How to effectively Design the First Prototype for an Online Startup?

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– Guest post by Cristian from Brazil

Once the idea of our project is defined, it’s the moment when the implementation process begins.

A lot of people underestimate this stage thinking the idea is the most important. However, the difference between a successful entrepreneurship and one that fails is always based on the quality of its implementation. Bill Gates used to say: “I’ll give a dollar for a brilliant idea but I would invest several millions for just a goodimplementation.”

I would like to share with you in the following items in this article what we have learned during these 8 years of online entrepreneurship, especially what we have learned based on mistakes and errors when implementing a new project from scratch.

First and most frequent mistake

There’s a mistake we made as inexperienced entrepreneurs that I always point out to the rest: NOT valuing the power of simplicity.

Developing our online prototype, that is to say, our entrepreneurship in the Internet, our website, requires a lot of time and dedication. Under no point of view this means that we should dedicate this time to adding all the factors to our website that we think are necessary for the user to understand our job.

On the contrary, that time must be used to understand what we offer and how we can deliver it to the user with the greatest simplicity and tidiness possible.

After months or years of working on our start-up, when it’s time to take it to the client, we will probably want to respond to how it works, what benefits it offers, what its cost is, etc.

Let’s see a concrete example in order to understand this point more easily. Let’s compare two online entrepreneurships dedicated to the world of tourism that are already established.

The first one is Despegar.com for Latin America, where it can be observed that when new clients access the site they don’t know exactly what to do to use the tool (we have the searcher, payment methods, favorite destinations, hotels, flights, etc. in one single place):

despegar

The second example is KAYAK, another online tourism company that, unlike the previous one, successfully emphasizes simplicity.

kayak

When we have an entrepreneurship, the truth is that the clients visiting our online business venture are probably doing it for the first time. This means that, on average, we don’t have more than 5 seconds to show them what we can offer.

If our web project lacks simplicity and we want to demonstrate a thousand things at the same time, most surely clients will feel flooded with information, won’t understand it and will end up leaving our project.

Achieving a state of pure and clear simplicity is much harder and requires maturity of the founders and knowledge of the client. Being able to transmit what we do in one single sentence is much harder than communicating it in 2 or 3 paragraphs that in the end, nobody will read.

DropBox is an example of simplicity in which 3 words and a drawing successfully transmit its service and that’s what we should look for our online prototype: 

dropbox1

Opening communication channels.

Another item to have into account which is also important is to understand that as an entrepreneurship, we won’t have millions of users overnight.

At first, just a few will visit our business venture. This is when we have the opportunity, and we must take advantage of it, to establish a direct communication with our first users, known as “early adopters.” They are the key for our future success. In our entrepreneurship we use two tools to communicate directly with the clients in real time when they are precisely in our online business venture.

The first one is a chat room that pops outs to the client when they are navigating. There are several options; the one that gave us best results was Olark.

olark

This one allows having a dialogue with the client, but most importantly, being able to understand what the client doesn’t understand, what they need in that precise moment, how they got to our website, and each of the doubts that only a user can answer to improve our entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, we also offer a direct line of telephone contact in case the client, instead of chatting, wants to make a phone call to make enquiries and clear some doubts, and even more important: make reviews in order to improve. Until now, we have used two alternatives; the best one was Grasshopper that allows having a virtual office with several extensions (systems, administration, accounting, legal, etc.)

Grasshopper

As founders of a start-up, we mustn’t underestimate the direct contact with the client. They are the ones who have every answer we need to grow and improve. No one knows better about what we need to program than our own users. Taking the time to interact and listen to them is the best investment we can make.

Investing in a designer

There’s another aspect I would like to highlight when implementing the first prototype of our entrepreneurship: although as founders we aim at saving on anything possible (offices, food, trips, etc.), it’s not a good idea trying to save on the design.

There are several reasons that justify this. The first and most important one is that the online design is the letter of introduction on the eyes of the potential client. An Internet user based on “look and feel” as it’s currently known can define in seconds if he is confident in or feels secure about our project. It’s as if in the offline world we had a dirty or even messy place that needs painting.

From my own experience, something in our favor is that hiring a designer is getting cheaper every time. Five years ago it was an important investment; today is much more accessible not only on the economic level, but also because of the fact that we are able to find one that offers quality since there’s much more supply in the market.

To conclude: a good design generates confidence in the user, it’s not too expensive and it’s essential to successfully improve our final conversion. Investing in a designer that transmits simplicity and clear means of communication for the client is vital.

Automatically adapting

It’s not just about generating clients through a desktop computer, but we also need to think about mobile devices and tablets. This means that, our design must be self-adaptable as from day one based on the user’s screen size. This is one more reason for which working on simplicity (as we discussed in the first item) is essential. If we want to know if the website of our entrepreneurship is clear enough, we must try to interact with it through the navigator of a cellphone.

Today, all these items combined -not separately- are the key to the design of the first online prototype for our entrepreneurship.

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Article is a guest post written by Cristian Rennella, Engineer from the Catholic University of Córdoba, co-founder of CotarSeguroAuto focused on the comparison and quotation of online services in Brazil. Since he is from Latin America, you will see that most of his examples are from there.

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