Proof of Concept: Improving Software Success
So after months of collaborating, you and your team have decided on a product idea and you’re ready to begin building. That’s great! But you might want to hold off until you’ve developed a proof of concept first.
A proof of concept (PoC) is about testing your idea to make sure it is operationally feasible. It should allow you to minimize the risks by using minimal time and resources. In the competitive nature of startups, if you’re not building the right foundation while minimizing risks, and removing your biases, you leave your company susceptible to a world of problems down the road.
Starting off on the right foot doesn’t exactly begin with countless hours of coding and designing just to launch a product. Before setting aside resources towards any of these lengthy processes, consider a PoC; this may be the difference between having a startup success story, and being part of the 90% of startups that end up failing.
Will it Work? Figuring Out an Idea You Should Pursue
Regardless of how innovative we think our ideas are, it’s up to us to prove the need for our product. The reality is, customers will not care about your solutions, only their problems. New products, regardless if they’re innovative or not, are being pushed to the market every day.
Instead of bombarding customers with something that has no use to them, start with a customer-first approach and put yourself in their shoes to uncover the right product to build. Taking a customer’s problems into consideration and finding ways to address those problems makes defining a solution much easier.
Once you’ve formed an idea, start to invite criticism on the most basic foundations of that idea. From there, identify “pain points” based off of helpful feedback by friends, family, and small sample groups, and then map out multiple solutions to address these pain points. Remember, all this is being done before a product, let alone a prototype, has even been built. This is the earliest stage of your PoC.
Building proprietary technology and acquiring massive amounts of resources in a world where tech has become so inexpensive and widely available is an outdated approach.
Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber, and his friend had understood that the days of hailing down cabs were coming to an end as new iOS features enabled us to do things through our phones that were never seen before. But he didn’t just jump to conclusions, he took to social media to generate buzz for his idea, got feedback, and then hit the drawing board.
Instead of becoming obsessed with building a solution, Travis and his friend were sure to “build” a customer first. The startup that understands their customers inside and out and the problems that affect them the most will have a much clearer vision when it comes to building that first prototype.
So why has this product strategy become so effective amongst today’s successful startups? Simply, times have changed, and the right idea with the right product strategy will be more valuable to you and your team than taking a build first approach.
Validating Your Idea with a Proof of Concept
Once you’ve identified an actual need for your product through initial market validation, it’s time to begin validating your idea with a PoC to see how sustainable it could be. But your PoC won’t necessarily have to be “groundbreaking” to get what you need out of it. It will just have to be functional enough to prove your concept.
There are plenty of tools available to help you prototype your idea. You may remember the marketing success that Mailbox had before they even had a product. Websites like Squarespace or WordPress can help you spin up additional verticals in order to conduct A/B testing, provide early user registration, and test product and market assumptions. Introducing this early PoC will help validate your assumptions and allow you to iterate where needed before taking your idea to the public.
We recently worked with a Forbes 200 construction company looking to build an app that their contractors could use on the job site. This app would need to keep contractors closely connected while they took pictures of structural issues on the site. At the time, the construction company used an antiquated system of paper notes in order to record safety violations on the job site. They needed a prototype of this app within a few weeks that would fulfill their requirements and test a hypothesis before requesting a larger budget from corporate for further development.
Time-constraining situations like this aren’t uncommon, a familiarization with Product Hunt and Tech Crunch could help save you hours when you are trying to find the right solution, and make getting that first prototype off the ground a lot easier.
We used AirTable because it allowed us to create a simple mobile web application, making it easier for subcontractors to access, as well as function as a database and a reporting tool. We leveraged other implementations, such as Slack so that every time a new item came in the appropriate team would be notified.
Building proprietary technology from the ground up is expensive, time-consuming, and risky when you are testing out an idea. By building a prototype with off-the-shelf technology, it showed us what worked and what needed additional iterations before spinning up an entire software development endeavor.
With a concept validated, you'll prove that your idea has a potential to solve a real-world problem and this is the type of value a startup can begin taking to potential investors.
Building a Proof of Concept for Emerging Technologies
But what if your product idea is actually tangible instead of a piece of software, or uses an emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Virtual Reality (VR)? Emerging technologies are still ripe for disruption, so the market isn’t as established yet compared to simple mobile or Web apps. We actually have an instance where both an emerging technology and a tangible prototype posed a challenge, but also an opportunity for an exciting startup called AcclimateVR.
Using VR technology, AcclimateVR proposed an idea to help students on the Autism Spectrum cope with real-world situations that may be stressful or challenging by exposing them to these situations through VR.
It was a phenomenal, human-centered idea, but AcclimateVR needed help validating their product to see its real value. The curriculum and learning modules were developed, but they needed a camera to actually test their product. Now anyone who understands VR knows that the technology behind it isn’t exactly cheap, and this was one of their main concerns.
Our team worked with AcclimateVR and helped them understand that all their prototype needed to do was to showcase the function. In other words, show how the actual product would be used. It didn’t need to be extremely elaborate or a top-of-the line VR camera. If it was VR-capable and supported their modules, that would be enough to test.
With a $300 camera, AcclimateVR filmed their 360-degree VR experiences and took their technology to schools to show educators what the experience would be like. The results were beyond what they hoped for. In fact, schools were willing to purchase this prototype immediately.
Now what if things had gone south and the results weren’t optimal? With a $300 VR-capable camera, there are plenty of resources leftover to iterate and improve the prototype. With a $10,000 camera, the road might have ended there.
PoCs should never break the bank, and the same principle should be applied for emerging technologies. If you can get the same results with a $300 camera as you can with a $10,000 camera, then that’s all you’ll need to validate your PoC.
Figuring Out the Right Things to Build
Design is more than just providing human-centered solutions for companies, it’s about identifying risks and discovering efficiencies that lower operational costs. At Primal Loop, we’re always researching and testing new ways to make sure businesses are pursuing the right investments and opportunities. This attention to detail is especially important for startups that are looking to solve real-world problems and build a sustainable business while avoiding unnecessary risks in the process.
Uncover the right product to build by developing a PoC first. It can be your solid foundation to achieve the elusive product-market fit.