Building the right it


The Inspiring Enterprise programme is designed to support people not in paid employment who are interested in developing a social enterprise.

Given many of the participant’s circumstances, it’s essential that they can develop their idea in the knowledge that there will be a market for it, minimising the risk that the idea they’ve put lots of time and effort into developing is doomed to failure.

As a result, the ‘if we build it, they will use it’ ethos won’t cut it, because the question someone should ask in response is ‘how do you know?’

When an entrepreneur has lots of financial backing, the pressure to know they are moving in the right direction comes from the need to spend other people’s (or their) money properly.

In the case of the participants on the Inspiring Enterprise programme, when there’s little in the way of financial resource, the pressure comes from the risk of putting a lot of time into something without the finances to cover it or the assurance that things are going to work out.

So, to reduce this risk, we can use the principles of the Lean Start Up approach, as well as the concept of Pretotyping, by encouraging participants to ‘make sure they build the right it, before they build it right’, in the words of Alberto Savoia, devisor of Pretotyping.

There are a number of elements to each of these approaches, but here I am going to focus on the value of user research and testing a ‘pretotype’ or, similarly, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

User research

The idea with user research is to collect ongoing feedback from potential users (customers) to validate the idea that is being developed.

Going out and talking to people from the very start of the design process enables us to test our assumptions about the most effective version of our product or service, and why or how people might use it.

There are many research tools that can be used during this process, summed up here

We simply encourage people to go out and get direct feedback.


Similar to the idea of developing a MVP, the approach is to test an idea in the simplest, cheapest way possible, learn from the feedback and iterate accordingly.

In a presentation by Alberto, viewable on the Pretotyping website here (warning: it’s a long presentation!), he uses the example of Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot (the first version of handheld computers that you may remember from the late 90’s onwards).

Alberto explains that following a business failure, Jeff wanted to make sure that this time round his idea would actually be used by people. To test whether this would be the case he used wood and paper to create a Blue Peter-style handheld computer and kept it in his pocket to see whether he would use it as it was intended.

Doing this gave Jeff the confidence to move forward with the idea.

So, if you have an idea that you want to run with, be honest with yourself as to whether you can say with confidence that the idea will be of interest to the people you want to market it to. Then go and find people you can speak to and, when the time comes, get creative about how you can test your idea in the simplest possible way.

For further information there are lots of online resources if you search around. A couple of good places to start are here and here