It was the dark days of Microsoft Access. In the early 2000’s, MS Access was the primary database software people used to build what we call apps. Access had the ability to run a database and a user interface built with Visual Studio. Businesses that needed something to handle a unique need often turned to Access. My first development projects revolved around Access development projects.
It was a nightmare.
Nothing starts as an app. In software, everything starts as an idea. Working with Access was difficult because tools didn’t exist to work with customer ideas. We interviewed users for their requirements, then started building in Access.
The nightmare was the distance between the customer and our application. When we built an app, we invested large amounts of time before we had any customer input. Any mistake we made cost time. Any ideas the customer had took forever to incorporate into the app. Building apps in Access became frustrating and I exited that line of business.
Today, I manage three projects with major codebases. By codebase, I mean a major application that powers our business. The applications are larger, faster, and more complex than anything I dreamed of. How do I manage three apps when Access drove me to gray hair?
We could prototype with Access. The challenge was building a prototype that lets a user experience our “idea.” I manage my concepts with prototypes. In the startup world, people drone on and on about finding a developer. Developers don’t make your idea great. Customer input makes your idea great.
Developers build great software when they know what a customer wants. A prototype should be the common language between customer, founder, and developer. For startups, a missing link in success is building customer facing prototypes.
A great prototype should do these things:
A good prototype should look real. Clicking buttons, scrolling, anything that can make a prototype look like code. Customers react to magic with ideas.
Tell a visual story
A prototype that walks through any process shows how something works.
Define your data
All applications revolve around data. A prototype that makes you define input and output fields finds all the data.
Set a standard
The app should perform like the prototype. The prototype says what we want to happen. Code makes the prototype an app. The standard defines when the app is good enough for our prototype vision.
Our prototype should collect feedback from users to help us improve. Feedback can be ideas to add, how the user interacts with the interface, and what the user might pay.
Cumbersome tools discourage people. Tools that are simple, and interact with existing platforms are critical.
Prototyping is a tool that can help early stage startups. Early stage startups need to have a close relationship with their target market. The best startup companies developed from intense customer relationships. To avoid the nightmare I experienced, you need quick, clear customer feedback. The best companies don’t build software. The best companies enable customers to tell them what to build.
Eric built his experience working in the tech sector for 20 years. He is CEO of Campus Suite, a content management and communications platform for schools and colleges across the US. Eric is also COO of Soundstr, a Brandery graduate backed by Gracenote, and COO of Craftforce, a skilled trades marketplace. He helps Cincinnati startups as a advisor for Cintrifuse. Eric brings his experiences and methods from running multiple companies to the startup ecosystem. His key skills include team management, platform design and development, process design, and inbound marketing. Connect with Eric on LinkedIn
Feature image credit Android Headlines. Image has been cropped.