At A Glance – Pretotyping

A different type of testing

The flaws of conventional market testing

Given the increasing rates of speed to market, the reinvention of business models, and new tech fuelled possibilities and consumer behaviour, traditional R&D cycles are no longer appropriate.

Deciding on which idea to invest in market testing has often been speculative and opinion based, resulting in:

False Positives: in which innovators get infectiously excited by ideas, which results in large investment in concepts not yet proven to be attractive to their markets.

False Negatives: in which decision makers and investors over-cautiously underinvest in innovative ideas before they’ve had a chance to be market tested.

The origins of pretotyping

In response to this problem, the term pretotyping was originated by Alberto Savoia in 2009 while he was working at Google as Engineering Director and Innovation Agitator. It is defined as:
“Validating the market appeal and actual usage of a potential new product objectively and with the smallest possible investment of time and money.”

If prototyping is a process of testing that an idea can be built and work as expected, pretotyping’s fundamental principle is that this is not the right test. What should be tested is whether the product or service should be developed in the first place and if customers will use it if it is. The pretotyping mission is described as:


In actual fact, the most famous example of pretotyping goes back to the 1990’s when entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins built a wooden ‘pretotype’ of what would later become the Palm Pilot, and carried it with him for weeks to identify what he would use it for, and how and if he would use it.

The Pretotyping Toolbox

To overcome the traditional barriers to concept testing, such as the unreliability of surveys and the inability of consumers to test concepts (resulting in a lack of correlation between test results and market success), pretotyping focuses on real data. Products or services rather than ideas are tested, with real respondents and showing real results. This is done by referring to a pretotyping toolkit, with several different methods to “fake it before you make it”.

These include:
The Fake Door: a service not yet available is advertised to see if there is demand. Example – many Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns.

The Pinnochio: a fake artifact acts as a proxy for the real thing. Example – Palm Pilot.

The Mechanical Turk: the simulation of a sophisticated/costly technology by human processes. Example – IBM testing speech recognition demand with hidden typists.

The One Night Stand: a product or service experience is presented in a fully functional way, but without the infrastructure that a permanent solution would need. Example – Fruit of the Loom creating a pop-up store to test a premium brand.

The Impersonator: an existing product or service gets a new wrapper to pose as the new offer under test. Example – Tesla using a Lotus Elise body to test an electric engine.

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP): building the simplest possible prototype, stripped down to the bare minimum required to accomplish the live test. Example – Twitter launching as ‘a group send SMS application’.

Alberto’s book Pretotype It, has sold globally inspiring a pretotyping movement, particularly within the tech startup community. However it is also a powerful way of testing assumptions and getting board level buy in at large and established companies.

For further resources see

For an seminar from Alberto Savioa