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So I Launched a Startup (Pt. 6): Mocking it Up

In my last installment, I finally revealed what it is that we are actually building. Now back to the story… It was a dark and stormy night… Ok.. not really. It was late November, and Darren (our head of growth) and I had been meeting with our product council for a few months. Darren and I reached the conclusion that we knew what we had to build and it was time to start translating ideas into first low fidelity mockups, then high fidelity mockups and finally a functioning product.

Early stage startups are really a race against time. You have a fixed amount of time before you run out of money and so you have three options: become profitable, convince investors to give you more money, or go back and get a “real job”. We wisely had held off hiring until we were really ready to build and as I mentioned earlier, our first technical hire was a great UX designer named Brittany Echols. From what I’ve read, this is one of the areas in which startups go wrong, and that is building before they know what they are building. This may seem obvious, but let me tell you that it isn’t.

The biggest thing that I took away from the first few months is the importance of talking with potential customers, even before you have a product. In fact, it’s easier that way. After all, you’re not selling anything. You are legitimately asking for someone’s opinion and you couldn’t sell them anything even if you wanted to.

What all this meant was that we had plenty of runway to start actually working on the design of our product, and work we did. We realized that there was little to be gained from more meetings with the product council until we had mockups.

For those of you who have never done this before, the low fidelity mockups are basically the electronic version of post-it notes combined with hand drawings. It’s also when you nail down the basic functionality and flow of your product. Even though it isn’t exciting or beautiful, it’s very important to get right otherwise you can waste a lot of time building or designing things you don’t need. After all, the startup clock is ticking and as my old boss used to say:

The first job of every startup is not to run out of money.

Aaron Hermann
Low Fidelity Mockup

The drawing you see above is a low fidelity mockup. I had never worked with a UX designer before, and while I recognized the importance of these kinds of flow diagrams, I can’t say that they evoked any emotional reaction in me. I did really enjoy working with our UX designer Brittany Echols and advisor, Noah Iliinsky. Not to be repetitive, but the importance of these models is huge. Anyway, we showed these to mockups to our product council and we learned a lot about the flow. It was very helpful to ask questions like “What would you expect this button to do?”, “What else would you want to do here?”, “What are we missing?” “What would you do next?”.

Iterate, Iterate and Iterate Some More

People talk all the time about “iterate quickly” and “fail fast”. These phrases were really driven home to me during this whole time when we were working on these models. We could very quickly see, and experiment with different flows and functionality. But, people won’t pay for low fidelity models, we were finally getting ready to mock up what our tool would actually look like.

I didn’t really understand how UX works in product design at this point. I am still not an expert, but it’s important to note that a UX designer may or may not be a graphic designer. Anyway, now that we knew what the screens would do, we finally got to the point where we were ready to start actually mocking up what DataDistillr would look like.

The Big Unveil

The next step in the process was for Brittany and our team of contractors to turn the low fidelity mockups into a high-fidelity mockup. These mockups are intended to give you a sense of what the real product will look like and function. One of the absolutely best days of my startup journey was the first time Brittany showed me the high fidelity mockups.

This was the moment when it became real for me. It was emotional. It was overwhelming. This was something that I had been dreaming about for over four years and I was finally seeing what this was going to look like in reality. I almost cried, almost.

There is still a long way to go from a mockup to a working product, but seeing this made it real. The next challenge was going to be translating these mockups into a real working product and that meant that we had to do some hiring. More on that in the next installment!

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