/ product development

How to check your business idea for $75. Ask drosophilae.

This article would be of great interest primarily for those who’ve had enough of developing things not having an idea of how they work or of drawing designs, having them under development and finally getting only constant portfolio pictures. The process described can become a wake-up call for business owners who have come to the conclusion that their team works all day long but the business is still not on the rise.

You have a chance of getting the feedback of real users in less than one day spending only $75.

Design-approaches for business-tasks solutions

Some years ago I got interested in Design-thinking and developing client-oriented products. Also during the last year I’ve held a series of Design sprints which resulted in work-process possible to be used by everyone.

Some years ago I got interested in Design-thinking and developing client-oriented products. Also during the last year I’ve held a series of Design sprints which resulted in work-process possible to be used by everyone.

You can find out more about Design sprints and their actual or read some books which will reveal the idea of what such sprints are used for. You’ll find the link to my shortlist of books at the end of the article.You can find out more about Design sprints and their actual use by our compatriots or read some books which will reveal the idea of what such sprints are used for. You’ll find the link to my shortlist of books at the end of the article.

Don’t go deep in detail and just remember: it’s possible to develop a prototype of a new product and test it out on users in five days or even less. Without hackathons that insist on your team being locked in the room all day long. People are just unable to work like this all the time. I’ll provide you with the instrument which will become a part of product developing culture in your company and will teach you to get the feedback on your prototype in an inexpensive, quick and even more qualitative way than you do right now.

Design sprint in action

What’s all this about?

I’ll tell from my own experience that there are no problems with making up new ideas in companies. Colleagues and users are ready to swamp you with ideas day and night, to come up with solutions and insist on their immediate implementation. This is how it usually happens “Check this out - what a cool feature I’ve come across! Let’s try using it too!”

I won’t talk you out of using such a method for sometimes it works and gives a business a chance to develop and achieve its aims.
There’s one giant weak-point in this approach: you learn too slowly. You just randomly turn over your own or someone else’s ideas in your mind and get the feedback by means of successive high cost implementation and development of each idea.

Each business is a scientific laboratory and you are the scientists

Imagine you are a team of scientists fully absorbed in work. Your task is to experimentally find out a set of principles and models which will prove your hypothesis’ vitality both inside the laboratory and in the field.

At the moment you are most likely to be copying your competitor’s formula and poke your finger into the necessary set of ingredients. Or you’re just thinking out your new breakthrough formula. Now you’re doing it slowly, frequently making mistakes and at first testing the result in a sterile tube, on yourself.

As soon as something resembling the desired result occurs in the test-tube you bring your idea out, spend tons of money on creating a conveyer with the product of your research, set up the delivery logistics and hold expensive marketing campaigns. If the stroke of luck is yours then it will work in the field and you’ve gained profit. If not – the conveyers and logistics are set up, the budget for advertising is spent, why change anything?

Now let’s go back to the fact that you are scientists. Before starting your production you’ll at least test your formula on drosophilae. They are not expensive, born and grow old in a day and are of carbonic life form as we are. And when the result of your work effects the flies positively you can continue to test it on mice (MVP – approach), after that you’ll be ready to make up a test group of humans and etc. The period of your learning from an absolutely failed idea to the one moving you closer to the aim is just a day but not a week or a month. The flies will give the answer to the most important question – what to do (not to do) next?
And every day you learn fast and fundamentally enough to choose the activity’s direction. On top of everything else you would hardly like to kill the flies in millions falling into the same trap again. That’s not humane. Several dozens is enough. And now you’ll do your job in a more serious manner just reflexively.

Some theory

Before proceeding I have to provide you with some theory to exclude the possible major mistakes and questions that might arise.

The right prototype and how to create it

The question of prototyping is an important part of Design-thinking and Design sprint. The process of creating quick, simple and scruffy to the extent prototypes answering the main question: does the user need it or not?
Coming back to the laboratory researches analogy, you wouldn’t wrap your product and think of a nice name for it until you get a positive laboratory tests result.
For creating a prototype you usually need to spend a little bit more time than you usually do to put your ideas simply to the designer and programmer. But the point here is that you have a chance to get quick feedback from your prospective customers! Prototypes may slow us down to speed up in the future.

