What do you do with your Proof of Concept? The Startup Experience Part Ten

In the last startup article I wrote about my experience working with Dr. Martin Halvey and Strathclyde University to develop the proof of concept for Company Connecting. The next thing I needed to do was to let people see the Proof of Concept site and get some feedback. I had recently taken on my first employee: Robin our Customer Support Manager. At this early stage he helped with a variety of different things. Anything from researching companies to sorting out how to use Survey Monkey. It made a big difference having another pair of hands as the work load, as with any early stage startup was extremely high.

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Our original concept was Internet Dating for companies, and the ability to match IT companies with those that were looking for skill, partner, resellers etc. It was based around manually researched data, combined with a categorisation methodology and a ‘niche’ search engine that would enable a few companies to be found quickly. Searches using standard search engines returned large amounts of information which it took a lot of time and effort to review.   Company Connecting would offer a search taking only a few minutes; starting with key word search e.g. cyber, security, web, then use our categorisation and facets, to return the companies that were the best fit. We needed to know if people would find this useful.

We wanted to get feedback from a variety of people and not just those already in our current network. We identified people across a range of companies and backgrounds, and then created a number of questions around the main things we wanted to know:

  • Did people want to know about IT companies?
  • Would they be willing to pay for the information?

We also needed feedback on the way people would carry out searches and then use the information. This would help us with the overall development should we decide to move forward. We spent quite a bit of time over the design of the questions. It was important to get as much information as possible to help us with our decision on whether or not to move to the next stage. The questionnaire was designed as multiple choice and respondees could also add comments for each of the questions. The multiple choice aspect enabled us to analyse the output, and the comments were extremely helpful in highlighting things we had not thought about, such as potential design / implementation issues as well as benefits.

The outcome of the questionnaire was that all respondees liked the concept, and a reasonable percentage were willing to pay for the services. People were generous with their time and advice, helping us to hone the offering, and to think about the potential commercial model. During the period of the survey we started to consider the development of the full Company Connecting. We were continuing to follow The Lean Startup (Eric Reis) methodology i.e. get something in front of people, get feedback, reiterate and don’t over engineer. So we wanted to get a Minimum Viable Product website up and running as soon as possible. We needed to find a company who would develop the website. It couldn’t be any web developer (we currently have over 500 web development companies on Company Connecting). The company needed to understand our concept, have experience in backend database design, and have extensive experience in working with search tools.

By this time, we had already researched a large number of companies, and we were able to use the Company Connecting Proof of Concept, to search the database to pull back a few companies that we felt would be able to do the work. We quickly refined this to three – all in different areas of Scotland. Each company had impressive portfolios of work, and experience in working with search engine technology. We chose Verinote because the team were clearly capable of carrying out the work. They challenged some of our thinking, and highlighted areas where we would have to do more work to be able make decisions.

So in answer to the question ‘What do you do with your Proof of Concept’ – as well as the usual stuff of questionnaires and feedback testing  – you put it to work to choose a supplier!

Our next article will be about the design and birth of the Company Connecting website.

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"What do you do with your Proof of Concept? The Startup Experience Part Ten"First published on Company Connecting June 2016

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