How to Prototype with a Remote Team
By Laurie Stach
June 06, 2020
As we head towards the groundbreaking Virtual LaunchX Summer Program, one thing on many minds is how to prototype this year. Will teams be limited to working only on software startups or phone applications?
The short answer is that ALL startup options are still available – hardware, software, and applications. Successful prototyping will come down to good communication within the team, determining the roles of your teammates, and leveraging some of the great tools and resources that are available for working remotely. Lots of companies have been empowering remote teams for decades, and learning this work style and discipline is valuable for work of the future.
Each startup team will be different in what they will want to accomplish, so keep that in mind. Establish your individual and team objectives at the outset, keeping in mind that one condition for a sustainable company is paying customers. We expect you to determine how to get revenue for your business, and to determine that early. Prototyping will feed into that process, by allowing you to test the desirability, feasibility, and viability of your offering.
- Testing desirability – this is often the most important thing to test early. Testing the desirability means testing whether or not your customers really care or not. Determine how your prototyping process will test if you are really solving the customer need in the way that you expect, and whether this matters to customers.
- Testing feasibility – this means testing whether or not you can actually make the offering in the form and feature set that you need. Unless you are promising a challenging offering, the more challenging portion of feasibility is knowing how to focus the features to ensure you know the right things that the customer cares about most.
- Testing viability – you will test the viability by getting customers to actually pay for your offering, and become viable by having sustainable paying customers over time. You can begin to test the viability of your offering and different benefits and features before you even have it fully built through different sales and marketing.
Remote teams should assess their backgrounds and skills, as well as the themes of their drivers in wanting to start a company. We encourage teams to focus on what makes their team unique. Not every team will have the perfect balance of skills, entirely complementary mindset, or perfectly overlapping interests, though rest assured that there is a reason that each team is together and that your team will be successful.
At the outset of your startup, you will still be assessing the opportunity, so should not yet have identified a specific solution. Try not to limit your opportunity identification by saying things like “we can’t work on this because we don’t have a coder on the team” since that presumes a specific solution. You still have much to do in the market research phase to determine the solution.
When you do get to the phase of the solution, your team will need to determine a few key roles, depending on the solution type:
- Researcher – this maps closely to the “brain” entrepreneurial type from the LaunchX application. This person seeks to understand the customer need inside and out, and will provide input to prototypers on that customer need. The researcher will also collect a lot of data throughout the mockup and prototyping process on what is working well and not. This person loves data and is very hypothesis-driven, plus thinks ahead to ensure that the team is getting the right information from their users such as profile information in order to understand how certain demographics are using the product.
- Designer – this person creates the marketing content, which varies depending on the offering being developed. If the offering is a physical product, then this entails doing sketching, CAD (computer aided design), and a rendering as part of the product design. This involves some coordination with the ‘maker’, with the maker working in parallel on the physical prototype. The rendering will then go into marketing collateral, which may include flyers and a website. If the offering is not a physical product, then the marketing collateral development is a bit more streamlined, with descriptions of “how it works” being key inputs into the flyers and website, with iterations and input from the researcher.
- Maker – this is a ‘builder’ entrepreneurial type who does hardware prototyping. The important thing here is to start with a low fidelity mockup, such as with cardboard or clay, using input from the researcher and designer, then consider what the right prototyping technique will be for the next resolution of prototyping. Many students jump straight to 3D prototyping, though it is often not the right method. 3D printing can test the form factor and is rigid, but there are many other aspects of physical prototyping that often need testing. Consider a wearable device – the band comfort is an important consideration, the functionality of the sensors need to be tested, then the size needs to be determined based on those factors. Determine what you need to test at this stage!
- Coder – another variation of the ‘builder’ is one who specializes in coding. Similar to the maker, this person should first start with a low-fidelity version, which in this case involves writing out the flow of what is needed, without even sketching what is in each frame. This allows a visual of the complexity to see what is needed and not, involving discussion with the researcher on what types of features may be easiest to integrate while having the highest impact on the customers in the first iteration.
Note that while the sales, or business developer, will be included in many of the discussions, that person will not take an active role in prototyping. Their input from a sales perspective will be critical in understanding the customer and marketing needs, however.
Process and Outputs
In reality there are multiple parallel processes stemming from one foundation – a strong understanding of the customer. Each of these processes has an output that ultimately comes together.
|Design process||Marketing content||Customer desirability, ensuring customers care in the way that the team anticipates|
|Maker process||Physical prototype||Feasibility of any hardware components|
|Coding process||Software||User interactions|
Your team will need to determine which of these outputs is most important for your startup to test early, and what items you will need to test within each. Time is your most valuable resource, so make sure to focus it!
To help in understanding the process that we have put together, we’ve put together an icon key to indicate who will be responsible for different stages and who will be involved in specific steps:
Note that the icons show which teammates are getting input from and supporting one another along the prototyping path. That is not to say that these are the only interactions that they should have, however. In reality, all team members should have strong communication throughout this process to ensure that these components make sense together and will come together smoothly into a cohesive offering and business model.
Tools and Resources
Stay tuned for a post that we will share soon with tools and resources for each of these roles and steps of the prototyping process.