How A Simple Prototype Could Have Saved My Startup One Year and $60K

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Centresource’s approach to product development includes a product planning and prototyping engagement. Bryan Clayton is the co-founder of GreenPal and our neighbor in the Missioner Building in Germantown. In this guest post, Bryan has written about prototyping and what it means to his business.

About 2 years ago, three ambitious friends and I decided to take the plunge and bring our startup idea GreenPal to life. GreenPal is a mobile/web application that enables homeowners to order lawn care for their home fast and easily. We describe is as Uber for Lawn Mowing.

At the time, not one of us knew how to code, but we didn’t let that minor issue get in the way of pursuing our dreams of tech startup success. Our first inclination was to partner with a development shop to build the first version of our product, and then, we would go to work marketing and promoting that product.

Our team met with every development shop in Nashville, and ultimately decided to work with one of them. This was our first critical error in our approach to building version one. We met with the development shop’s team, laid out our product vision, and began to work on a specification document with their team that outlined features and functionality the product would perform. Quite honesty, our team didn’t know what the hell we were doing, and at the time, this seemed like a logical first step.

Fast forward five months, after several meetings and discussions, our team got to sit down and test out the “finished” product for the first time. I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when I first laid eyes on our user interface… I was immediately terrified to see that our product was difficult to use, non-intuitive, and very different from the vision I had initially had in my head. My team and I began to voice our concerns, but it was too late; they had already built this application front to back so any changes would result in change order expenditures.
Despite the awful user experience and interface, we launched the application in the Nashville area. We then met with every early adopting customer that would meet with us to get the painful feedback on the product we already knew was terrible. We listened to the same issues over and over, noted all the customers’ disappointments, and conducted usability tests with them diving into the minds of our users to figure out the large gap between their expectations and what we had built. The idea in our heads, what was built, and then, what the users expected were all miles apart. Ultimately, we realized that we needed to rebuild the entire application from scratch.

On the second go around, we have taken a different, much smarter approach. We started by creating a prototype which consisted of entirely redesigned screen shots linked together by Solidify, a handy prototyping software. This created a simulated experience that we were able to place in front of users and get immediate feedback. We observed over a hundred usability tests on the newly laid out interface, making adjustments after each group of five testers. We found this iterative process really smoothed out the speed bumps on our product, reduced friction, and added clarity for our users.

After countless of these product iteration cycles, we developed an interface and user experience that we were proud of and that people loved. Then, we handed that off to the developers to build. The best part is that all of the iterations were easily performed in Photoshop on the psd designs, rather than having to adjust hard coding each time.

I strongly recommend any startup to take this approach when creating a new product from scratch. It is easier, faster, and more cost effective. You’ll preserve your sanity and create something you’ll be proud to show your mom. If you do create a prototype, feel free to reach out to me, I would love to try it and give you my feedback.

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1313 4th Ave North Nashville, TN 37208 (615) 313-7679

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