Proto-Testimonials Can Help You Start-up Your Value Propositions

March 4, 2015

After the light bulb flashes an epiphany about a new product, service, or solution the next step for me is invariably a stream of consciousness document that captures ideas as they enter my consciousness.

These are normally led by the beauty of the business model and why it would work in today’s economy. There are various frameworks that I rely upon, Arnoldo Hax’s Delta Project is usually one of the first if not the first. (dated, but recommended)

Then, the competition, suppliers, etc ala Michael Porter’s famous 5 forces are written down post haste without any research. If it is a Blue Ocean Market, then I often get pulled into a different screen, the browser, and start validating or invalidating these assumptions. (see Kim, Mauborgne book link)

At some point soon after, the web-page begins to develop in my mind. I go back and forth from the customer value proposition, i.e., the cost/benefit to “What would it be like to run this business? Would I enjoy it? How would being in this business make me feel?” I need to keep myself fully on board to spend more time on it.

In order to organize a clearly presented value proposition, invariably I think of “use cases”. Use cases are articulated models of how a user/customer would use the product or service. This is a normal step for any start up. What about your own internal value proposition?

At this very beginning stage of the birth of a new offering, the inventor him/herself needs to be convinced that they are not delusional. At this point, one would dare not mention it to another because as soon as the concept is uttered, the defense of that concept must begin. Invariably, the listener will begin to question using “what if’s” and “how do you know’s”. This is a valuable process, but one that must be delayed until the concept is more fully baked. The people closest to you will be the first ones to talk you out of pursuing an idea, so it makes no sense to open the kimono yet. As I said, the inventor themselves must be convinced first.

I have begun to combine these last 2 elements; use case development and self-convincing. The way I have found this can be done is with the use of “Proto-Testimonials”. Proto is Greek for anterior, or before. Proto-testimonials are the testimonials you would like to see on your web-page after the business is launched, customers are sold, and positive feedback is rolling in. Here is an example.

New Product: An electronic coffee mug, battery operated, that maintains the coffee at your desired temperature and lights up softly to remind you when it is time for your afternoon coffee. It uses some sort of light to clean itself and will only work when Bluetooth tethered to your nearby smartphone, so no one else can use it. Let’s call it “Electro-Mug-Buddy”.


“Man, before I got this coffee cup I’d realize it was too late in the afternoon for my needed energy jolt. If I had coffee after 3 pm anyway it affected my sleep, and then my next day’s productivity. But the work days go by so fast I was missing my java, and then I’d mentally crash around 4 pm. Now, my mug reminds me that it’s time for my coffee, keeps it at my favorite 170 degrees, and no one else in the office can walk off with it because it has to be paired with my phone. Best of all, I don’t even need to wash it because it does a great job of cleaning itself. Now, I’m back to being productive in the afternoons, sleeping well, and enjoying my entire coffee experience more. Thanks, Electro-Mug-Buddy!”


So, what do we get out of this exercise? Well, we get a use case and the features and benefits of the value proposition, maybe some branding. There is something else that we get that is just as important for a start-up. As the inventor, we get the feeling that we want to feel when the new product is being used. At a point in time when you, and anyone around you, are likely to abandon a project before it has been sufficiently vetted, the rush of dopamine that you get from having helped another person is important.

The reason you will continue to push forward with a new project is not solely for the logic behind it, found in the metrics and data. One needs to feel like the project is a success before it is launched. One needs to envision it being used, and to both simulate and stimulate the feeling that you will get from a successful use case. Normally, we would not get the dopamine rush for months until the first real testimonial was posted. As humans, we have the benefit of our imagination. Using one’s imagination, you can somewhat trick your body into having that feeling. If I understand the science correctly (and I am not a scientist or expert in this area) repeating this activity should develop neural pathways that encourage you, the inventor, to continue.

I see nothing wrong with creating and posting proto-testimonials of your own on your web-site prior to the first sale of any product or service. As long as you label them truthfully (not in the fine print), and explain that this feeling is part of the vision for your upcoming product. We can project that feeling as an implicit motivation for the venture beyond profit. Knowing that this is what you wish for them, customers should better understand the entirety of your motives in creating a new product. I think that this can even win you some early adopters. Once you get some actual customer testimonials, you can replace them. I encourage anyone starting a new business or launching a new product/ service to try this and let me know if it works for you.