In these first few nascent years of entrepreneurship, I repeatedly am hitting a stumbling block. Each new venture or early-stage concept I work on is faced with this same challenge. It’s the phase the follows the intoxicating euphoria of early ideas/epiphanies and the cursory initial market research: prototyping.
When it comes to this point, one of two outcomes occur:
[If the team has an engineer]: “Well, I guess that is your job.”
[If there are no engineers]: “I’m sure people will recognize the opportunity.”
Outcome one means possibly bringing on someone whose value may be limited to just product design. Outcome two means a lot of fast talking and hand waving to hide the lack of a product. Neither is attractive.
As this is my last semester of my undergraduate era, I want to prove to the world that engineers are not the only who can roll up their sleeves. Then the golden opportunity presented itself in the form of a low-tech concept in the ski apparel market. I could not resist.
Behold: the MeBoot.
The MeBoot is a lower-leg insert designed to make large, bulky, ill-fitted ski rental boots a custom fit. The memory foam structure compresses enough to enter the boot, and then expands to fill the unnecessary space. No more ankle sores on day two.
The only thing interesting about this prototype is the memory foam, a free sample thanks to a U.S. memory foam supplier. Everything else can be found on the local shelves of Hobby Lobby. Or, in the case of the arch support, inside the lining of my old running shoes.
This is a second-generation prototype. Yes, there is a first-generation boot that is even more jank than this. The first-gen product not only fell apart during testing, but it could not even successfully fit inside the ski boot. Talk about embarrassing.
Here is the great part, however: having a concrete prototype in front of the group changed the course of the conversation. Instead of treating the product as another abstract part of the business plan, we began to talk about real, tangible issues. How thin does the product need to be to get inside a ski boot? How warm is memory foam when it is inside the boot? How thick should the foam be to avoid tearing?
That is the real value of a MVP (Minimum Viable Product): it serves as an early-stage expression of the venture’s vision that can sharpen focus for both founder teams and customers. Engineers can make sales-ready products, yes. But anyone with an entrepreneurial mind and a block of memory foam can build a prototype.
If you are on the outside looking in, this revelation may seem simple or uninteresting. But you would be surprised how enraptured people are when they see a physical product. In their eyes, you are no longer a student or a researcher: you are an entrepreneur. This how you get feedback from future customers and secure help from people who can make a difference in the future.
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