One of the essential early steps in the inventing process is creating a prototype--which, simply defined, is a three-dimensional version of your vision. Creating a prototype can also be one of the most fun and rewarding steps you'll take. That's because developing a prototype gives you the opportunity to really tap into your creativity, using those skills that inspired your invention idea in the first place. And whether you're making your prototype at home or hiring the services of an engineer, seamstress or machinist, it's truly exciting to see your idea transformed into something tangible and real. So what exactly should a prototype look like? First, it depends on your idea.
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Products fail! They fail at different stages and for different reasons. We do it in many different ways, starting with lo-fi paper prototypes, testing them, iterating and creating more lifelike prototypes until we reach our MVP. We then build a business model around the product and release it to the market. The fact is that there are numerous examples of how changes in the business model, while not changing the product, can shift an entire industry. Gillette changed the industry by providing cheap razor handles and charging for the blades.
Prototyping business models to drive innovation
Whether penned on the back of a scraggly bar napkin, mended together on your basement floor, or designed using the latest 3D modeling software, every product starts with an idea. But bringing that idea to a fully functioning, marketable prototype takes time, money, and more often than not, a few expert opinions. Luckily, there's been a recent emergence of tools, resources, and groups to help do-it-yourself innovators bring their sketches to life. Groups like NYC Resistor bring together like-minded hobbyists to collaborate and build ideas with laser cutters, rapid prototyping machines, and electronic-building software.
Small business owners are always watching for ways to get ahead of their competition, especially when their business model involves building and distributing a product. Unlike some service-oriented companies, small businesses that create products are often subject to audits in their processes, opinions on intuitive design, and technological upgrades that might render their products obsolete before they even hit the market. Thankfully, entrepreneurs——particularly those seeking capital investors——can give themselves an edge by creating a prototype of their product before launching their next endeavor and evaluating next steps. Before you can determine whether your business needs to develop a prototype, you have to know what prototyping is. In general, prototyping is simply the creation of a functional version of your product that can be used in real-world scenarios that invite reviews, tests, and feedback before you officially introduce your product to the market.