Ideas. They come to us everyday. Inspired by our opinions, thoughts, experiences and intuition, ideas are what drive our society forward. The problem is that the process for moving an idea from your mind to the drawing board to the market is far from easy. There is no clear-cut formula for making this work, which is why in this blog we will lay down a process to help prototype ideas.

The process outlined here is loose and flexible, it’s not a list to be followed – you can experiment a little bit and see what does and doesn’t work. The key to the process is making your idea as visual as possible so that other people can understand it quickly and painlessly.

Here is a five-step process for prototyping an idea:

1) Diagram the Problem

In order to assess an idea, people need to understand the problem it solves. Make a diagram that shows how your product/service solves a problem at the most basic level. The diagram could be drawn on a scrap piece of paper with a pen or created in Illustrator with catchy graphics; work within your capability and make it easy to understand. This will help you answer the question, does my idea solve a real problem?

Ex. An example of the challenge entrepreneur’s with ideas face when trying to get capital

2) Business Model Canvas

Behind every idea there needs to be a business model. Even if you want to build a social enterprise or create a cultural project, there still needs to be a model to make the venture sustainable and self-sufficient. That’s where the business model canvas comes in. Simple, intuitive and visual, the business model canvas is the perfect tool to vet ideas and ensure that they are viable in the marketplace. While many ideas may not have an obvious business model at the outset, a little playing around with the canvas, markers and a few Post-IT notes may change that. This will help you answer the question, is there a viable business model for my idea?

Ex. Here is an example of PayPal’s business model drawn on the BMGen canvas

See the full version of the canvas here!

3) Create a Mockup

A mockup is essentially an illustration that shows what the idea would look like if it were launched; it is usually used as a tool for internet-based businesses, but it can also be used as a creative way to illustrate innovative product or service ideas. Rather than creating a full website, it is much simpler to create a basic mockup using Photoshop or Powerpoint. Creating a mockup helps flush out the key details of the idea in a visual way and gives you something you can quickly present to someone when you are trying to assess the validity of the idea. If some details need to be tweaked, it can be altered quickly. This will help you communicate your idea and answer the question, do people get it?

Ex. A simple mockup for an E-commerce site

4) Create a short video

To really get people into an idea, you need to inspire them, and there is no better way to do that than with a video. Videos should be short (a minute or two) and simple, using as much organic media (video clips, photos, diagrams, etc. created by you) as possible to drive the idea home. This will help you answer the question, do people get excited about your idea?

Ex. Here is a video from a new startup out of Canada’s Next 36 called Electric Courage

5) Get Feedback

The most gut-wrenching part of any idea process is the feedback loop. How you go out and get feedback depends on how comfortable you are with the idea … if the idea is your life’s work and you are really sensitive about it, start with your trusted inner circles and phase it out from there. If you are fairly confident about it, start soliciting feedback via social media and approach some potential customers. If you are really confident, throw it up on one of the crowdfunding sites. The key is to validate the assumptions you have from multiple sources and see if people as a whole buy in to what you are creating. The worst place you can be is the proverbial ivory tower, worshipping your own idea and admiring your own genius. This step will help you get real data and answer the question, will people buy into your idea?

Overall, the preceding five steps represent an overview of a process that you can experiment with to prototype an idea. Remember, customers do not know what they want, you have put something out there and get their reaction. This process is only meant to help prototype ideas and ensure that ones with no future get discarded in the early stages, while ones with great potential are further explored.

To help you along, the following tools/books are recommended:

Business Model Generation – learn more about how to assess and prototype new business models – you can get a free 72 page preview of the book here

Business Model Canvas – download the canvas to start practicing your own forms of business model prototyping – you can download a free template of the canvas here

The Empathy Map – a tool to help you think about your idea purely from the customer’s perspective – here is what the Empathy Map looks like

Wix – a site for creating your own free flash-based website really quickly without any coding

Crowdfunding sites – new crowdfunding sites are emerging around the world, and for all different types of niches. Kickstarter, Ulule and Idea.Me top the list, but there are also a host of emerging options that are targeted for certain industries or communities.


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