An example of a prototype made up within a few hours in Keynote

If you need to develop the interface for an application then Keynote/PowerPoint will be a hundred-per-cent fit for you. IMPORTANT: do not use Sketch/Photoshop or any other professional instruments to create a prototype. You’ll get stuck at the creation level for days instead of hours.

There are enoug rectangles and ways to paint it with the needed color in Keynote/PowerPoint to show your product’s value to the client through the prototype. Take it from me!

So the prototype is ready, it usually takes me 20-30 slides in Keynote. The only thing left is to line up the client’s way to Invision. That’s not necessary as you can open the presentation on your mobile ant it’s already interactive. But that step will become crucial if you’d like to make the testing process fast and scalable.

How many people do you need to get constructive feedback (the answer is 5)

Jakob Nielsen, the author of a series of web-design books in 2000s experimentally found out the law of 5 users to whom you should show your product. From my own experience I’ll tell you it works. You may find 20 people but the most valuable and critical feedback is that of 5 out of them, the rest is just a mess.

Which questions should the users be asked?

The prototype is ready, you’ve found 5 people and now it is time to get their feedback.
Ask right questions and you’ll get helpful answers. You can copy our question list which is further down the page and adapt it to your task.

The feedback: problematics and my experience

It just happened so that I work in a country the native language of which is neither English nor Russian. Physically I am in sunny Montenegro and every time I’ve got a question “how can I find those 5 people for the test” who’ll give the feedback on our product. It takes a few days and requires translation services to make a prototype in Serbian-Montenegrin.
Things we have tried:

  1. Usability testing by an external agency;
  2. A corridor test on our own colleagues at the office;
  3. Searching for external candidates through social networks and inviting them to our Moscow office to collect their feedback;
  4. Searching for participants by means of paid advertising in social networks and monitoring the results through a laptop’s or phone’s camera;
  5. And finally the process which requires the minimum of finance and can be learned quite quickly.

1. Usability testing by an external agency

I’ve included this variant because I’m sure that for many people such a solution seems to be the most simple. You find an agency which can do the usability-test, maybe even using Eye-tracking or some other “magical” know-how. You’ll pay the agency the minimum of one thousand dollars for a multipage document. May be someone will even read the whole document and having found the proofs of their point of view will push the changes in your product through. I’m already expecting the rays of hatred coming from the owners and employees of usability agencies, but that’s my personal experience, perhaps I’ve been searching badly or was unlucky.
What should be done:
Choose one out of a thousand agencies ready to do this job for you.
That’s very simple. You need a sufficient budget and you’ll get a nice document with recommendations.


  1. Your designer will most likely disagree with lots of recommendations and will unwillingly correct the spotted remarks.
  2. A finished usability test doesn’t mean that after applying the changes anything will really alter in your business. But the price for the service is rather high.
  3. Most agencies won’t deepen into your business and any recommendations will have to be checked through A/B tests in any case, which takes time. You’ve just found another “adviser-expert” who’ll stuff your head with unnecessary information. I haven’t heard of products which haven’t become successful because they used buttons of wrong colors or their logo was not that recognizable.
  4. You’ll be waiting for the minimum of a few weeks for the recommendations to be collected and nicely arranged, so you’ll waste your precious time.
  5. May be you’ll have to finish the design or even work out your ideas before you throw them into the clutches of an agency, which takes time and money.

You are free to choose. I have no idea what to do with such documents; just don’t waste your time and money.
The cost: starting from 50 thousand rubles and a few weeks of expecting the document with recommendations.

2. A corridor test at the office

The fastest, cheapest and most simple way of getting feedback. But, unfortunately, not the most effective one. I would say this method is better than nothing.
What should be done:
Catch 5 experimental colleagues at the office. Show them your prototype, listen to and write down all the problems which they faced during the testing process.

Perhaps, it’s the fastest variant. To find 5 colleagues at the corridor, ask them several questions and get their feedback, - what can be better? We used to invite our colleagues, lock ourselves in the next door conference room and watch them testing our prototype via Skype. You’ll certainly like this approach; it’s very exciting to watch your colleagues through a camera.

Your colleagues’ professional deformation will certainly influence the answers’ quality. Even if your colleague hasn’t tested your product but has only run payroll calculations, he already possesses some opinion about the company and as a rule it leads to the averaged inner point of view which you know anyway. As a result the feedback is much less valuable than that of external candidates.

