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Proof of Concept: The Complete Guide for Startups

Unsorted - 11th February 2020
By Marek Hasa

The key message of this Proof of Concept guide for startup founders and entrepreneurs is:

Before anything else, validate your assumptions about the feasability and usefulness of your product idea!

It’s vital to do this before any significant resources are invested into prototyping and app development. This article will explain to you:

  • What is Proof of Concept (PoC)?
  • How is PoC different from a Prototype or MVP?
  • Why do startups need a Proof of Concept?
  • How to conduct a Proof of Concept in 5 steps
  • Examples of PoC
Terms such as Proof of Concept, prototype or MVP are often used interchangeably – and that’s not completely correct. This article will explain you the differences and similarities.
Source: https://beamstart.com/content/7758/MVP_vs_POC_A_Startup_Launch_Strategy_Guide

What is Proof of Concept (PoC)?

Proof of Concept (PoC) is a process of finding out whether or not a product idea is feasible and viable in the real world. Is the idea practical? Does it bring unique value to the target group? Will users actually want to adopt the product or service? At what cost?

Proof of Concept is one of the key elements of the Lean Startup approach – the methodology every startup development project should adhere to in order to successfully launch a great new product.

The Build-Measure-Learn Cycle is one of the fundamental principles of the Lean Startup approach. However, before you jump into the “build” part, you should first talk to your target group and learn as much as you can with regard to your product concept.
Source: https://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/BML-Loop.jpg

How is Proof of Concept different from a Prototype and MVP?

As we’ve already discussed, Proof of Concept serves to validate functional and technical assumptions. It should be the first step in your app development process. If the product concept proves to be feasible and viable, you may proceed with designing a prototype.

Compared to a PoC, a prototype takes on a more concrete shape. Prototyping results in the creation of a simplified version of your product used mainly for user testing. You should use it to identify the best UI&UX design approach based on real user feedback.

A prototype allows you to get more specific feedback from real users, especially with regard to the UX/UI.
Source: https://skelia.com/articles/mvp-vs-poc-vs-prototype-company-really-need/

A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) lies a few more steps ahead. When defining an MVP, you should aim for the simplest version of your product that brings at least part of your product’s core value to your users, is aligned with your mission, and is market-ready.

This means that an MVP must already be visually attractive, useful, usable and functional so that you can launch it and attract first users, your product’s early adopters.

A Minimum Viable Product is market-ready. You might not win over the position of the market leader with an MVP but it should already provide enough value to be useful for and positively accepted by early adopters.
Source: https://clevertap.com/blog/minimum-viable-product/

Why do startups need a Proof of Concept?

The main purpose of conducting a Proof of Concept is to validate that the product concept will be viable on the market. The output of a PoC is basically just a “yes” or “no”, and that’s why many entrepreneurs are afraid to delve into it – they are worried that their beloved product idea might die way too early.

Such worries are very dangerous though. You should keep in mind that it’s never too early to fail! You might have a very exciting startup idea in mind and your co-founders, colleagues and peers may be telling you this is the best app concept they’ve ever heard of. However, without the crucial PoC “look-in-the-mirror”, you can never be sure if your app idea is technically feasible and if the market will accept it.

Doing a Proof of Concept might save you a lot of time and money that could be wasted in the prototyping phase and final product development.
Source: https://www.sculpteo.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/7-2-1.jpg

As illustrated above, Proof of Concept serves to validate that the idea is realistic and can generated the desired value. If you jump straight to UX/UI design, prototyping and mobile app development, chances are you will waste a lot of resources on bringing a concept to life that might not even make sense outside of your office.

Proof of Concept in 5 steps

We came up with a list of 5 Proof of Concept steps for startup developers and every mobile app agency:

  • Prove the Need
  • Map Pain Points to Solutions
  • Get Feedback on Practical Advantages
  • Cover Practical Details
  • Learn and Get Ready to Prototype

Step 1: Prove the Need

Do people really need your product? Why? Before you even think about the details of your proposed solution, you should invest your time and energy into precisely investigating the pain points of your target group, or even multiple target segments.

Identify the problem you want to solve. Think about the population that is affected. Define the pains they are facing and carefully consider if these are really something worth developing a new solution for.

Step 2: Map Pain Points to Solutions

Brainstorm with your team the possible approaches to solving each pain point identified in the previous step. After you come up with a bunch of candidate solutions for all pain points, consider their technological feasibility, unique value proposition, costs and time demands.

The outcome of this step should be a list of solutions for all pain points that are feasible and useful to include in the final product.

Step 3: Get Feedback on Practical Advantages

Go back to your target group and ask them if the solutions you came up with will indeed bring them the added value you anticipate.

