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  7.4. Step 1: Develop an Actual Prototype (5 min.)

At this point in the process you want to find an inexpensive way to turn your insights from the Virtual Prototype Test into a prototype that includes only the core Minimum Feature Set. Avoid building out the full product and instead employ rapid prototyping technology to create something your customers can use. For example, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote to build out a bare minimum product. If you need to develop a physical product, find a creative, fast way to get the physical product built. For example, if you are going to source physical products from a supplier, ask the supplier for a sample first. Many services are now available that can manufacture rapid prototypes inexpensively and quickly. Don’t get caught in the trap of continually trying to develop a “better” prototype. If customers are interested in the bare version, you are on to something.

Below are some examples of some virtual and actual prototypes so you can see the difference.

a. Consumer Product: When testing out the concept for the Wii U controller, Nintendo first built a cardboard virtual prototype to see what the experience would be like. Later, they moved on to piecing together a rough actual prototype.

b. Software: In prototyping software, you can test out your hypotheses very easily without ever writing any code by just sketching up the basic idea on paper. After that, you can move on to using mockup software to wire frame and test an actual prototype - still without ever writing any code.

c. Website: Often, when you are looking to do a virtual prototype of a website, you can start with something as simple as diagrams and drawings that show what the website will do. An actual prototype can be simple as well. When the founder of Zappos.com was testing his idea, he never actually bought any inventory at all. Instead, he built a very basic website with pictures he took at a local shoe store. Then, when someone placed an order on the website, he would go to the shoe store, buy the shoes, and then ship them out. Doing it this way allowed him to quickly test his hypotheses that people would buy shoes online before investing a lot of time and money in inventory.

d. Mobile App: A quick virtual prototype for a mobile app can be as simple as getting a sheet of paper and drawing out some sample screen shots. Following that, a great way to make an actual prototype is to mock up the interaction and Minimum Feature Set in PowerPoint or Keynote. Oftentimes you can even export the file into a PDF that will include the links to view it on a mobile device, all without having to spend time or money on coding.

Remember, prototypes are NOT for you to see how your idea is coming along. It is for you to show customers in order to quickly and cheaply validate solutions to pain.

(See Nail It Then Scale It, pgs. 116-117)