Prototype Testing that Gives Actionable Results

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It is one thing to have a prototype that excites friends and family and even strangers, but it’s quite another thing to have realistic feedback that will take you closer to a viable product that customers will be prepared to pay for. How can startups make sure that the feedback they get on their prototypes is not just polite compliments but realistic enthusiasm for something with real potential?

To avoid the hype that goes with the initial excitement of a first prototype and the false sense of success it creates, consider taking this advice from Robert Fitzpatrick, author of The Mom Test.

Start out with a simple prototype

Start off with a simple prototype that leaves scope for discussion. If you present a prototype that is already advanced, it creates expectations and people feel let down. Berlin-based hardware and software startup Senic YC S13 found that when they gave users something that clearly didn’t work it sparked their imagination to think freely about its possibilities. Instead of focusing on what the prototype can’t do, the user will share their own ideas for the product and lead the conversation about the future they see. From there, the simple models gained complexity, allowing the startup to test different form factors and their related functionalities.

Talk to the right people

Unless your product is for the general mass market, in which case you can stop anyone in the street and let them play with your device, you need to focus your research on your potential customer base. Who are they? They are the ones who are experiencing the problem you have set out to solve with your innovative advice. If you are clear on the problem you want to solve and who is experiencing the problem, you have your user base to question on the device you are working on.

Many hardware startup founders find that their most valuable user source came from online groups and crowdfunding backers. These groups are knowledgeable and usually keen to offer advice. And the interaction doesn’t have to stay online. Meet them in person where possible and listen to their feedback and advice. Chances are that many of them will be your first customers.

 Ask the right questions

Getting feedback on your prototype is much like doing a survey, which is only as good as the questions it poses.

  •  Asking users what they like about your device, gives you a simple factual rundown, but asking why they like it opens the doors to their world. Suddenly you get insight into their needs, what works for them and what’s important to them. You gain deeper customer insight.
  • Ask open questions. Instead of “Do you like the feel?” ask “How does it feel?”
  • Never assume users will like or approve of any feature or functionality. Test every hypothesis and ask separate questions about everyone (size, material, shape, feel, etc.)
  • Test even the most basic assumptions
  • Don’t ask if the person likes your idea. What are they going to say? Basic good manners prevents people from saying outright that they hate it.

Interpreting the feedback

When you ask for feedback remember not to take it at face value. Watch out for more than what people say, be alert to their behavior. Observe users’ instant, spontaneous reactions. Take time with the questioning to give users time to relax and be more unguarded in their responses. This way, you’ll get the truth.

Don’t make changes on comments you get from individuals. Get a general feel for what most people would like and change that. The golden rule is to confirm suggestions with at least seven people before acting on them.

The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick: a brilliant resource

The premise of the book by tech entrepreneur and customer development expert, Rob Fitzpatrick, is that you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea, because she loves you and will lie to you. The author, asserts that everyone is lying to entrepreneurs.

The same goes for users, investors, or business contacts for whom there is no benefit in saying that your idea won’t work. If you ask leading questions to validate your product idea, then you will get the answer that you are looking for, but not the one you need.

To get past the compliments and down to the truth, get hold of this book and read it. It is a practical guide to asking the right questions so you get truthful feedback that helps you to improve your product.

Source: @senic