Have an idea for a side business, product, or activation? Great! Is it going to work? Well that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s also the question that investors or partners might have before handing over any capital to get your idea off the ground.
So how to answer it? Well, that’s where a proof of concept comes in.
Here we’ll take you through preparing for and writing a proof of concept in just a few easy steps. But before we get started…
What is a proof of concept?
A “proof of concept” sounds fancy and business jargon-y, but really all it means is that you’ve taken the time to think through the feasibility of your idea, exactly how it might come to fruition, and the ways in which you’ll know it’s successful (or how to iterate if it’s not).
Think of it as a general set of prompts to help you set yourself up for success and show people outside of your brain why your idea is good and likely to work. It’s a way of organizing and presenting an idea that gives your audience confidence to move forward in supporting you in this exciting new endeavor.
At what point should you write a proof of concept?
The sooner the better! Really, a proof of concept is as much for you as it is for outside ears.
Just the act of working on a proof of concept will help flesh out your idea and take it to the next phase of development. It’s a good way to check in and be honest about whether your idea is viable. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, heartache, and headache if you take a critical eye to your plan from the jump, as opposed to going down a road only to find out it leads to nowhere. No one likes wasting time or money, right?
Who’s your audience for a proof of concept?
Generally, the audience for a proof of concept is the people from whom you need something to get your idea rolling.
Whether it be capital from an investor, prioritization from a manager, or support from a colleague – it’s for anyone who would have a stake in the success of your plan (aka a stakeholder).
How is a proof of concept different from a MVP or prototype?
A proof of concept is the first step that sets you up to create a prototype or a minimum viable product (MVP). The proof of concept is the plan to test feasibility. The prototype is the model to test basic functionality. The MVP is the refined prototype to test the potential success of the final product and gather feedback from desired users.
Let’s say you have an idea for a hat that cuts your hair. The first thing you’d do is write a proof of concept that indicates the problem your product is solving, the consumer subset that would be interested, and your plan for testing and launch. Then, you’d create a prototype of the hat to show exactly how it will work and make sure it’s something that actually can be done. Based on that prototype, you’d create an MVP of the hat. Something close to what would actually go to market to give users a solid idea of what to expect from this amazing hat. And somewhere in there, you may consider applying for a patent.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First thing’s first, you have to write the proof of concept.
7 steps to writing a proof of concept
1. Clarify the idea
In its simplest terms, you'll want your proof of concept to answer the following questions:
• What are you trying to do?
• Who is this for?
• Why would they want it?
• What impact would it have in the long term?
This is where you define your idea, outline the target audience and set out your ideal plan for execution.
2. Identify the gap in the market
Once you've completed step 1, more questions will naturally arise, such as:
• Why doesn’t something like this already exist?
• How does your idea attack a problem for your target audience?
• How do you know?
This is where you bring in your data from research, focus groups or other forums to prove that there is a real need for your idea.
3. Outline necessary resources
This is where you think through things like money, time, equipment, expertise – anything that is necessary to make your idea a success. Consider the following:
• What do you need to bring this idea to fruition?
• What do you already have?
• What do you still need and how do you anticipate filling these gaps?
Investors in particular will want to know you’ve thought through your ask, not just pulled a number out of thin air.
4. Define goals
Now is the time to get specific about what you’ll look for in testing and how those learnings will guide the next stage of development. This includes conveying:
• How will you or other stakeholders know if this idea is successful?
• What metrics do you plan on measuring?
• What are the thresholds for success?
• How did you determine these milestones?
It’s also how your stakeholders will know what to look out for to indicate what is a worthy investment.
5. Define scope
This is where you outline your proposed plan to get to your metrics of success and what you’d do after you reach them. You'll need to determine and communicate the following:
• What’s the timeline?
• How do you plan the scale this project?
• What are the next steps after initial testing?
6. Anticipate roadblocks
Now, you'll want to show that you understand the market landscape.
• What are the potential challenges you foresee?
• How would you address them?
• How would that impact the plan outlined in this proof of concept?
This will give the recipients of your proof of concept confidence that you have proactively and strategically thought through how you’d ensure success in the face of inevitable challenges.
7. Add a recap
Who doesn’t love a little recap? It’s important to give a one slide or one page overview of everything you just talked about:
• The idea
• The customer
• What problem you are solving
• The data you'll track
• The success metrics
• The plan for scale
Not to mention, all of the above should be concise so that your audience can digest it without a significant level of follow-up. This will also streamline answering any questions because all of the key information will be right there.
How your proof of concept could look
How you format your proof of concept is really up to you. Some people prefer a document, others a slide deck. The most important part is that the information is clear and organized.
Here's an example template we asked a robot to help illustrate the steps we outlined above, using a made-up mobile app that helps people find local restaurants.
Finding a new restaurant that suits your taste can be a challenge, especially when you're in an unfamiliar area. Existing restaurant-finding apps often lack personalized recommendations and don't consider user preferences.
Create a mobile app that uses machine learning to provide personalized restaurant recommendations based on user preferences and location. The app will also allow users to filter their search by cuisine, price range, and other factors.
Proof of Concept:
1. Develop a simple prototype of the app: This prototype will allow users to enter their preferences and location and receive a list of recommended restaurants. The prototype will not be fully functional, but it will be enough to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept.
2. Gather feedback from potential users: Share the prototype with a small group of potential users and ask for their feedback. This feedback will help to identify any usability issues and refine the app's design.
3. Analyze user behavior: Collect data on how users interact with the prototype, such as which filters they use and how often they click on recommendations. This data will help to identify areas for improvement.
• The prototype should be easy to use and understand.
• Potential users should find the app's recommendations to be relevant and helpful.
• The data collected from user interactions should provide valuable insights into user behavior.
There are also a fair amount of free proof of concept templates that you can download to help you get started. Here are a few:
- Powerslides Deck Template
- Slideegg Deck Template
- Zapier One Pager Template
- Smartsheet Once Pager Template
What to do with your proof of concept?
Woo, you’ve done it! You’ve finished your proof of concept. Now what?
Well, first you should share it with a friend or a colleague you trust to get some feedback. There are probably potential challenges you haven’t thought of or ways to make your process more efficient. A sounding board (or in some cases, a sparring partner) can really take your proof of concept to the next level.
From there, reach out to people in your network who you’ve worked with before and let them know you have a new idea. Just like with any freelance hustle, you’ll need to put yourself out there to get your idea in front of people who can help you bring it to fruition. If there’s someone who you’ve worked with closely and recently, now is the time to put a meeting on their calendar.
You’ve put the work in upfront with your proof of concept, so now let’s see it out in the world!