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Chances are if you’re starting up any company you will need a website pretty early on in the process. If you’re starting up a software-driven company, you’ll also be defining the scope of that software development as a part of your initial planning and research phases.

Eventually you’ll be commissioning a company to build your site or bespoke software and they will create a prototype or mockup for you to enable those final decisions to be made on functionality and user experience. A fully blown wireframe would include linked screens outlining all of the functions and layouts of the software or website.

In the meantime, however, you’re going to need to ‘show and tell’ a piece of software that doesn’t exist yet. Just as you’ll be generating buy-in by sharing your elevator pitch before the business really begins, you’ll also want something visual to share about the software to add richness and context to your frog-kissing sessions.

Creating the kind of software prototype that fits on the back of an envelope will also help you:

  • Feel more confident you’re making progress in the right direction
  • Start getting into the habit of ‘pitching’ your idea, in readiness for future discussions with potential investors, software developers, sales partners and other third parties

Key tips for creating a simple prototype for free

  1. Create outline layouts for your key screens as you currently imagine them – perhaps two or three screens created with boxes, arrows, lines, annotations. Use a piece of wireframing or flowchart software online to make the job easier. Software like Axure and Lucidchart have free versions for now and which you can then upgrade at a later date.
  2. Keep the ingredients very simple, it’s easy to get distracted by design or functional details too early on in the process. Save this for later when your foundations for funding and your business plan are more firmly in place. Your time is at a premium so you want this to be just good enough to give people a visual sense of your idea without overworking it.
  3. See if you can find a web or software development expert and get some feedback from them. Depending on how technically-minded you are, they may be able to spot potential roadblocks or opportunities that you hadn’t thought of.
  4. Using whiteboard software online such as realtimeboard could give you a more varied document to present: you could add simple moodboards, notes, files, links and images to give people an even more interactive sense of your idea so far.
  5. Come up with a few different prototypes provided they are simple enough – you can ask your potential users during interviews for their feedback on which is best.