduction to prototyping, visit our blog post “Discover the Fundamentals of Prototype Development.”
For more insights from experienced entrepreneurs, sign up to our EWOR Platform to gain access to over 17 courses and a plethora of resources.
Why Is Product Prototyping Important?
It’s tempting to skip to building the best product and exploiting the target market as soon as possible. But what if there’s no demand? What if you missed the mark and customers don’t want your product?
To avoid wasting time and money, prototyping is as essential as customer centricity. In fact, prototyping complements customer research and adds more truth to your assumptions. Without listening to customer feedback, you won’t be able to deliver the products they want to buy.
“Prototyping is about creating a hypothesis. You build your prototype to validate a hypothesis.”
This quote shows the simple core principle of prototyping. Create hypotheses and use a prototype to confirm them. That’s how every business venture starts as well. Think of an issue to solve and prove your hypothesis that there’s a market for it. The same approach applies to prototyping.
There is a set of seven core rules to create the best prototypes and gain the most information. Follow these guidelines to ensure efficiency and reach the best results.
Law of Least Effort
Design prototypes in a way that’s easiest for you to validate your hypothesis. Don’t over-engineer them. Simplicity is key when it comes to prototyping. Create the simplest version of your product and don’t waste money on special features that aren’t a core part of the concept.
Law of Highest Insight
This rule is about the value your prototype creates. Design prototypes that not only validate a hypothesis, but also create meaningful insights. Find ways to combine simplicity with learning about your target customers’ needs. Be precise and focus on your hypotheses. In theory, it’s a simple rule. Don’t underestimate its importance.
Know Your Hypotheses
Know the hypotheses you’re validating with your prototypes. Write down what you want to achieve and don’t start building without spending time on your hypotheses. Have the discipline to engage with your assumptions before spending time on product prototyping. This rule ensures creating the most value from your prototypes.
People often manipulate the first batch of customers who use their prototypes. It’s easy to ask leading questions and sway their honest opinion. But influencing user feedback won’t benefit you. Instead, create prototypes as neutral representations of your company.
Be creative with prototype designs to make them low effort and high insight generators. Don’t run with the first idea you have and build a prototype. Instead, find innovative ways to design your products and combine simplicity with efficiency. If you have a team of designers, make sure they work with those same innovative priorities in mind.
Timing matters in business. Don’t waste time perfecting an over-engineered prototype. Try to produce as many prototypes in the shortest time span possible.
Create Prototyping Rhythm
The direct result of the previous rule is creating a prototyping rhythm. Develop a system in which you periodically create prototypes. For example, re-evaluate your hypothesis every three days. It’s beneficial to your business to create these habits and push the development of your product.
With the high demands of launching a start-up, this step can be difficult for solo founders. Put in the work even when it’s hard and reap the benefits of faster growth.
Product Prototyping Teams
Prototyping looks different for solo founders and those who have a founding team. Solo founders have to educate themselves in each area and create prototypes themselves. If you have a founding team, distribute tasks according to skill sets. Assign multiple roles to the same person or share responsibilities. The makeup of a prototyping team depends on your business and the size of your team.
The following list includes every possible role within prototype production.
User researchers are the people responsible for customer interviews and evaluating user feedback. Based on their work, the prototype adapts to customer demands.
Make sure to have designers on board to quickly design aesthetically pleasing prototypes.
The key to a good prototype is an engineer who works to make the product as functional as possible. Once again, don’t risk over-engineering your prototype.
Product managers keep the goals of product prototyping in mind. They form a close relationship with every member of the prototyping team.
For more information on product management, read Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
As the person responsible for managing the technological requirements, the CTO oversees the engineering of your prototypes.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The CEO is the driving force behind prototyping production. Thus, they oversee the entire process and work closely with the product manager.
How to Navigate Prototype Disagreement Among Founders
What if your co-founder disagrees with a prototype iteration? What if they’re afraid to fail? How can you navigate disagreement among the founding team?
It’s always better to try and fail than to never try. Anybody who stands in the way of improving your product stands in the way of the start-up’s growth. Don’t stick with rigid people.
The success of a start-up is not defined by how incredible the founders are, but by how adaptive they are. Consider it the business application of survival of the fittest. Pivoting is a constant in the start-up world. If people on your team aren’t willing to take risks and innovate, they’re not a good fit. Flexibility is key.