Most answers will be limited to the comparison with the already existing products of your own company.

You can try to avoid the above-mentioned problems by giving your prototype a name of an imaginary company, using other color solutions, explaining that this is a product which is not attached to the current business or saying you’re making it for yourself. But I advise to read further and choose more representative variants.

The cost:
Free + some hours for preparations and holding the interview.

Prototype’s testing on colleagues

3.Inviting to the office to test the prototype

Let’s start with the fact that you need a place, time and some candidates found in advance. We’ve used the communities in Facebook and Vkontakte and have also tried paid advertising in social networks.

What should be done:

  1. Through the chosen communication line find 5 users ready to come to your office.
  2. Fix the time for each participant taking into account some unexpected circumstances.
  3. Choose the person who will hold the interview and instruct him or her which questions must be asked. It would be better if the person is a member of the team developing the prototype, but it’s not necessary.
  4. Customize the unilateral connection; the team should watch the user not vice versa.
  5. Watch real-time interview results and with the help of the prepared questionnaire write down the issues raised. I’ll provide the pattern further.

Real users at a prototype’s testing at the office

The approach is working very well if you are in the centre of a big city with the biggest part of its population speaking your prototype’s language. You’ll get an incredibly useful feedback.


  1. The preparations and resources of at least one person are needed to find the people, call them to discuss the details and make up the timetable of their visits. Around half of the day will be spent to make arrangements with the participants, choose the right time etc. Moreover holding an interview takes one more work day.
  2. If you are in a big city then be prepared that people will be late, many of them won’t have a chance to participate during the labor hours and will ask to hold the meeting after the working day. I’m not a supporter of staying late at the office not speaking of asking my colleagues to do it.

Instead of your office you can take coworking on lease or just meet in a quiet café. But ask the waiter in advance if it is allowed to shoot video even of yourselves.
You can delegate the task of finding candidates and collecting feedback to a freelance student, it must be cheaper.
To record a video from your laptop’s camera and broadcast the user’s screen at the same time you can use Zoom.us application. On Mac + iPhone it works really great.
Personally I can tell that there are more problems with this approach than with any other.

The cost: starting from 2500 rubles (from 500 rubles to each participant as a reward) + the time costs for the search of candidates and testing (1-2 days).

4. Searching for participants for remote testing via paid advertising in Facebook and Vkontakte.

Now let’s come over to the more or less scalable variant, when less participation from you and your team is required to get the feedback.

What should be done:

  1. Write a great advertisement in social networks. You can have a look at an example of my ad here.
  2. Choose the reward: $10 on Amamzon.com will fit indeed.
  3. Prepare the prototype and the instruction which you’ll send by e-mail to your prospective candidates. It is described how to do it further down the page in the “75 dollars approach”.
  4. To exclude manual operation with profiling you can create a Google Forms poll which the users fill in upon clicking the advertisement.

You can easily customize the users’ segmentation and choose only those you are interested in. If your aim is men aged 35-45 from Moscow suburbs who have ever taken interest in your competitors’ products then Facebook will find such people and you’ll get the feedback just from them. Exclude those who already use your app right there. In general what is left to you is only to wait for the applications of those who have responded and send them the reward upon completion.


  1. It doesn’t matter how great your advertisement is – not many will click it, and those who’ll take the test will be in the minority.
  2. The high price. Be ready to spend $100 to find around 20 prospective participants.
  3. Users can cheat and invite their friends who don’t suit you. They must be cut off at the level of login form for testing or after the final feedback.

I’ve automatized a piece of work with cheaters and task sending through Zapier.
After filling in the poll I’ve chosen only the targeted audience which I was interested in through the entry box of age and sex, and have automatically sent them the task by e-mail. The filtered answers have come to me through Slack and I only had to send the reward.

The Cost:
Around $100 for advertising and $50 for each person who has taken the test + several hours of customization and a couple of days expecting the results.

5. ”$75 approach” – the fastest and the most scalable.

And at last the process which will give you a chance to test any prototype with your minimum participation. Further down the page is the detailed instruction how to begin using this approach with tip strip and the description of possible “pitfalls”.

