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  7.11. CrimeReports.com and the Prototype Roadshow (7 min.)

crime reports.jpgA great example of this process in action is CrimeReports.com, who was developing an advertising-supported website that allows users to see statistics and a map of crime in their area. After working on the site for many years as a hobby, Greg Whisenant, decided to turn his idea into a business. After the first year and half a million dollars in investment capital, CrimeReports.com still only had one customer - the Metro DC police, with whom Greg had a personal connection. While negotiating his next round of financing, Greg was introduced to the idea of a Prototype Roadshow as a way to understand what was missing from his product.

So he created a Prototype Roadshow to take his product out to the market and really listen. Greg and his team set up meetings with the full buying panel at four different police agencies, including the police chief, the IT director, the crime analyst, and the police officer. The founders learned that these police departments: 1) were feeling increased pressure to share information with the public about crime statistics, 2) felt the website was ugly and needed to be improved, and 3) absolutely refused to have advertising hosted on the site.

Naturally, the team began to despair, but as they continued to listen, they discovered some crucial pieces of information. For one, police officers were actually fascinated by the data possibilities of the website and were truly excitied about the possibility of leveraging the internet to increase the quality of their communication with the citizens of their town. The chiefs of police were interested in leveraging the data to increase the quality of their policing efforts - most departments tracked crime “hot spots” with spreadsheets, cork boards, and colored pins. If the data was hosted online, police chiefs could use a data dashboard to track trends and daily activity. For the first time, police officers could see what had happened on their beat the night before. As it turned out, this was surprisingly difficult for existing departments to do. Sometimes it took up to six months to see what happened the day before.

CrimeReports.com also learned that police agencies would actually pay them to post their data - advertising wasn’t necessary. But they also learned from the IT directors that they needed to significantly improve their security protocols in order to allow CrimeReports.com to host the data. Lastly, the founders discovered that a touch-and-feel approach was the best approach for selling the new product. By showing a prototype to customers and then listening rather than selling, the CrimeReports.com team learned crucial facts that had been hidden from view for years.

Greg Whisenant took all the feedback, refined his prototype, and then took it out on the road for another test (the Solution Test). The new website was greatly improved in look and feel and had no advertising. In addition, the team added the concept of a dashboard for the police departments. The feedback from police departments was astonishing. Their customers said things like: “This blows other choices out of the water.” “This is a great idea. You guys have really hit on something here.” “We’ve been trying to do this for years.” “It used to take us six months to get this kind of data. Now we can get it the next day.”

Not only did their customers clamor to sign up, but every-day citizens (whom they also tested in the process) began to respond. Within six months of the re-launch, the website went from being the 10-millionth most popular site to the 10-thousandth most popular website. The number of police departments purchasing the product went from one customer to over 2,000 paying customers in the first three years. Applying the Prototype Roadshow was nothing short of transformational.