Concept and Idea Validated First: Fake it 'til you make it...

"The goal of a startup's early efforts should be to test them (assumptions) as quick as possible." - Eric Ries

Iterating Apropos - Part 2

There has been significant amount of writing and case study development on the establishment and execution of Lean processes. These range from how they can be applied within a Start-Up context, as well as operating in a non-start-up environment.  The Eric Reis book, The Lean Start-Up, suggests that Lean techniques can apply to any individual, team, or company looking to introduce new products or services to the market.  Continuum Education adapted this process early on; applying Lean, User-Centered Design and Agile as we felt each methodology was complementary and allowed for new information, requirements and business drivers to be incorporated into the work efforts around our product development and overall business.  

Rather than build a solution and then hunt down applicable problems, we started by brainstorming several ideas, some extremely complex and requiring years of research and money, and some that were simple and straightforward.  Considering factors such as obvious competitors, value proposition, and whether or not it would be fun to work on, we focused on the idea that would become Apropos.  We discovered the following:


  • Do not have control over their own learning
  • Lack critical thinking skills or no framework exists to measure them
  • Utilize numerous different technologies and devices


  • Have an absence of technology applications to support collaborative personalized learning
  • Need a way to visualize learning
  • Lack tools and the flexibility in those tools to accomplish goals

Apropos had to answer the following question:

  • Can we create a simple user experience to empower educators and enable students in implementing personalized learning using web-based technology with a keen eye toward mobile devices?  

Many educators want to bring technology into instruction, but complex solutions negatively impact class time and require significant set-up outside of class.  

The solution that addresses these problems must be simple to use, allow learners to participate to their level of sophistication and be applied to any curriculum or be incorporated into any teaching style.  Also critical to this problem/solution fit is its productization and how it fits to the market opportunity. In driving collaborative personalized learning and following research, we considered the Socratic method as one driver for our interaction model.  As this decision was made very early on, we are happy to see how well this was validated throughout the focus groups, usability testing and general market validation.

Initial Interaction Model - October 2013

The Video Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Early on we were not afraid to abandon the idea of Apropos in the event that if it didn’t prove to address a real market problem; not wasting energy, resources and developing something the market didn't want.  Having focused on EdTech for our collective careers, we had intuition that Apropos would be valued and we needed to test and validate our assumptions.  

  Validation steps

Validation steps

Also, rather than build any software or invest more than necessary to communicate the idea, we created a Balsamiq Video MVP  that described the idea, a basic user interface concept and some really cool music for a soundtrack. Created in Balsamiq, there would be no confusion that this was an idea and not a finished concept.  If the idea didn't have legs we would have moved on.  We kept this line of thinking all the way through March when we started our software development.

In vetting this video with educators, administrators and subject matter experts, we received enough feedback that we were confident that we would continue down our path of validating the product/market fit.