Pretotype It: Make sure you are building the right it before you build it right by Alberto Savoia cover

Pretotype It: Make sure you are building the right it before you build it right by Alberto Savoia

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A technique for validating your ideas before building them with the minimum investment of time, money and effort. Avoid premature perfectionism and the desire to add more features. Confront your ideas with reality as soon as possible by getting them in front of people.

Read the “pretotype edition” of the book.


The toughest thing about pretotyping is not developing pretotypes, that’s the fun part. The tough part is getting over our compulsion for premature perfectionism and our desire to add more features, or content, before releasing the first version. The tough part is getting our pretotypes in front of people, where they will be judged, criticized and – possibly – rejected.

Ideas are fuzzy and abstract; opinions are subjective and even more abstract; when you combine the two you get a big fuzzy ball of abstractions and opinions. Not much to go on.

Prototypes can help you fail faster, but often not fast enough or cheaply enough. The more you invest in something the harder it is to let it go and admit it was the wrong thing.

Between abstract ideas and “proper prototypes” there are pretotypes. Pretotypes make it possible to collect valuable usage and market data to make a go/no-go decision on a new idea at a fraction of the cost of prototypes: hours or days instead of weeks or months, and pennies instead of dollars. Pretotyping helps you fail fast, recover fast and leaves you plenty of time, money, energy and enthusiasm to explore new tweaks or ideas until you hit on something that people seem to want - the rare and wonderful it!

Chapter One: The Right It

The goal of pretotyping is to weed out wrong its and find the elusive right it with the minimum investment of time, money and effort.

What is this it I speak of?

  • It is something that does not exist yet, but you have been thinking about it and would like to – or have to – create it and bring it to life.
  • It is something important to you, and creating it will require a non-trivial combination of your time, effort and money, as well as a considerable amount of your energy, drive, enthusiasm and commitment.
  • Ideally, it is something that you are deeply passionate about.

The goal of pretotyping is to weed out wrong its and find the elusive right it with the minimum in - vestment of time, money and effort.

Chapter Two: Pretotyping

Fake It Before You Make It

Most people fall in love with their idea (their it) and assume it will be successful (the right it) so they just start building it. They jump the gun and begin by focusing and investing in the wrong things at the wrong time. More precisely, they invest too much too soon to develop a first version of the product with too many features, too much functionality and too much “polish.” They presume to know what people will want. They assume that if they build it right, people will want it. In most cases, these presumptions and assumptions turn out to be both wrong and costly.

Pretotyping Defined

Formal definition:

Pretotyping [pree-tow-tie-ping], verb: Testing the initial appeal and actual usage of a potential new product by simulating its core experience with the smallest possible investment of time and money.

Less formal:

Pretotyping is a way to test an idea quickly and inexpensively by creating extremely simplified, mocked or virtual versions of that product to help validate the premise that “If we build it, they will use it.”

Very informal:

Pretotyping: Fake it and test it before you make it!

Favourite definition:

Make sure - as quickly and as cheaply as you can - that you are building the right it before you build it right.

Pretotyping and Prototyping

Besides functionality, a key difference between pretotypes and prototypes is that the cost and time-frame for pretotyping is at the lowest end of the spectrum that is usually covered by prototyping. It’s acceptable for a prototype to take months or years of development and cost millions of dollars. In contrast, it’s definitely not acceptable for a pretotype to take that long or cost that much.

Prototypes are a necessary and incredibly useful tool that can and should be used to answer many questions about a potential product, such as:

  • Can we build it?
  • Will it work at all?
  • Will it work as intended?
  • How small/big can we make it?
  • How much would it cost to produce?
  • How long will the batteries last?
  • How will people use it?
  • What will people use it for?

Pretotyping, on the other hand, focuses on answering one - very basic and very important - question: Is this the right thing to build?

Chapter Three: It Will Fail

Pretotyping does not have the power to turn a wrong it into a right it - nothing can do that. But pretotyping will help you identify wrong its quickly and cheaply so you can keep trying new its (or variations on existing its) until you find the elusive right it.

The Law of Failure

Most new its will fail - even if they are flawlessly executed.

We invite failure, we seek it, we hunt it down and get it to show us its ugly face as soon as possible so we can determine if we are on the wrong track and make the necessary adjustments early on.

Playing this game with failure only makes sense if the bait we use is something cheap and inexpensive, a pretotype that we put together in a few hours or days and at a minimal cost - something we don’t mind abandoning.

