Building working prototypes without code

4 min read
Margaret Kelsey
  •  Dec 11, 2015
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An idea might come in a flash, but turning it into an actual product with customers and revenue takes time—and a lot of it. That’s why we hosted a webinar with Wade Foster, Co-founder and CEO of Zapier, on how to turn your idea into a working prototype without any codeTwitter Logo, getting you to version 0.1 much faster.

Check out Wade’s slides below, and read on for our short recap of Wade’s talk.

What is functional prototyping?

Wade describes functional prototyping as an experience that delivers on a promise. It eliminates the need for the user to have to pretend or guess in order to get the desired result. Ultimately, functional prototyping brings the user to the aha moment quicker.Twitter Logo

Currently, there is a lot of off-the-shelf software that lets you hack together a user flow in real time. Will it be as polished or as seamless as you’d like it? No, but it’ll allow you to test out your idea with actual customers to see if you’re fulfilling a real need.

In some ways, it’s like the Wizard of Oz saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

The benefit of functional prototyping is that you can use it in production before a polished version
 is ready. And Wade insists that it’s as easy as non-functional prototypes.

“Functional prototypes are as easy to make as non-functional prototypes.”

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3 case studies

The text-based concierge app Magic still looks and acts similar to when it launched as a functional prototype using Twilio. When it launched, Magic was first shared with a few friends, and it subsequently went viral on Product Hunt and Hacker News—quickly growing from 30 users to thousands.

Via text messaging, the lawn mowing service GreenSocks connects people who want their lawn mowed to people who will mow it. It’s been live for 4 months, and during that time, 140 customers have had their lawns mowed. It’s functionality consists of Zapier links sending new lawn mowing requests from Gravity Forms to Google Sheets, sending those requests from Google Sheets to Twilio, sending confirmation and timing of lawn mowing from Google Sheets to SMTP email, and finally sending contacts from Gravity Forms to Salesforce.

“Functional prototyping brings the user to the aha moment quicker.”

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The last case study was of a person rather than a company. Pieter Levels decided back in 2014 to launch 12 startups in 12 months. And he succeeded by creating
 functional prototypes using Zapier, Typeform, and Fancy Hands. Some of the startups he’s launched are NomadList, Taylor, and Makebook.io to name a few.

When should I polish?

As much as functional prototypes can test out business ideas, they’re still just that—prototypes. Yes, the off-the-shelf software companies have put in a lot of time and effort into their own design, UI, and UX so that you can transfer that ease to your initial users. But at a certain point, you’ll need to polish your design. He gave 3 points that serve as notice for when you should polish:

  1. Are conversion rates low? Looking at your conversion metrics can indicate that your users would benefit from better design.
  2. Can you keep up with demand? Conversely, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the amount of users, focus on building out your process to handle them. Design will only attract more users.
  3. Is it time to scale? Congrats! Now comes the hard work. You’ll need to develop your idea into scalable software—and make sure your designer is along for the ride.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard