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The Software Startup CEO: The Prototyper in Chief

I’ve worked with many passionate entrepreneurs wanting to build a great new software company. As the new business-oriented CEO, they will almost always shy away from getting into the gritty details of software development.

The Software Startup CEO: the Prototyper in Chief

The standard thinking goes like this: “I’ll work up some software specifications and then find an excellent, low-cost software development group to do the work, and then off to beta sites it goes.”

This approach hardly ever works because:

  1. The business CEO doesn’t have the depth of experience to communicate what needs to be built sufficiently.
  2. The CEO is almost always driven by their vision of the software instead of what the target market requires.
  3. The outside development group will inevitably be late, off the mark, and over budget.

As the entrepreneurial CEO of a software development company, why not jump in personally and take charge of software development or at least software prototyping? There are many simple prototyping tools available to quickly create what looks like actual working software that can be put in front of real users. There is no better way to obtain high-value feedback on what they like and don’t like.

You don’t need to be a technical genius, but you must be willing to jump in and get your hands dirty. And when you get dirty, you will become amazingly comfortable with what your end users want.

In helping clients, I’ve looked into several easy-to-use prototyping tools that any good CEO can quickly get their arms around. For example, for about $100 with Keynotopia, you can quickly create user interface designs for various mobile platforms, including iPhone, iPad, and Android.

I’ve tinkered around with what Keynotopia calls their PowerPoint bundle for the iPad. It essentially provides a good-looking set of mobile device user interface objects to work with. To simulate what the actual software would do when one taps an element in the iPad application, you create PowerPoint hyperlinks to jump to the next appropriate screen/slide. With a bit of playing around, you can produce a professional-looking interactive prototype to put in front of potential users.

We’re not talking about a final, finished piece of software here. Instead, the focus should be to simulate your minimum viable product so you can put it in front of actual potential end-users. They will quickly let you know what they like and don’t like…especially because what they are looking at is not yet done. Furthermore, this will be invaluable input as you refine your value proposition during your business planning process.

Get feedback from potential end-users, make changes, and go back and do it again. The real value here is that you, as the startup CEO, can finally feel in your gut just what end users value and need.

During the critical early stages of getting a learning management system or other software startup company off and running in the right direction, the more involved the CEO is in software development, the better. Once the functionality and look and feel are nailed down, then it’s time to hand over production software development to the right CTO.

The business success of a software company is 90% a function of whether the solution truly addresses an unmet end-user need. Tip the odds in your favor. Put yourself in the best possible position to know the guts of your software and your target users by becoming the Prototyper in Chief.

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