I am on the topic of testing the viability of entrepreneurial opportunity. In the previous delivery I continued with the Lean Startup methodology and discussed the Airbnb case study to demonstrate some of the Lean Startup principles. With this delivery, I want to focus on the “inventor entrepreneur”, or those entrepreneurs who are highly original thinkers who tend to look for ways to solve problems and improve on existing ideas to develop a useful item or product that fills a need.
Hence, I want to review another method, called prototyping, as a method through which entrepreneurs/inventors can rapidly develop a viable product. Prototyping is more related to the development or invention of tangible products, although I am of the opinion that some of the principles can also be applied in the development of services.
What’s the difference between entrepreneurs that find the right idea, brings stakeholders on board, and effectively communicates their vision and those that does not? A prototype. Yes, the ability to make prototypes can work wonders with your start up or organisation. A prototype allows you to not just imagine a product, but make it real. No more spreadsheets or vague verbal descriptions. With a prototype you can show your potential clients and your team exactly what you want and get taken seriously.
So what exactly is meant by a “prototype”? Simply defined, a prototype is a three-dimensional version of your envisioned product. So what exactly should a prototype look like? First, it depends on your idea. Second, it depends on your budget and your goals. If possible, it’s great to start with a handmade prototype, no matter how rudimentary. For example, I’ve seen prototypes made from the simplest of household items: socks, diaper tabs, household glue, empty milk containers – you name it. If it works for your initial demonstration purposes, it’s as good as the most expensive materials.
Let me relate to the concept with a personal example. I am a devoted participant in the sport of archery in all forms. Now with archery you have a bow case in which you store and carry your bow and all auxiliary equipment, e.g. like your release, range finder, arrow puller, etc. Archers have a lot of auxiliary equipment… and it is always an issue with all of these items being loose and falling around in your bow case. So one of my archery friends one day comes with this idea to me of having an extra “compartment” in the bow case to store all this auxiliary equipment in. It is a great idea and sounds pretty straightforward, but we decided to first build a prototype. Through building the prototype we then realised that the “compartment” requires a few tweaks (e.g. it has to be adjustable lengthwise, of a specific diameter, needs to lock onto the bow case lids, etc.) In the end, a piece of drain pipe and some drain pipe lids were used to build the “perfect prototype”. So, by deciding first to build a prototype and actually use the product as it is supposed to be used, we ended up designing a much better product. How did it end? We are in discussion with some patent attorneys…
Building a prototype provides other advantages as well (Monosoff, 2016), namely: 1. It enables you to test and refine the functionality of your design. Sure, your idea works perfectly in theory. It’s not until you start physically creating it that you’ll encounter flaws in your thinking. 2. It makes it possible to test the performance of various materials. For example, your heart may be set on using metal – until you test it and realize that, say, plastic performs better at a lower cost for your particular application. 3. It’ll help you describe your product more effectively with your team, including your patent attorney, packaging or marketing expert, engineers and potential business partners.