So you have a web or mobile app idea.

You have defined the problem you are trying to solve in theory, but, what you’re trying to figure out needs to be tested in a real world environment – is it actually a problem for your potential target audience?

As a founder, if you haven’t answered 'Three things you should ask yourself before making an app' then I would start there to give context as to why you need to validate your idea. Then you can move onto doing that with a pretotype.

What is a pretotype?

A pretotype is a series of experiments that make sure you are building the right product before you actually build it.

It is the manual outworking of your business model at a small scale. It also serves as a means to validate an idea and collect data around the solution before raising funding or developing software.

Why do we use it?

It gives us a better understanding of a product’s validity and insights into how the solution would work in a real world environment on smaller scale.

It also helps us mitigate the risk of developing applications that won't be used by end users and define the features and functions of the web or mobile app in line with the user’s actual wants and needs.

‍‍‍Pretotyping ensures you build the right product before you actually create it.

How do we use it?

There is no one way to create a pretotype as each business model will be different. 

Essentially, you are trying to use the resources and tools at your disposal to create a manual or micro version of the functions of your business.

Below is a list of tools which are helpful, however, your success at pretotyping will come down to using the resources you have to execute your business model.

The best way to have an idea of how to execute the pretotype is to map your customer's user journeys to your business, and the user stories through which the customer's problem will be solved by your web or mobile application.

If you have defined these stories, you'll have a high level idea of the functions you want to manually action during your pretotype.

A generic pretotype

So, on a high level there are some things that are pretty generic to a lot of pretotype testing a product in the market. Sometimes if not functional, they may be helpful in people working with you.

However, as discussed, they may or may not be right for your business.

These are a good foundation for a lot of B2C (business-to-customer) products but may or may not be what is needed.

These tools are supplements for basic validation of an idea but won’t serve for the more complex business functions:

A complex pretotype

Into the chaos of execution the only way forward is to use the resources at your disposal.

Some examples are:

If you have a phone and phone book. Call.

If you have internet access…you have all the tools you probably need. It’s just going to take some work to find them.

Luckily I have compiled a list of tools which will help as you manually pull together your solution.

I’m going to cover in depth the holy trinity of pretotyping – WebFlow, Google Sheets and Zapier – after which I will compile a list of other tools and a short bio of their functions.

‍Make sure to use every resource at your disposal.

Some tools to use for pretotyping

Webflow

https://webflow.com/

Webflow is great for setting up a basic landing page through to more advanced options for web page and CMS design.

On a basic level you can just pull down a template edit the text plug in a few tools and deploy easily to the web.

It's not going to be the best looking website in the world but something is always better than nothing.

Google Spreadsheets

https://www.google.com.au/sheets/about/

Yep, this is actually one of the best places to start, yes I know, a spreadsheet. The benefit is that a Google spreadsheet is hosted online and you can structure data in a way which can be accessed online by other services (Zapier).

The other benefit of Google sheets is that they allow you to do SQL queries on the data you have in the sheet.

SQL Queries in Google Sheets (Blog by Tony Hirst):

https://blog.ouseful.info/2010/01/19/using-google-spreadsheets-like-a-database-the-query-formula/

This is pretty advanced though, but with this feature embedded into Google Sheets the flexibility of managing and manipulating data is pretty unlimited. You're basically building software without building software.

Zapier

https://zapier.com

Zapier and its variants IFTTT/Do are a new Web App Automation Service. Basically it enables you to connect a number of different applications together. It basically makes pretotyping possible on a digital level.

You can easily set it up to get different tools to talk together. Similar to 'IF THIS, THEN THAT' action but easier.

Zapier Examples

IF (website newsletter signup) Mailchimp THEN (add user to row) with Google sheets.

IF (Time: 12:00pm) Zapier Built In Action THEN (email user through from) Google Sheets with Mailchimp.

IF (social media post) Facebook THEN (post to LinkedIn) LinkedIn.

You get the general gist.

There are more than 500+ apps on Zapier that you can integrate.

Advanced Zapier Tip

You can dynamically inject Google Sheets SQL queries into Google Sheets with Zapier.

Other Tools

TypeForm

Super easy to use forms for data acquisition.

https://www.typeform.com/

Mailchimp

List building and EDM (Electronic Distributed Mail).

http://mailchimp.com/

Gumroad

An easy way to set up payment for products.

https://gumroad.com/

Geckoboard

https://www.geckoboard.com/

Data feedback and display.

Paper, wood and other materials

Can you build it with what you have around you?

Some tools to use for data analysis

Google Analytics

Analysis of digital resources (websites etc.).

https://www.google.com.au/analytics/#?modal_active=none

Hotjar

Heatmaps, recordings, form analysis and user testing.

https://www.hotjar.com/

SumoMe

https://sumome.com/

Website analytics and tools.

Clipboard

Manually record data on a clipboard and enter it into a spreadsheet.

Case studies

Aardvark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aardvark_(search_engine)

Aardvark was a social search service that connected users live with friends or friends-of-friends who were able to answer their questions, also known as a knowledge market.

Aardvark or Vark sold to Google in 2011 for a reported $50m.

The origin story of Aardvark is straight from the Pretotyping Handbook. Pre-seed it started as a question-answer database run from a spreadsheet.

AirBnB (Started on Craig’s List)

https://www.airbnb.com.au/

In 2007 AirBnB founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn't afford to pay rent, so the pair converted the loft at their apartment into a makeshift room with three beds and offered a cooked breakfast. 

They set up a simple landing page for their idea (Air Bed & Breakfast) and got three renters in. They also posted free ads on Craig’s List to drive traffic to their site.

AirBnB closed a $1.5b funding round in December, 2015 with a valuation of $25.5b.

From idea to business

Pretotyping has become a method of inexpensively testing and laying the foundation for turning an idea into a business. 

It is a bottom up approach to building a business and is particularly popular in the tech startup world. 

There is no one way to do it, the methodology is more about the ability to utilise the tools that are available to you to build your concept in the best way you can, with the resources you have.

Want to find out more about pretotyping and idea validation? Get in touch with the great team at SEED to make an enquiry.

Sheda uses Design, Artificial Intelligence and technology to solve complex problems with an emphasis on delivering solutions that make and accelerate impact and bring about social change.
By

Christopher Bartlett

@ Sheda

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