I've been developing a Proof of Concept these last few months and am entering early user testing. I've been thinking about what happens should feedback from test users generate the interest I'm hoping for, how to get from PoC to MVP, initial launch, and beyond.
In an ideal world there will be funding that enables hiring the core team, and also to ensure infrastructure costs are not a concern. In reality, what I have available is limited and requires strong priority calls about what's most important. Nevertheless, it seems like a catch-22 and I am struggling to work out what steps to take next:
1. How do I validate the product vision without launching a full MVP? Is a Proof of Concept with user testing enough? Something in between?
2. Should I be approaching investors already with the product vision and PoC? (advice generally seems to be to validate the product first, and ensure there is a business plan - I'm just starting out on the latter)
3. Are there other funding routes I should be considering?
It is probably worth adding that in terms of my personal skill set I am definitely technically minded (lead developer at the moment) but very focused and passionate about the domain side, which is the source of the product vision. Yet I'm keenly aware that trying to encompass both will stretch me thin eventually, so my role will have to evolve. In addition I have key weak areas: finance, marketing. So I am debating what my next step for collaboration should be. At the moment a marketer / community builder appears to be the key person I should be looking for, but there is also a case to be made for another developer, or a financial / business specialist. How to decide?
Sorry for all the questions. I know many of these are fairly beginner questions, so really appreciate any pointers, responses and advice.
“validate the product first”
By POC, I assume you have a working prototype. You validated the technical feasibility. Yippee!
It’s not a successful product until you prove that it’s both desirable and commercially viable.
Desirable means that people need it/want to use it.
Commercial viability is the big one. Are people willing to pay? Are there enough people to sustain a business? Can you acquire/reach these customers at an acceptable level of cost? Are there major competitors who will quickly copy your innovation and squash you?
Try to run small scale/low-cost experiments that prove these critical aspects of product validation. You should only need a lot of cash when you’re trying to grow.
keep it simple.
test your story (make sure people understand your vision)
test your value proposition (people understand what you offer and how it benefits them)
test the willingness to buy (simply ask, would you pay for this product?)
Test value of your proposition (if you would buy it, at what price and what why?)
Is there commitment (are you willing to sign a letter of intent, or better pay for delivery at date x?)
before you start the above do some simple checks first.
1) is it a large margins; low volume market or high volume small margin market and does it align with your product and pricing
2) getting customers is hard in any case. can you figure out three very real moments at which the potential buyer thinks about your solution and is there a natural channel to reach the customer?
You are welcome Maarten.
my main point is probably that you do not need to worry so much about building something.
if you cannot sleep, it does not matter how the solution works, how it looks likes or even if it is ready or not. If somebody offers you the value proposition that with a product you will sleep, you take it. This is because the problem is clear and the problem is big enough to care.
in almost al cases, if you need to build something to show value, the problem is not there or to small.
basically you have pains and gains. Not able to sleep is a pain. offer a solution and people will understand. A gain is much harder. Most people only realize the gain while using the product in final stages.
the iPhone is a good gain example. Nobody would have said...yes I need a smartphone. Even in the first stages the iPhone grew not that fast. It was only after some time that people understood and experienced the benefits. Not least because of the app eco system.
moral of the story is that I advise not to take the easy route as engineer and start building. Start with the hard part. make a compelling story, explain in a few sentences what somebody can gain from your product and test if they see it as well.
one of my clients, a software company, had the same issue. The wanted to build first because that’s what they know. Eventually they designed first (clickable prototype and landingpage) and landed their first nationwide customer. Without even a finished product.
so if you address a problem, stop building, start telling.
if you address a need (gain), it is much much harder and you might need a real working prototype and several years of blood sweat and tears. And deep pockets....
Your proof of concept IS an MVP. An MVP should be the minimum amount of cost and effort required to get back critical validation data. The lean product design system says just keep iterating on your MVP one experiment at a time to get the next bit of data (until you can reach product/market fit). Don't build more than you have to, and if your next iteration doesn't get you new data (at the maximum cost-efficiency) it's probably a waste of money.
Thanks for the responses!
The big theme I see is to validate the product, especially testing for commercial viability, while iterating on the prototype. Distinguishing between the different types of viability is useful - thanks Arpi.
Then, perhaps more communications focused, validate the vision: is the story clear, do people find the value proposition compelling, would they commit to buy, etc. (thanks Sem)
Checking my terminology I might have more of an MVP already (thanks Travis) as I've started working with test users to test the core feature set. (I've worked on projects where the MVP also had to include minimum viable security, reliability, even scaleability, but those weren't usually in a startup context.)
Terminology aside, I can now look at it as an ongoing iterative process.
To begin with you need to overhaul your website. People need to know what your company is and what you do and what exactly the product is that you sell. What is the need you are addressing? Currently I can not even remotely figure out what your company does.
The product covers both, but more emphasis on the gains. However I've seen the value being misunderstood or even feared, so there are barriers. Your emphasis on the story and value proposition increasingly resonates with me. Do you know a good text or article on this topic?
On the product side, building and testing has been very valuable: I've learned something about what users are interested in and what not, it's helped shape my vision, and it's also taught me much about the underlying technologies. So that continues to be a useful avenue for me.
But I am now able to see how the non-technical side can maybe work in tandem - so thanks. This ties in with what Pete says about shipping not only a technical product (and, as an engineer, guarding against that tendency - too true) and getting feedback that way.
David - fair point and thanks for spotting ... The business changed name and direction, but the website doesn't reflect anything about this product and very little about the new direction. In the light of this discussion I can see that I have new priorities!
Are you totally and absolutely committed to doing this? If not, stop. If so:
In this moment, there are only two things you need to be clear about.
A. Your vision.
B. Your next step.
The rest - how exactly you get from A to B - is "ant territory". You don't know, you'll never know and you need to become comfortable with not knowing.
It's impossible to be comfortable with not knowing unless you're completely and totally committed - hence the reason for my first question. Until you've fully chosen to do this, fully accepted it, there will be tension in every moment as you wonder "could I be doing something better with my time?". Conversely, once you've fully chosen and accepted your "new boss" (the vision), ant territory will cease to bother you that much.
Then there's only really one question to answer, which is; given the vision, what's the most useful thing I could ship today. I bet you already know what that might be. (Emphasis on ship - i.e. getting something out to someone/s - and I don't necessarily mean product - in fact, in your case, you probably want to guard against that tendency. Once it's shipped, you'll have more territory with which to figure out the following step/s. Then ship again, ship again, ship again...)
Warm wishes and I hope you found that useful,