A sample of prototype’s testing on external candidates

What should be done:

  1. Make up your “Welcoming poll” in Google Forms with the questions about the respondent. At this stage your task is to acquaint yourself with the user, to find out where he or she works and which experience he or she has. The questions here and further come in ascending difficulty not to frighten the prospective candidate off. After finishing the poll put the link to your prototype in Invision at the “Thanks”-page. An example of such poll.
  2. I recommend taking away the horizontal scroll from the Invision-prototype, otherwise many users will sweep from one side to the other and all the feedback will be smashed because the users will see the whole prototype not understanding what’s going on.
  3. As your final prototype step just switch the user to the “Final” poll. You can borrow examples of the questions here.
  4. “Wrap” your first poll into a project in the Lookback.io service. I think you’ll easily manage it. It will be easier for you to find users regardless of the platform, that’s why it’s better to make up two projects at once: iOS and Android ones. But for the results’ clarity I’d recommend searching for people on iOS, the platform works best here.
  5. Unfortunately, Lookback.io still has no option of dividing users into 2 versions according to their UserAgent, so transform both iOS/Android links into one using hyperurl.co service or its analogues.
  6. Make up the how-to-take-the-test instruction which you will send to the candidates. You can have a look at my example.
  7. Create an advertisement on UpWork. We’ve tried lots of platforms but UpWork is the one that fits best for the process. I write the title and a short description in English and after that I write in the prototype’s language. I pay $15 as a reward through the service, it’s usually enough.
  8. Find 30-40 participants whom you’d like to show your prototype and send them a job invitation. Filter them according to the country, hourly rate and just choose those you like. From my personal experience 20-30% will respond to your offer and most of them will be ready to complete the task in several hours. Send the made up instruction and wait for the result. Cut off the users who’ll take the test tomorrow (not today) to save the time.
  9. Get the feedback. We print the poll on paper and each member of the team fills it in individually for each user on our video watching sessions.

An example of a user’s poll filled in by a member of the team

It takes several hours to create a prototype in Invision and get the first constructive response. In one day you’ll get the 5 answers you need and will be ready for the next iteration or for development. Lookback.io can send notifications to Slack when the feedback is there, that’s convenient and you don’t have to check manually whether the new answers have come.
And in the end that’s so exciting! Each member of the team can get in touch with real users and not just develop things for some guy, not seeing the result.

The process of feedback’s collecting from real users

Some preparations are needed, this approach is more technological than any other described. Be ready that some users won’t like to setup external apps to test them. I don’t persuade them to do so but just turn down their proposals. You’ll have a queue of those willing to do the job without any extra issues.

The cost:
Around 4000 rubles ($75), several work hours for preparations and the results on that very day. You can start with a Trial-version of Lookback.io, and then pay $29 a month for 1 user license.
What to do next?
You’ve got the feedback from 5 people. Those “flies” which will give the direction for the oncoming activities. Gather your team on a Friday evening or any other day and start watching the recordings. If at least two members have pointed out the same problem it is necessary for you to correct, improve, change it.
Write out each problem next to the respondents’ names. Circle the repeated ones with a color marker and tag the number of crossings. The more times you’ve heard about the problem – the higher is the priority.

The problems’ sourcing and their priority’s defining on the basis of real users’ feedback

As soon as you’ve chosen the top problems for improvement – fix them. Don’t even think of correcting anything else, you’ll only delay the launching of your product. Each following test and adaptation should take less and less time. Your task is to get untagged feedback.
Only in one day you’ll get the most critical feedback which will boost your idea’s prospect. As a bonus you’ll get the answer why it works or doesn’t work.

It’s you who will choose the method. The point is to keep those flies in mind - the sooner you make a mistake or find the right direction the better. Don’t develop everything and anything, test your business ideas on real users and make really good products!

A piece of advice: if you are a designer or a developer and are not sure about the necessity of the decision you should develop, then you can hold the above described test at your own expense and in this way put the method into practice:)

At the beginning of the article I deliberately missed lots of design sprint details about which you can read in an exceptionally practical book The Design Sprint. You’ll learn the basics of Design-thinking or for example how to make a prototype of a hotel from hard paper and sticks in the book Change Be Design or in the Russian variant of high-quality translation “Дизайн-мышление в бизнесе”.