This is #9 of 12 experiments for the year, offered to get you inspired, thinking creatively, and organized in the pursuit of bold life ambitions of deep personal meaning. (Click on the numbers to read the January through August experiments for 2023 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 , 8.)
In the old economy, it was all about having the answers. But in today’s dynamic, lean economy, it’s more about asking the right questions (about your prototype). - Eric Ries
Lean startup methodology is taught in every respectable business school on the planet as the best approach to innovation product development. Its core tenets center on (1) rapid design iterations that lead to (2) cost and time efficiency. Both are fundamental to the success of any startup hustling to get a compelling product into the market as quickly as possible on a limited budget. Rapid prototype development and the sharing of these with targeted users, repeatedly, is key. (Eric Ries wrote the book on this approach, literally, with The Lean Startup, published in 2012.)
So, for tech innovations ranging from ride-hailing mobile apps to sub-scale fusion reactors, entrepreneurs need a prototype strategy. Interpreneurs do as well, and that means you.
Finding Product-Passion Fit was the topic of our May Experiment (click here). Optimizing your interprize in how it resolves your customer’s pains, needs, and desires. A key difference between entre- and inter-preneurship is that with the latter YOU are the critical customer #1. Is your interprize likely to fulfill your desires and perhaps even attract a few patrons? Developing prototypes is key to answering this question and strengthening the fit quickly and on a budget. I don’t know about you, but my grand ambitions are funded on a less-than-grand budget.
In the deep tech world entrepreneurs are encouraged to develop 3 levels of increasingly-sophisticated prototypes that help answer these questions:
Proof-of-Concept: is the underlying science sound, i.e., not violating fundamental laws of physics, chemistry, or biology? Eureka, it works!
Alpha prototype: will the innovation function in a packaged assembly, even if said assembly is over-sized and crudely constructed? Hallelujah, it operates when assembled!
Beta prototype (also referred to as a Minimum Viable Product): can the assembled innovation be packaged in a form factor more closely approximating a final product, even if just offering a set of minimal but critical features? Woo-hoo, it can be elegantly productized with at least a minimum feature set!
Possible prototypes for a photo-bioreactor. Cool stuff!
The successful pursuit of any grand life ambition – your interprize – requires planning and pivots. We interpreneurs aren’t likely developing deep tech innovations like photo-bioreactors, but still benefit greatly from patron exposure to early versions of our final target. The pivots are spurred by moments of revelation that our previous plans are flawed. Prototypes help reveal the flaws before we’ve committed a lot of time and money.
Two levels are possible for many creative endeavors. Here are examples:
I release albums of original Bill Magill music. To find authenticity I write mostly for myself, provoked by personal experiences that have rattled my emotions. That said, I want people to hear my music, love my music, share my music, and perhaps even pay for my music (Oh, Wouldn’t it be Loverly?). So, I’m seeking some level of group appeal without sacrificing a song’s initial inspiration.
My alpha prototype: With guitar on knee or sitting at the piano I sing early versions of a new song to friends whom I know will provide honest feedback. What do you think? Yeah, it’s a good start, but needs another verse.
My beta prototype: Once I’m convinced the structure of the song is close I make a demo recording with multiple instruments. This can take a few days locked in my home studio, but it costs me only time and allows me to continue to tweak. I share the demo with the same friends above and with my key musical collaborators. The sound isn’t perfect – it’s a prototype – but good enough for testing and feedback.
Only when I’m convinced the song is in great shape do we go into a recording studio, which is expensive. Because I’ve worked through 2 levels of prototyping, we can work through the song quickly and with some confidence that the final product will thrill our fans (fingers crossed, candles burned, and Mary’s hailed).
My friend Michael Finkel is professional author of growing repute. His true crime books have been turned into films and spent weeks on the NY Times Best Seller List. He may have one there now. Mike uses 2 levels of prototypes before publishing.
His alpha prototype: Mike tests interest in a book’s concept by soliciting a national magazine like GQ to publish an abridged early version as a long article of about 7,000 words. At this point Mike has invested serious time in research and story structure but his agent hasn’t yet approached a publisher. With positive feedback from the article (fingers crossed, candles burned, and Mary’s hailed) and a 20 page treatise on how he’d expand it into a full book, Mike and his agent are ready to seek out a publisher. What do you think? Yeah, it’s a great story, but maybe needs a more sinister villain.
His beta prototype: Once a publisher signs on Mike starts the arduous job of pounding through the full book, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. Draft chapters are shared with a few friends for honest comment and near-final drafts are sent to his agent and publisher for review. Whole chapters may still get cut, new ones added. These are just a few of the prototypes he’ll share before the final manuscript is nailed down and mailed in, and by then both Mike and his publisher are confident the work is in great shape before the printers swing into action.
Any interprize can be prototyped as a way to limit costs and get an early impression from both you and your market before committing to a final product. You just bought an old abandoned brewery? Why not experiment with different batches to share with friends before committing to bottling. (I’m typically available for this type of sampling.) Inspired to paint an oil canvas of pipe-smoking card players? Why not sketch a few studies first, then experiment with the palette before setting up that final easel? You, too, may produce one of the most admired paintings on the planet.
The Card Players, Paul Cezanne.
Your Interprize Prototype Experiment
With your interprize ambition clearly defined (return to previous experiments if still struggling) imagine prototypes that can be created quickly and inexpensively to approximate its core interprize value.
Your alpha prototype: Fashion an early trial or create a preliminary version that (1) will give you a feel for the imagined pursuit and (2) can be shared with close allies who will encourage your progress but highlight the flaws. If your interprize centers not on a product but rather an accomplished experience, perhaps to traverse the magnificent 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, plan a weekend challenge such as the 24 mile Lost Coast Trail to approximate the ambition, but with little commitment in time and money.
Your beta prototype: Build on your alpha prototype to more closely approximate the final ambition - its taste or sound or color or story or whatever - for sharing with trusted patrons, your evangelists. To continue with our hiking example, consider a 3-4 week challenge such as the 210 mile John Muir Trail. It will be a bigger commitment in time and money, but when pursued will provide a clearer sense of the challenges and rewards.
With each prototype created, experienced, and shared, ask for feedback starting with yourself. Is this interprize feeding my desires as imagined? Am I even more committed and excited by the ambition as I dive into it more deeply, experience it more richly? What can I learn from friends, allies, and patrons about these prototypes that will improve its quality and strengthen my Product-Passion Fit?
With this feedback in hand, return to your grand life ambition and consider pivots that are warranted. Maybe an extra verse added, or a villain made more sinister. Perhaps you’re even more excited about taking on the Pacific Crest Trail but need a different tent or hiking shoes or time of year to start. What are you learning that will make your interpize more impactful and its pursuit more deeply rewarding? This is your life legacy, get it right.
If you want to know more about the art of interpreneurship and the work we do at the Interprize Group leave a message here or contact me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you.