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While it may be tempting for a budding founder to jump from conceiving an idea to launching a company, they first need to build a strong proof of concept to demonstrate the viability of their idea. In this guest blog post, Designli CEO/Co-Founder and friend of the Founder Institute Keith Shields covers how early-stage entrepreneurs can build a proof of concept to get customer feedback and attract investors.

No matter how great your startup idea sounds, every investor you pitch will want to know, “Is it viable?” Can you actually make the idea a reality, and will it succeed in the market? One of the most effective ways to show investors that you have what it takes, and that your product will resonate with the intended audience, is to create a proof of concept.

A proof of concept is a process that results in a document that proves a product’s place in the market and a minimum viable product (MVP) that demonstrates the concept and the idea’s ability to be brought to life. Creating a proof of concept doesn’t just mean a more effective pitch to investors. You’ll also learn new things about your target market and how to make your product better through the process. In this article, we’ll explore four ways to build a better proof of concept, to increase your idea’s chances of success.

1. Have Real, Live Conversations With Your Target Market

The first step in creating a proof of concept is to prove the need. In order to do this, address each of the following questions to get you started:

  • Is there really a significant need out there?

  • Do the people who have the need realize they have the need?

  • Is the need causing meaningful pain to those experiencing it?

  • How can you be sure that you’ve identified a strong need that’s causing enough pain for people to take action and use your product?

While surveys and other market research tools are helpful, there’s nothing like talking to people in real life. When you have conversations with potential customers who need your product, you can ask follow-up questions and learn all the different angles of the pain they’re experiencing. You can find out what they’ve already tried in an attempt to solve the problem. You may learn that a different pain point than the one you were originally targeting is more problematic, that the problem is deeper than you realized, or any number of other invaluable insights.

2. Ask for Feedback from Your Target Market

The second step in creating a proof of concept is to map the pain points you uncovered to possible solutions that you’ll build into your product. But how can you be sure that the solutions will be adopted by your target audience?

Rather than assuming and hoping you’re correct, it’s a good idea to get feedback from people in your target audience. Run your ideas by them. Ask if the solutions appeal to them and if they would actually use them. Find out how well the solutions integrate with their current workflow or method of doing things. Below are a few questions to help the conversation going:

  1. What’s the hardest part about [problem context]?

  2. Can you tell me about the last time that happened?

  3. Why was it hard?

  4. What, if anything, have you done to solve that problem?

  5. What don’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?

3. Test with Real Users in Your Target Audience

The next step in creating a proof of concept is to build a prototype. At this stage you’ll build a rudimentary product that has the basic feature set and the UI/UX that you anticipate in the final product. Many startups make the mistake of stopping here. They build what they think the market will like and then pitch to investors. But investors want to see that you’ve tested the prototype with your target market and listened to feedback. The feedback you get from your users should highlight the following areas:

  • If you missed any key functionality.

  • If the interface is truly intuitive.

  • If the experience of using your product is enjoyable.

  • If your product actually addresses their pain point.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Always be gathering feedback from your target audience! Once you’ve gathered feedback on your prototype, iterate to a minimum viable product (MVP) that incorporates what you learned. This MVP will be much more likely to be on target and to do well with the next round of testing, which involves a much larger group.

4. Create an Engaging Roadmap

The final step in creating a proof of concept is to build a roadmap that outlines a step-by-step process for building a launchable product. This roadmap will be shown to investors, so you need to make sure it’s engaging. Below are the steps you should take to create a compelling roadmap:

  • It needs to tell a story in a way that communicates essential information.

  • It needs to keep investors and stakeholders interested, so make sure your don’t bore them with too many technical details and stats.

  • Incorporate personas that represent your users so readers can envision what impact the product will have.

  • Weave the story throughout to maintain engagement and maintain a personal connection to your audience.

These steps will help you craft a proof of concept that is more likely to get the attention of investors and also provide you with essential insights to help you build a better product. While the process takes time, it pays off many times over.

Designli is a digital product studio in Greenville, South Carolina, focused on building beautiful custom apps and mobile-responsive web-apps for startups and entrepreneurs. Click here to learn more.

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