Ninua’s Prototype: A Must See Example of “Design Thinking”

Things have been hopping out here over the past few weeks.  Within a 2 week period, the latest batch of companies from Y Combinator, Angel Pad and Dave McClure’s 500 Companies all debuted at Demo Days.  Angels, Super Angels, and VCs saw their calendars explode trying to triage and evaluate the many very cool new startups that were released into the wild.  This was my first time going through all three of these events, and it was a blast.  Granted much of Silicon Valley can be an echo chamber, many can get too wound up around the less important things of who raised money from whom, as opposed to what awesome new service is creating value for users and customers.  But this 2 week period wasn’t that, at least for me.  It was a great reminder about what is so awesome about living and working out here—hardcore people pursuing big (sometimes crazy) ideas, and making things happen.  Its a blast getting to work here.  
There are lots of really fascinating companies and teams that I’ve had the good fortune to meet since, and I could talk with or about many of them for days.  

There was one special experience though that I do want to highlight: Ninua's awesome prototype:
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It is a great example of what IDEO founder & chairman, David Kelley calls “Design Thinking.”  (Caveats: I am not an investor in Ninua, but I *am* a total David Kelley fanboy.)  In the one speech of Keeley’s that I’ve snuck into, he talked about how in classes he teaches he sets an assignment to get a rough prototype built in a week.  As he described it, he asks that the prototype be very rough, “total sh*t” is the quote I recall.  His explained the “total sh*t” prototype rationale in roughly the following way…  With any prototype you want to get input immediately from potential users, on what works, on what doesn’t.  If the prototype looks polished, then users will perceive that you spent a lot of time on it, and the users won’t give you critical feedback.  They’ll just tell you how great your prototype looks, and try to make you feel good for the effort you put in.  Instead, if you have some very quick and easy prototype, like Ninua’s, for example, then users see immediately that you only put a little bit of effort into the prototype and they feel more comfortable giving you raw, honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t.  

Ninua’s prototype is a great example of this, and it was a delight talking to their founder and CEO, Waleed Abdulla, about it.  His experience ratifies the Kelley approach: he was able to get his prototype in front of users and they would play with the thing and show him what worked and what didn’t.  He described that it was fun to watch users with the prototype as often their reactions and emotions (positive and negative) made it very clear to him what worked and what didn’t.  
My message to startups is that there’s nothing better than getting input on your idea by showing people something, no matter how rough.  There are great methodologies in place—customer development, lean startup, etc.  Adding to this in a small way, I hope is this example of Ninua’s prototype 1.  

I appreciate Waleed lettting me take a picture of his prototype and letting me share info about it in this post. 

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