After working with numerous mobile app startups, a common pattern has surfaced. The founder is hard at work with developers, designing the app back-to-front and front-to-back, deciding on pricing, deciding on marketing, and so forth. But all these important decisions are being made in a vacuum. No one knows for sure who will really be interested in the app, what’s the optimal user interface, and what, if anything, people will pay for the app.
So, my task is to slow the team down and go to work on some rough prototypes or essentially anything we can get in front of potential users. In contrast to the old way of doing concept testing, what we can do today on the net is amazingly easy, quick, and cheap. There are plenty of tools out there that allow one to develop a minimum viable prototype, or better yet, several prototypes that can then be used for quick comparison testing. These prototypes essentially allow you to get a sense of what look and feel will be most appropriate, and a great way to show the potential functionality of the app without the app actually working yet.
And then there is price testing. Will the app attract enough demand at $1.99, $0.99, or perhaps a freemium model? Try out different pricing strategies with a set of friends, through a rough web page, or using one of the many free online survey tools like SurveyMonkey.
Startup entrepreneurs often think they must come up with all the answers themselves, when in fact the answers to all of these types of product questions should come from target market customers. We can put a bunch of the smartest Cayenne consultants in a room and come up with great product strategy recommendations. But, without knowing what the prospective user would really value, we are simply second guessing. When clients inevitably ask me what I think about a particular product feature or price, my answer is always: “What do I know? I’m not your target market. Let’s go find out.”
And think of this “go out and ask” approach from the point of view of potential investors. Rather than being put in the position of convincing/selling investors that your vision of the product is perfect, you can take the higher ground of educating investors on what customers have already told you they want and what they are willing to pay. The old saying “data always trumps opinion” plays out again, and your business plan will be much more credible because of it.
Prototype testing is not a one-time event, especially with mobile apps. The market is changing so fast that it’s best to think about testing on an ongoing basis. The team should be constantly evaluating new features and more improved user interfaces. If you don’t, your competitors will. A great example is how USA Today is constantly making changes to its market leading iPhone/Pad app. They are constantly tinkering with the user interface with the goal of maximizing end user value. In my opinion, their commitment to ongoing testing has put the USA Today app in a whole different league from their competitors. You can do the same.
I should also mention that many business-oriented software entrepreneurs don’t believe they can do this type of prototype development themselves. The common refrain is “I’ll have to ask my developer to do these prototypes.” I’m convinced that the best business software entrepreneur gets their hands just a little dirty with some easy prototyping tools such as Ruby on Rails. That will be the topic of a future post.