While the concept of lean startups have been around for a while, most entrepreneurs err in their understanding of what the first prototype is, which they need to put out in the market for testing.
The biggest mistake most folks make is trying to build a product when they keep calling it a “prototype”. The other common mistake is that they take a product, which has 10 features and essentially pick one or two features, then build it and call it a prototype.
Both of these are fundamentally wrong. A prototype is a much more basic version of the concept, not of the features, that will showcase what you are trying to do (i.e. the solution).
So I have this fictional story in my head, that I believe will help you understand:
There was this king, who had a small but strong army and they had been constantly been raided by thieves and smugglers who lived in a nearby forest.
One day, after countless complaints and one raid gone awry with deaths throughout the countryside, the king decided to bring his army to wipe out this little problem.
There was only one problem – a river ran between the land and the place where the thieves had taken refuge. The king’s men also expected an ambush when they landed in the other side, especially if they did so one by one.
So they kept mulling over it for days, until one day when a bright young chap walked into the king’s tent, saying that he had a solution. He dropped a paper boat into the water, and dropped two pebbles into the paper boat.
These were days before people knew what boats were, so the king was surprised to see that the paper boat could float and even carry two pebbles in it without sinking.
Wowed by what he saw, the king could visualize the solution in his mind. With an excited sparkle in his eye, the king’s next question was, “How do we build this?” The young lad replied, “Give me carpenters and wood, and I’ll get you the boats to carry your men across.”
The king was at his command, along with a large supply of wood. Carpenters and able-bodied men were ordered to obey and follow the orders of the young inventor.
The paper boat was the prototype. Your goal, therefore, when building a prototype is to get that wow, and to show the customers and stakeholders a glimpse of the solution.
If the young man had walked in asking for carpenters and wood because he thought he had a solution, he probably would have been thrown out. A prototype gets you into the door, and the chance to command more resources to achieve your goal.
At the end of the day, that is really what entrepreneurship is about – the ability to move resources to achieve the goal you can see clearly but which isn’t very obvious to others.
Figure out what the big assumptions in your solution are. Many entrepreneurs often make a mistake by prioritizing user experience over functionality.
In the case of the paperboat, the assumption was to test the functionality so that you could build a floating vessel capable of carrying load. In the case of testing the user experience, perhaps the prototype should have been focused on how quickly the soldiers could get off the boat.
In this said scenario, however, the goal was to get the functionality right first, before figuring out where the exit doors for the soldiers go.
Identify what you are trying to solve first, then test the hypothesis of your solution via the prototype, not the product.
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