Product Prototyping Case Studies
To show how theory works in practice, we’ll highlight three companies and their unusual prototyping processes. Learn from their approaches and apply these prototyping techniques to your venture.
Prototyping Case Study 1: EWOR
EWOR is a good example of the evolution of product prototyping iterations and pivoting.
This start-up began with the idea to encourage Europeans to start founding businesses. Initially, the prototype was to pay risk-averse founders a wage as an incentive. Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t attract motivated aspiring entrepreneurs, but rather employment-seeking individuals.
The next prototype was to offer education to risk-averse founders. Focusing on a different angle of the problem seemed promising. Showing people the ways of founding is a good approach in theory. But in practice, it’s more likely that customers will turn to YouTube or other resources online.
The unlikely success of a purely education-based platform led to the next prototype. EWOR combines education and acceleration for any pre-idea founder. To combine the two aspects of start-up founding, the EWOR Fellowship Program was launched. This iteration results from taking a step back and validating other hypotheses.
After the fellowship, the team posed yet another hypothesis: not every founder needs acceleration. Thus, the EWOR Academy was created to provide education and a network for young founders. Many already have an idea for a business, and not everyone is interested in a ten-month fellowship program. The Academy solved those issues and met the demands of a different group of young entrepreneurs. It’s the next prototype in the EWOR journey.
Weekly meetings and re-evaluations are key to navigating the prototyping process. Adapt to customer demand in effective and creative ways.
Prototyping Case Study 2: NEWNOW Group
One of the easiest products to prototype is a service. However, that doesn’t mean you’re prototyping in the most effective way.
NEWNOW started as a network of P&G Alumni. These alumni were renowned entrepreneurs, but they didn’t have a service to offer yet. They sporadically offered their expertise to businesses, but there was no system yet.
After agreeing on the goal to create an impact, the first prototype launched in the form of a dual-generation consulting service. One young tech entrepreneur and the experience of the alumni proved to be a powerful approach to consulting.
The demand for their consulting service rose. Yet, the NEWNOW team noticed customers’ desire for tech applications. Thus, they developed a prototype for a dual-generation tech application builder. Expanding upon the consulting idea, the company also branded itself as a tech application builder. This additional prototype generated more deals and popularity.
Due to the high demand for a small team, NEWNOW’s next prototype was an attempt to narrow its field of operations. The team decided to focus on positive impact-driven businesses as their target group. Their logo change shows how this prototype changed their brand and combined tech with impact.
The new prototype had the opposite desired effect. Higher demand forces the NEWNOW team to focus on new prototype solutions now. Due to this issue, the latest idea is to incubate the tech applications they’re building. Customer research will show if their partners can turn their products into scalable tech ventures.
NEWNOW teaches us the need for constant re-engineering and prototyping. The founders and their team have been working on iterations of their service for over two years.
Prototyping Case Study 3: Sigma Squared Society
Anything can be prototyped. Sigma Squared proves that this applies even to communities.
Sigma Squared started as a local global founders community. Many tried to build a global community for young entrepreneurs, but it was difficult to unite local chapters in cities around the world. Additionally, toxic people took value from the community.
Sigma Squared took that prototype and re-invented it as a central founders community. They needed a big event to launch it. Asa new organisation, they decided to approach well-known entrepreneurs to help their image.
By focusing on the founders first and helping them build a portfolio, investors naturally gained interest. This prototype not only created a community of people who wanted to belong together, but also resolved sponsor problems.
The next iteration of the prototype was a “glocal” founders community. It re-introduced local chapters and combined them with central investor communities. There is a constant need to reinvent and launch initiatives to become relevant again. Thus, flexibility is key to success in these cases.
The current prototype is the so-called “Matrix” founders community. Sigma Squared launched this new idea that changes how they work within the community. They added a horizontal axis and connected across industries rather than locally. It aims to match founders within their respective fields across the globe.
Validating the hypothesis for this prototype is their current focus. Is it too overwhelming to join two communities long-term? The results of their customer research will determine the next iteration of Sigma Squared’s prototypes.
Prototyping for your start-up isn’t easy. Keep simplicity and efficiency in mind when designing prototypes.
Use the case studies we showed you to rethink product prototyping for your own venture. Be creative. Use prototypes to present your core idea to the market and see how people engage with it. Make your prototype the ultimate generator of value and growth.