Three ways to deal with the beast of failure:

  • Do nothing with it
  • Go for it (productype it)
  • Give it a try (pretotype it)

These first two types of failures are caused by too much thinking, too much talking and too little reality too late.


Thoughtland is a fictional place inhabited by two strange entities that float around and interact with each other: ideas and opinions. More precisely: unrealized ideas and opinions about those unrealized ideas.

False Negative opinions about our it can scare us into abandoning our idea so we do nothing with it.

False Positive opinions about our it can blind us to The Law of Failure and cause us to prematurely overcommit and go for it.

The “Do Nothing” Scenario

Most its never leave Thoughtland. They remain forever in this limbo as unrealized ideas. This is the saddest form of failure.

The “Go For It” Scenario

Productyping is the evil twin of pretotyping. If pretotyping can be summarized as: “make sure you are building the right it before you build it right,” productyping can be summarized as: “build it right even if you are not sure you are building the right it.”

Productyping is the way most new products are developed.

Productyping is the reason why most failures are slow, painful and expensive failures.

Chapter Four: Pretotype It

A Hodgepodge of Pretotyping Techniques

The Mechanical Turk - Replace complex and expensive computers or machines with human beings. A Mechanical Turk pretotype is ideal for situations where you can replace costly, complex or yet-to-be-developed technology with a hidden human being performing the functions of that technology.

The Pinocchio - Build a non-functional, “lifeless”, version of the product. A Pinocchio pretotype is best suited for situation where things like size, shape, weight, portability, etc., are important and where one’s imagination can be used to fill in the blanks.

The Minimum Viable Product (or Stripped Tease) - Create a functional version of it, but stripped down to its most basic functionality. MVP can be developed much more quickly because it dispenses with all non-critical features.

The Provincial - Before launching world-wide, run a test on a very small sample. In many cases, the major costs associated with a product are not in developing the basic functionality, but in scaling the product to support and make it useful for a large number of users. A Provincial pretotype provides the core features of the intended final product, but limits its scope (and scale) to support a small subset of the ultimate target market.

The Fake Door - Create a fake “entry” for a product that doesn’t yet exist in any form. With a Fake Door pretotype, the only requirement is to create an “entry” point for a potential product (or new feature). The product (or feature) does not have to exist at all. In Jess’s words: “In a web product, what this means is that you pretend that a feature exists and you see if anybody clicks on it.” Fake Door pretotypes are useful for determining the level of interest for an it.

The Pretend-to-Own - Before investing in buying whatever you need for your it, rent or borrow it first. Some its may require a major upfront investments, in such cases, it’s critical that you pretotype the idea by borrowing or renting those expensive items.

The Re-label - Put a different label on an existing product that looks like the product you want to create.

Chapter Five: Test It

Data Beats Opinions

It’s impossible to come up with a fixed set of metrics that will apply equally well to all its.

Initial Level of Interest (ILI)

The first metric you should try to collect on any it is what I call the Initial Level of Interest or ILI. It is a simple ratio:

ILI = number of actions taken / number of opportunities for action offered


number of opportunities for action offered represents the number of people who have been offered an opportunity to take some positive action associated with your pretotype


number of action taken represents the number of people who have actually taken you up on that opportunity.

Unlike the ILI, the Ongoing Level of Interest (OLI) is best represented by a time-based graph (or table) rather than by a single number. Each point/entry in the graph/table represents the level of interest at a particular date. What you should be looking for in the OLI graph/table is a trend. Does interest fade to zero after a while? Does it drop a bit but then steadies at an acceptable rate? Does it go up?

Now Go Make It

Pretotyping will help you in two ways:

  • If your it has been held captive in Thoughtland for a while, pretotyping should make it much easier for you to get started. Ignore the naysayers and get off your butt. Pretotype it and see what happens.
  • If you are getting ready to take a big risk or make a big investment in your it, pretotyping will help you get started more quickly. It will also provide you with valuable data that will either give you more confidence that your it is the right it, or it will help you realize that you should make some changes to your it, or pursue a completely different it.

The Pretotyping Manifesto

Make sure you are building the right it before you build it right innovators beat ideas pretotypes beat productypes data beats opinions now beats later doing beats talking simple beats complex commitment beats committees.

innovators beat ideas

pretotypes beat productypes

data beat opinions

now beats later

doing beats talking

simple beats complex

commitment beats committees