Prototyping


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When you’re working on a model to show off your product’s size, features, and functionality, it’s not so much about building out a fully functional, perfectly designed product. Rather, it’s about creating a prototype that allows you to explain the concept to potential investors, clients, and employees and to help them get a visual of your idea.

It can be expensive to bring a prototype from concept to reality so don’t worry about putting all the bells and whistles on your first model. If you don’t have the resources just yet, don’t be afraid to reach out to freelance programmers and developers if all you need is a quick mockup of something that you want to show your early-stage investors. You can start simple by engaging friends and colleagues who are knowledgeable about design.

You could also tap the resources from websites like ThomasNet, a one-stop database of 650,000 manufacturers, distributors, and prototype developers around the world. If you are working on a technology prototype, you can tap resources like Product Hunt, which allows new companies to submit products via its online platform, providing its name, tagline and link to a website and give users an opportunity to decide which products get an ‘up’ vote as being a good idea. The most popular ones appear on the top of the website. If you have a hardware-based prototype, look for companies like Techshop, which provides you with all the tools you need to bring your product to life. There are also invention support sites like InventorSpot.com and IntellectualVentures.com.

Your prototype doesn’t have to be fully functional or built to scale, but it should translate your vision into something real and tangible. These days, anyone can be an entrepreneur by pitching his or her latest ideas. But for angel investors, what sets apart a person with a good idea from a true entrepreneur is the prototype. Having one gives investors and partners a good reason to consider investing in you and puts you on a whole new level.

Here’s a guide for how you can go about building a prototype that will attract investors[1]:

  1. Test your idea early: The startup community is full of eager beavers who have an idea for an awesome product. They want to know how to find customers and capture a large market. The question they should first ask is, “Have I built a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?” If so, that’s an indication that you need to jump ship and think of a new idea. On the other hand, how do you know if your idea is something people will pay for? Well, you build your prototype and show them. Get ample feedback about why they might want to invest in it.
     
  2. Take apart other company’s products: If you’re making a physical product, try and take apart the product of your potential competitors. Look at how it’s assembled, what materials were used, and any insights on how to save time and money when you’re building your prototype. If you’re creating an online product or a mobile app, look at the flow of those in your space. Examine the user-focused design and think of what you can improve.
     
  3. Quantify the implementation challenges: No matter how strong your vision and drive are, you won’t know that it works until you build a prototype. You can talk about how great your idea is, but unless it’s been proven and tested, it’s all science fiction. You want something your team and investors can touch and feel so that they have a better understanding of what it is that you’re trying to achieve.
     
  4. Consolidate a video prototype or wireframe: Before you start shaping molds, try creating a 3D video. Animation may adequately express an idea and help outline what’s needed in more detail for the physical prototype. If you’re building software or a phone app, try building wireframes that show the flow of each page.
     
  5. Make a mini prototype: Consider taking a trip to the hardware store to build a scaled down version of your product. This will serve as a launching pad for understanding the parameters of your product and make it easy for you to explain how it works before taking it to the next level. 
     
  6. Make a full-scale prototype: Once you’ve worked on the major holes in your initial prototype, it’s time to make a more concrete prototype. Remember that the amount of money and time you spend on your products and services is never an indication of potential success, but you can get used to building and rebuilding.
     
  7. Communicate with your prototype creator: Make sure you’re on the same page as the person working to help you build your prototype. Leave no details to chance if you want the job done right the first time.
     
  8. Show investors you’re committed: Without a prototype, most professional investors won’t look your way. The process of designing, building, and validating a prototype reduces the risk for investors and allows everyone to see that you yourself are serious about moving your invention past the idea stage.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/martinzwilling/2014/07/14/kickstart-your-startup-credibility-with-a-prototype/

 

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