Seeing Is Believing – Using wireframes to save time, money and even seduce a technical cofounder

SwordSoft Wireframe Youtube
A wireframe of Youtube using SwordSoft Layout

We’v all heard the campfire stories of businesses being funded based on a sketch on napkin, but when the occasion calls for more than a sketch to convey the power of your new web application, mobile app or any device with an interface, wireframing does the trick.

Wireframes allow you to storyboard your application without needing the skill of a coder or the eye of a designer by allowing you draw basic elements that represents the skeletal framework of an application.  The wireframe usually lacks fancy font types, refined color pallets or any life-like graphics for that matter. This forces both the creator and audience to focus on the functionality and priority of the content displayed on the various screens throughout the application.

Wireframes can be as simple as a collection of drawings on graph paper or as complex as fully CSSed website minus the database connection. I personally found a happy medium with an application called SwordSoft Layout (available for Mac and PC).

By keeping things digital it allows you to quickly replicate screens so you only have to change a few elements each time to build out the application. The real party piece of SwordSoft Layout however is the ability to activate any element (buttons, pictures, links, etc.) so that when clicked on, it takes the user to the next appropriate wireframe. THIS IS HUGE!!! for replicating the usability and user experience of the app before a line of code is even written.

This is also why I highly recommend SwordSoft Layout over Microsoft Powerpoint or Apple’s Keynote because those applications are really only good for linear presentations. Wireframes at their best can transform skeptics into believers and at their worst, open the door to brutal feedback. Both outcomes are great in my opinion. So let’s recap and tie this back into the original hook of this post. 

Wireframing Saves Time

  • Developers spend more time asking the tough questions, not on fluff 
  • The time before getting quick feedback from friends and advisors is close to zero (you can do this in a weekend)
  • Wireframe allow you to show a visual aid for investors to “get it”, instead of just blabbering on

Wireframing Saves Money

  • You’ve cut 25 to 50% of the development cost in miss communication overruns
  • You can do it in your spare time without relying on costly professional help
  • You can do it for free with a pen & paper or my preferred SwordSoft Layout app
  • You’ll be able to see if it worth moving forward with your idea or pull the plug before your put serious cash into the project
Wireframing Can Seduce A Technical Cofounder
 
There are countless ways for those without the technical skills to make their technical idea work. Most fall into 2 camps: focus on how to become that technical person (learn to code) or acquire a team with the necessary skills (raise money to hire someone or bring on a technical cofounder).
 
Being a semi-technical guy, wireframing helps in the discussions dealing with hired guns or evaluating taking the plunge with a technical cofounder. By having wireframes in your pocket you instantly have more street credit with coders and can get down to the business of fleshing out the next steps. More importantly the talent you are trying to seduce knows that while you may not be able to speak fluent code, you know how to communicate on technical-ish level. That is usually enough to hook them for an initial meeting.
 
Recommended Tools
 

 

Post any questions below and I’ll get right back to you. I’m especially interested in other people’s favorite apps/methods for wireframing.

Google Patent Search

Broom Machine Patent - Long Island New York
Broom Machine - Patent Number: 2323420 - Jul 6, 1943 - Long Island, New York

If you’ve been involved in projects that have included patent work, you know it can be quite costly and time consuming. Depending on where you are in the process of your venture, you may be searching, filing, waiting, reworking, owning or protecting (suing or being sued). All of which cost money.

Back in 2006 Google stepped in to make at least the searching of patents much less intimidating, and true to form, it’s called Google Patents

Everything in the database is pulled  from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and covers the full collection of issued patents and millions of patent applications issued in the 1790s through the present. 

Patent searches from the pros typically cost $500 – $1500 and what you should be getting for the money is their expert eye of knowing if similar looking patents are really similar and what really constitutes a uniquely patentable product or function. Look to Google Patents simply to get a feel for competing or similar patents for free.

Most importantly don’t get down on yourself and throw in towel if you see something close to what you are doing. Again, the real pros can advise you on your options in both actual design and description changes to be unique enough to file, or how to work with patent holders to obtain the proper license to use the existing patent.

Learn more about Google Patents >

Search Google Patents >

 

The Deck

Venture Hunt Investor Deck Template v3

We’ve all heard the stories of deals being done based on ideas sketched on a napkin, or a chance meeting that leads to a million dollar round of funding.  They make for great entrepreneurial campfire stories, but the reality is that such deals maybe make up 1% of the funded deals which would  be 1% of 1% of pitched deals (probably worse odds than this).

