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4:20PM

Prototyping a Business Idea 1

I've read a lot online about quickly testing a market to see if there is any demand for your service. So I decided to put it into practice and walk through the process myself. As promised I'll be documenting every personal project that I start from now on. Continue reading as I show how I went about prototyping a business to create usability reports in one evening.

Step 1: What am I good at?

Before I can begin offering any service, I need to identify the things I'm good at and passionate about. I quickly made a list over the weekend.
  • Java web application programming
  • Android apps
  • Usable website design
  • Application of technology to solve social problems
  • Logo designs
My list can probably go on for pages, but that was enough to get me started. In this section I'm following the advice of Noah Kagan and the crew at AppSumo. I'm going after low hanging fruit. So ‘Usable website design’ seemed to me like it was pretty low on my tree. After all I've been critiquing websites on forums for free, for over a decade, and building them since 1996. I confess that back in 1996 I was really just building a bunch of local sites as I didn't yet have Internet access.

I'm picking a trivial example first, and it might become something, but it's so easy I can do it for other things on my list as well. Actually, you know what, I'll go through this process for as many items on the list as I can. Some fruit are higher than others, for example setting up and running a Java web application will probably take me a little longer, but it'll be worth it.

Step 2: Determine the market size (approx)

There are many ways to do this, and you could really do your market research and spend days and months testing the market. Or, you can use a shortcut and see how many people are searching for your service online to get a rough estimate of the market size. Again, this is all about rough approximations. I want to show you how I did all of this on Sunday evening and got my first order by midnight on Sunday. So I just used the  Google Keyword Search Tool, and that gave me ideas on the keywords that my service should contain and the number of users who are looking for that service.

Step 3: Idea Validation

Since I'm just trying to figure out if I want to do this at all, I decided to try this on the popular service, Fiverr. Fiverr has a niche marketplace for brief usability reports, and design analysis. Users of Fiverr are mostly people who are trying out new things and want to save a lot of money. You might be thinking, “Fiverr? Don't you get paid just $5 per gig?” Actually I'll get paid $4 per gig, but this project isn't about money, it's about validating the idea, testing the market size and building a reputation and refining my product offering.

I checked how many people on Fiverr were offering this service, and how many of them looked like they were any good. I think I found about 50 people who were offering design and usability, and about 2 of them were worth their salt. So my competition on Fiverr is basically 2 people.  At this point, you're probably still asking yourself, “$5 dude?” Yes, my goal is to help make a more beautiful web, so by making this more affordable to the average person, I'll get a lot more people trying out my service, and hopefully save the Internet from a couple dozen horrendous websites in the process. Actually if people won't buy this service at $5, I see no reason in scaling it up to a bigger offering.

So I opened by LibreOffice and started writing my copy for my service offering. Fiverr gives you 120 characters for the gig name, and 450 characters for the description. I had to be pretty careful with my copy. With a couple minutes of tuning, and hitting the keywords I found in Step 2, I created my gig. You'd be surprised how far ahead of the pack you can be by just doing some simple spell checking.  I decided I wanted to catch people at the design and the implementation stage to help them with usability. So I created split the gigs into two separate gigs, one for mockups and another for website designs.

Then I spent a little effort creating an appropriate marketing image for each of my Fiverr gigs, which adequately convey what the service is about. Part of my marketing, is using a limited time-offer, which is really true, because I don't intend to offer $5 website reviews forever, and I want a cut-off date after which I can evaluate my service offering.

I then posted my website usability report gig at 11:46pm and went to sleep. By 12:06am, I had my first client. I'll update in a month how this process goes.

Step 4: Do the work

Just because Fiverr is cheap doesn't mean I have to offer a cheap product. However for $5, I can't setup a usability lab, and pay for testers and do A/B testing. What I have to offer is my 16 years of experience designing websites, and knowledge gained from many books, and reviewing many other sites. I've got some usability engineering under my belt and the words of Jakob Nielsen burned into my brain. I can offer a pretty basic review for $5, but my years of knowledge guarantee that it will be helpful to the end-user in my niche market.

Update March 5, 2012. By now I've had one client who needed a rushed report for a website they were having a contractor build for them. It has helped me refine my market to people who are outsourcing websites. The client wanted a professional second opinion on the mockup of the site that the contractors were presenting before they even built it. My report saved her hundreds of dollars upfront, and helped her correct small mistakes at the early stage.

The best part about doing the work, is that since it is low-hanging fruit, I already know how to do it. Actually I can do it in my sleep.

Step 5: Refine and find the right market

Fiverr isn't a long-term niche market. Although there is a niche among people who can only pay $5 for website usability scorecards, there isn't long-term business potential here for me. So while I'm refining a product offering and building a reputation on Fiverr, I have to go back to the drawing board and consider niche markets where people would actually pay for website usability scorecards and reports. In other words I have to tap into a market that sees the value in my product offering.

Conclusion

I'll have to wait 'till the end of March to see how this one plays out. I'll probably tweak the service offering a bit to grab more market share. In the mean time, while I'm waiting I can start prototyping other ideas from my tree. The higher up the tree the fruit lies, the less competition I'm bound to have, but also the longer it will take me to get up and running with a prototype.

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