For startups, bringing products to market is as important as building the products themselves. The earlier a product gets tested by real users, the more valuable feedback it generates. This user testing will help you making the right decisions in your building process.
The Lean Startup method by Eric Ries provides great theory and guidance for startups along these principles. However, applying a theory to reality is not always easy. In this post I would like to share the story of how we have been validating our concepts whilst engaging with real users at IJburg College, a progressive high school located in Amsterdam.
Our startup owns a cloud-based gesture interaction technology for integration into mobile apps. I envisioned that this technology would be very powerful for education purposes. I wanted to validate this assumption before we started developing a learning app.
Find the very first users from your own network
You need people who can give you honest feedback on what you’re building and the fastest way is to look within your own network for a close representative of your potential users. I recalled Mireille, a mother and her 15-years-old son IJsbrand. They both took part in a programming workshop I had organised before. I contacted them to arrange a meeting to talk about my recent technology startup for education.
Do not explain what you’re making; let people experience what you’re building
In order to gain useful feedback, people need to experience what you’re building - only then they can express what they feel and think about your product. If there’s no working product yet, using prototypes is the best way to go. When making a prototype, it is important to know who your audience is and what you are testing for. I recommend this great article “What do Prototypes Prototype?” written by Apple’s engineers in 1997.
Mireille and IJsbrand first learned about what our technology does and then tried out several paper prototypes simulating learning apps. The prototypes were useful to connect the abstract technology with their real life experiences. It helped them to imagine how it could be applied in classrooms.
“I love this technology because it stimulates people to interact with one and another in real physical life whilst using their smartphones” - Mirielle
“It’s awesome. At my school, IJburg College, we use iPads. I can talk to my school about this project!” - IJsbrand
From this meeting, I confirmed that it is worthwhile bring our technology into the education domain. Moreover, I learned about IJburg College where our technology could be first tested. IJsbrand wrote an email to the school manager introducing our project.
Testing your concept in a real life classroom context
Thanks to IJsbrand, we got in touch with Edvard, the head of one of the sub-schools of IJburg College. Edvard invited us to take part in a course called Realistic Assignment, led by two teachers Michiel and Willem. Together with them we gave students an assignment for a group learning activity based on CloudMatch technology. Over the five weeks of the course students re-defined the initial questions and designed role-play games making use of mobile phones.
We learned the most when our initial ideas were being accepted, rejected and adjusted by students and teachers. The course enabled us to refine our value propositions by incorporating the feedback we got.
Here are some of the things we learned:
- Teachers can develop own their learning contents
- Help teachers better organise a group activity. It saves teachers’ time
- Our technology especially suits learning about processes (like electricity and transfer of DNA) Playing a particular role in such a process and interacting with other students helps students learn
- Gamification is a key element for student engagement
Think about what other people will learn from participating
With all the excitement of presenting your product to people, you might forget why those people are spending time with you and your project. For entrepreneurs, making a great product for users is the most important priority, but this doesn’t hold for the people who are asked to participate in your project. It is important to design your user testing programme in a way that is mutually interesting for entrepreneurs and end-users.
What makes people interested in your project? The answer could stem from very personal reasons, depending on individuals’ interests and capabilities. This is a clearly different question than what makes people like your product. The comments below are what students and teachers at IJburg College liked about being involved in the project.
“It is something different. Because it’s a real project and a real company” - Student
“I now really understand how DNA works much better than before. I can explain this subject to anybody” - Student
“The course encourages students to be critical on the subject, project and questions they’ve got” - Teacher
Create ambassadors for your startup
Meeting people to get feedback on your product does not end with collecting useful information. It is a starting point to turn users into ambassadors of your startup.
Mireille, one of our very first users, organised an education & innovation conference called One Day Seminar. She invited us to share our work with students with the learning community in The Netherlands.
If people really enjoy trying out your products and like your project, they will end up talking about your project to their friends and peers.
About the author
Ohyoon Kwon is the co-founder of a technology startup called CloudMatch in Amsterdam. Using his expertise in social design, he especially take care of involving people in developing and testing products within the ongoing development process.
Our project is being supported by the active education community in Amsterdam. I would like to thank them for their contributions to this project. Mireille Jansma, IJsbrand Jansma, Edvard Houtkoop, Michiel Kroon, Willem Hoekstra, Femke Hoeksma, Rutger Storm, Roos Riemersma, Jesse de Wringer, Rens Mulder and Fatima-Zohra Rouidi.