Moreover, if you look who was involved in the deals, it usually involves seasoned entrepreneurs, industry insiders and an already warm introduction or existing relationship.

So if you think of yourself as the 1% of the 1% you don’t need this deck. For the rest of you, what this Investor Deck template provides is a simple yet comprehensive way to organize the necessary information to have an intelligent conversation with a prospective investor. Here on Long Island most intro meetings go down at a diner which usually buys you an hour, but in NYC you have 15 to 30 mins and you can’t afford to blabber for 20 mins on one point.

Whether you plan to pitch at formal capital forums, with individual investors or your first friends and family round, everything you need to cover to make a solid first impression is included…

  • Cover Page
  • Introduction
  • Management
  • Market
  • Solution
  • Business Model
  • Customers
  • Building Market Share
  • Strategic Relationships
  • Competition
  • Barriers to Entry
  • Financials
  • Use of Proceeds
  • Milestones
  • Funding

Don’t think I skimped out and just provided a bunch of slides with titles either. Each slide is broken down into key items that should be covered on each slide. 

Some of you may find this template constrained and others liberating. Regardless, this format forces you to cover your ass on the basics. Also keep in mind in the less formal settings where you are presenting to one group or an individual they will most likely want to skip around to focus on their concerns. You may never hit every slide, infact you may spend an entire meeting on just one issue. Almost every issue they can come up with is related to one of these slides, so at the very least you’ll have some information to work with.

I will be going in-depth on each slide on later posts, but the last point I’d like to make is that if you can’t fill out all the slides with sound reasoning, you are not ready to solicit investors. Now I’m not saying every aspect of your business has to be 100% perfect, but if you don’t have the answers to get  past the 1st meeting you will not get to the second meeting and raising capital takes lots of meetings.

So if you’re struggling to organize your pitch or you know someone who could use some help download the deck.

Like any template, there is always room for improvement. Drop a line with any comments or questions.

Long Island’s Future Change Makers? You Be The Judge November 30th.

Business Plan

The Young Professionals Chamber of Commerce (part of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce) is having its Ninth Annual Business Leadership Competition on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at Farmingdale State College.

I’ve been a judge in the past and I will be a judge again this year. It’s always a great personal moral booster to interact with High School students that really have their act together and have the same drive that us more seasoned individuals had (minus all the battle scares).

Your interaction and advise for these young individuals is critical to keeping them on the path of being change makers. I hope you will join me as a judge or as a sponsor to support the over 200 high school students that participate in this exciting day of competition, lunch and awards.

For more information contact:

Linda Mitchell, Executive Director of the Young Professionals Chamber of Commerce via linda@huntingtonchamber.com or 631.423.6100 x16

Always Be Closing: Funding opportunity for NYC based startups

Always be closing

CNNMoney Presents:
Always Be Closing: An Opportunity to Strike a Deal with CNNMoney

CNN Money is looking for NYC Startups. CNN Money is continuing the NextNY ABC(Always Be Closing) series that gives Startups access to big companies they normally wouldn’t be able to get in front of. The end goal of the event is for a Startup to walk away with a money deal and for CNN Money walk away with a cool, new product and a partner.

CNN Money currently works with several Startups including Gravity, Disqus, SigFig, StockTwits and others and are looking for more.

The event will take place September 22nd in the Time Life building.
Complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served starting at 6:00 and the pitches will begin at 7:00.

RSVP to attend here:
https://websvp.com/startup_event/

Link for Startups to submit:
http://money.cnn.com/startupevent/

Submissions must be received by September 16, 2011.
Finalists will be notified on or around September 19, 2011

For questions regarding submissions and the event:
StartupCNNMoney@turner.com

South Korea and China prospecting on Long Island

Chinese Currency

It looks as though Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has been wooing both Chinese and S. Korean investors to carve out a slice of their portfolios for Long Island. Levy is working to spur new job growth on Long Island by growing the manufacturing sector and the overseas investors are looking to gain proximity to Manhattan markets without Manhattan operating costs.

My biggest concern with these types of political wooings is the risk of giving up too much in terms of tax credits, sewer hook up breaks, exemptions etc. This concern is founded in the track records of multinationals and even large domestic firms taking advantage of tax and other operating breaks, only to pull out of the region once said financial incentives have run their course. Such pull-outs leave  empty shells and corresponding sinking employment in their wake.

Regardless, I applaud Steve Levy for actively seeking reinvestment in the area.

Here is a link to the article at Newsday.com (subscription required) : Levy to host Chinese, Korean investors