How to Rapid Prototype to Validate an Idea
Let me start by clarifying that the word functioning should be used lightly. I went from conceiving an idea to standing up a website in three days to achieve my main goal – gauge interest and begin building a potential beta list. While the actual service is being built, none of that code has been released yet.
Refining your Idea
The first step should be iterating on your idea and focusing on maybe one or two things that sets it apart from the current solutions.
- What makes your idea different than what’s out there
- Why does the consumer need it
- Are you targeting a new audience
- Are you trying to get existing customers to switch to your product
You don’t need to know all of the answers from day one, but I think the most important is, why does the consumer need it? You’re selling something and you’re trying to get people to buy, whether the currency is money or time.
What’s your initial goal?
- Collecting emails?
- Getting paid users?
- Idea validation?
Your first steps will vary heavily depending on what your initial goal is. In my case, I was looking to validate my idea and collect emails. With this in mind, I could start by just standing up a mostly static website, without even touching any product code yet.
If you’re a developer, you might be itching to dive right into the code, but there are a couple reasons why you shouldn’t:
- Time is precious. Don’t waste 3 weeks being head-down, pounding out code just to find out there’s no interest in your idea. The saying “if you build it, they will come”, does not ring true here.
- As you speak to potential customers or people in the industry, your product will likely morph and change shape a few times. It’s much easier to change an outline on a notepad than rewrite 2000 lines of code.
There are tons of great platforms for solicited feedback, and I intend to write a more thorough post in the future touching on all of the different platforms I experimented with, but in the meantime here’s a quick list of places you can post a link to your landing page / project to get some useful feedback. Remember these are communities with actual people; you should observe the rules/culture of each platform, give back and first provide your opinion on other people’s posts, and provide some context around your project, more than just a link. The platforms I use in no particular order are:
I’ve found Indie Hackers to be tremendously useful. In general, the community is supportive and the founder, Courtland Allen, spends a lot of his own time answering people questions and critiquing landing pages.
If you’re more interested in driving traffic to see how your page converts, try these platforms:
I put Facebook and Twitter under the solely traffic category, because friends are often far too nice and won’t give you unfiltered feedback.
Building an MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
What is the minimum amount you can build and still achieve your goal. There will be many iterations along the way; don’t worry about your website or product being perfect for the initial launch.
Only build what is necessary. For Cloud Campaign, I wanted to show the design of the core functionality, but didn’t want to waste weeks building it. This is where wireframes are great. You can render what the website will look like without writing a single line of code.
Reuse tech where possible. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Reuse existing code from old projects, or tap into some open source or free projects offered by others. Google Analytics is an amazing free tool for monitoring site usage, referrals, and more. Here’s a screenshot from my day 1 launch, which by the way had a conversion rate of 13.9% 🙌.
That’s it for now. What did I forget? Do you have an idea you’re working on? Post it below!