Why Your Prototype Isn't Securing Investment

Kelly Gebo

Building a prototype is a great step toward securing funding, but not every prototype instills confidence in investors. If you’re serious about raising money, a prototype is an important part of telling your story, but there is also work to be done to shape the entire narrative. Here are some best practices we commonly share with founders in building the right prototype to help them raise investment.

Your Prototype Didn’t Start With The Basics

Before you jump into prototype creation, it’s important to take a step back and dig into the problem to be solved. You’ll likely have lots of ideas of what your product could do, and want to sketch that out - but it’s important to ground yourself in the basics of your product and your business first.

There is more to think through than the product experience itself. Upfront research and product-design-sprint exercises can help to establish a shared understanding of: - the problem to be solved - your target customer - your value proposition - how your business will operate - how success will be determined

These elements tend to take shape after conducting some upfront research which could include: - digging into existing competition - interviewing industry experts - talking to target users - crafting a problem statement - drafting critical path

During your research and as you work through activities,you should be keeping track of any assumptions you might be making.

Your Prototype Doesn’t Consider All Options & Isn’t Prioritzed

Now that you know a lot more, you can begin to sketch out possible solutions to solve your users’ problems. It’s OK to get lots of ideas out there regardless of feasibility - more perspectives the better. Getting all the ideas on the table allows all voices to be heard and makes sure you are considering all options. Using exercises like Silent & Group critiques will welcome lots of ideas and then use dot voting to prioritize and converge on an agreed solution. With the ideas prioritized, you can begin to lay out the storyboard which starts to shape the foundation of the prototype.

The prototype should visually explain both your foundational MVP ideas and future vision. It’s important to be able to communicate your starting point and where you are headed successfully to investors. It also sets you up well for the next step: additional user validation through usability tests.

Your Prototype is Missing Validation By Target Users

You know what’s better than a beautiful prototype? A prototype that’s been tested and iterated on based on target user feedback. When you walk through your prototype with investors, having quotes from target customers sharing their sentiment on how much value your product could bring them, how much they would pay for it, etc. tells a great story. Conducting an additional round of usability testing will also give you total confidence in the design and feature set before you spend significant investment bringing it to life. The risk of skipping this step is you won’t truly know if customers will adopt your product until you’ve launched, meaning after you’ve spent months of time and money in bringing it to life.

Your Prototype Doesn’t Reference A Development Strategy

By now you’ve told the story of the opportunity, through the voice of the customer and visually walked through the prototype. Visually explaining your product is powerful but knowing exactly how you will bring it to life is another key aspect you should have a perspective on.

A clear understanding of the level of effort and the technologies to be used to create your product is important. It shows you’ve done your homework, have mitigated risk where possible in building customer software and have a plan that establishes a strong foundation while keeping your eyes on the future. Even for a non-technical founder, having enough knowledge to back up the reasoning behind key technology choices and applicable third parties, such as AWS or Stripe, puts investors at ease in that they will see you’ve thought through all aspects of the build. If the product is the backbone of your business you should know the ins and outs of how it’s built.

Long story short, explaining your idea visually is a great way to communicate your vision, which is why a lot of founders jump to the creation of a prototype (or wireframes) as a first step in getting organized. However, to truly understand the opportunity and have clarity on the roadmap for bringing it to life, you need the supporting pieces.

thoughtbot’s Discovery Sprint helps entrepreneurs plan how to bring products into market the right way. No matter the amount of research you’ve done (or not done), years of industry expertise, or tech savviness, we can help you validate your idea, conduct research and create a great prototype that can delight users and impress investors. The icing on the cake is we will help explain why we do what to do so you’ll be better equipped for future iteration. Trust us, the best products and product teams are following a continuous cycle of brainstorming, validating, experiments, testing, and learning.

If you’ve got an idea you’d like to turn into a product, we’d love to help. Contact us today and see what thoughtbot can do for you.