Do the solutions really tackle the pain points? Are the solutions practical, usable, and convenient? Test your assumptions properly and try to avoid being biased by your own passion for the solutions. If the solutions turn out not to be useful, take one step back.

Step 4: Cover Practical Details

Congratulations, you have found the right solutions to your target users’ pain points, good job! However, so far, you’ve looked at the solutions primarily from the users’ perspective.

Before you proceed, it is crucial that you consider the technical feasibility and financial sustainability of your solution(s) one more time. Think about the skills and capacities you need, revenue sources, pricing, and promotion of the final product. Try to figure out a way around all obstacles before you move forward.

Step 5: Learn and Get Ready to Prototype

The main purpose of doing a Proof of Concept is to gather useful feedback and learn as much as possible before you invest resources into designing and developing the actual product.

Make sure Proof of Concept is not just one of the items on your Lean Startup checklist. If the results are a disappointment, be brave enough to drop the whole idea. Don’t worry, if you came up with this brilliant concept, you will surely strike on something more feasible and useful for users!

Even if your concept got validated, take your time and list the learnings from this phase – they will all come in very handy in the following phases of prototyping and MVP development.

Examples of PoC

Let’s take a look at three example cases of conducting a Proof of Concept prior to teaming up with a mobile app agency.

  • E-Learning App for Entrepreneurs
  • VR Travelling for the Elderly
  • App for Borrowing RC Airplanes

E-Learning App for Entrepreneurs

App idea:

Imagine you are about to create an e-learning app for entrepreneurs and freelancers. A digital product tailored to the busy work routine that will enable users to continually acquire valuable professional skills via short learning sessions completed on their phone in-between meetings.

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-man-in-white-dress-shirt-holding-phone-near-window-859265/

Proof of Concept:

You will partner with a startup incubator or a coworking space to offer its members short, intensive learning sessions whenever convenient for them. You can set up a learning station in one of the lounges and let people come for quick face-to-face sessions where you will be the teacher (free of charge, of course).

You will find out if the concept of dynamic learning dispersed throughout the day makes sense to the target group. You can also ask them how they would feel about a digital version of this concept. Only after receiving positive feedback for this, you should team up with a UX design agency to create a prototype of the app.

VR Travelling for the Elderly

App idea:

Imagine you aim to provide the elderly in nursing homes with exciting, engaging VR-based travelling experiences. Your plan is to offer nursing homes light and comfy VR headsets plus a license for your travelling experiences that will be tailored to the needs of the elderly.

Proof of Concept:

We were facing this very challenge with our partnering startup Flying Kale. The approach our app design agency took started with us approaching several nursing homes with our product idea and scheduling meetings and user testing with two of them.

During the two sessions, we validated our hypotheses related to the nursing home perspective of our programme, and then we tested how their elderly clients react to 360 travelling video sequences with and the VR headset we chose. The feedback was very positive from both the nursing homes and their clients, which is why we decided to define the MVP and bring it to life with our VR developers in a couple of weeks.

Downloading some 360 videos and bringing them to the target group – it can really be as simple as that! This is a picture of our Proof of Concept user testing for Flying Kale.

App for Borrowing RC Airplanes

App idea:

You want to help people avoid buying expensive large RC airplanes when they can just borrow them from fellow RC airplane fans for a day or two. The final product should be a convenient, slick-looking mobile app.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMilHdBYZzA

Proof of Concept:

I’m sure you know by now that your PoC here won’t be a prototype of the actual mobile app. Instead, you should create a simple landing page (as fast as possible) that will communicate the core value of your service.

Make sure the landing page leads to the CTA of submitting a simple expression of interest form to collect email addresses of your potential early adopters. Drive traffic to the site with a PPC campaign and analyze the results and conversion metrics to decide whether or not there is enough demand for such a service. Only then you should search for the right mobile app developers.

Summary

In one sentence, Proof of Concept is the first step on your journey to the final product. A crucial step to make if you value your time and resources!

Before you delve into prototyping or even your MVP definition, always prove your app idea first.
Source: https://techjury.net/blog/what-is-proof-of-concept/#gref

Before you find the right startup developers and invest into UX/UI design, prototyping and app development, make sure you get out of the building, meet your target group, study their pain points and validate the usefulness and feasability of your proposed solutions to these pains.

If the results are not promising, no worries, it’s better to learn now than after months of development. Remember – failing fast (and learning fast) is what the startup world is all about!

If you seek guidance on how to conduct a Proof of Concept for your app idea, let us know, our app developers in London will be happy to help.

Marek Hasa
Written by
Marek Hasa
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