I’ve seen a lot of people dive right in to building without testing their ideas and use marketing to get people to their app. Is this a valid approach, or should I build a low-cost prototype first? Since either building the final product or the prototype will cost money, isn’t building the prototype a waste?

Is Building a Prototype a Waste of Resources?

It’s easy to see building a prototype as a waste of resources. Why not just go directly to building the final app? The real waste, however, is in building the wrong final product. If you keep your prototype lean and cheap (maybe by building a Wizard of Oz prototype), it will cost only a fraction the cost of building out the entire app. Not only that, but the prototype usually doesn’t need to be thrown out to start building the app from scratch. You can build the first version of your app on top of a prototype. You might need to scrap part of your prototype but much of it can live on in your final product.

Why Prototype?

The purpose of a prototype is to provide a low-fidelity version of what you’re building to show your customers. This can be anything from simple sketches of your app to a fully functioning app. Start on the low end of the spectrum, get feedback, and build up from there to maximize the effectiveness of your prototype.

Your customers can the register their feedback on what you’ve built. You go back, make modifications, and bring the new prototype back to customers. Before long, you’ve honed your idea enough to build the final product. If the prototype just isn’t working, you can scrap it an start again without having spent $50k on an app people don’t like. It’s a critical tool to help you build a successful startup. Maybe you could hit it out of the park on your first try, but it’s not likely. The risk is just too great.

Should I Prototype My Startup’s App?

A prototype or some other form of customer development is essential. Investing time and money into building on a hunch and then trying to market it to success is a great way to waste a lot of your money. Save yourself some heartache and incorporate your customer’s feedback into what you’re building. A prototype is a critical tool to help get you there.