The key message of this Proof of Concept guide for startup founders and entrepreneurs is:
Before anything else, validate your assumptions about the feasibility and usefulness of your product idea!
It’s vital to do this before any significant resources are invested into prototyping and app development.
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.
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 Proof of concept, 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 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.
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.
As illustrated above, Proof of Concept serves to validate that the idea is realistic and can generate 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s take a look at three example cases of conducting a Proof of Concept prior to teaming up with a mobile app agency.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You want to help people avoid buying expensive large RC aeroplanes when they can just borrow them from fellow RC aeroplane fans for a day or two. The final product should be a convenient, slick-looking mobile app.
I’m sure you know by now that your Proof of concept 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.
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 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 feasibility 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!