I have a desire to build a software package in a niche area that already has some established competing products. I believe my Feature Set and ease of use could propel me well in the market. Most of the other software has been around for a number of years with no significant changes even though we all know the times have been a changing in the last few years.
I have what I believe to be a possible investor to front what would amount to getting the first workable product out the door and at least 6 months worth of sales and promotion funding. Problem is I don't want to blow the inevitable pitch.
I have very limited programming skills but have great UI design skills and 7 years of experience in this industry.
My delema in order to make this pitch a home run do I:
a) Just do UI design mock ups in Visual Studio?
b) Plug away in the basement for the next year and pound out the jotty code?
I have started on my market research and in fact have personally used a few of the key softwares before and understand them very well, both their limitations and strengths. Nice thing is I am not looking for a ton of money here but just enough to get the product built. I would have an instant case study as it could be implemented where I currently work.
Thank you for your help.
Perhaps you should partner up with a technical co-founder that can build a prototype.
By the way, don't lock yourself up for one year! Release as early as possible (minimum viable product) and get customer feedback as soon as possible. You don't want to waste one year working on product features that no one cares about and leave out the most important ones! Since you are entering an existing market, you could simply "copy" the competition, but make sure to differentiate yourself!
Here's what I did in a previous life that seemed to work pretty well as a starter. Using your favourite drawing tool (e.g., Photoshop, Paint, Visio, etc) mock up the main screens for the product in rough form. Use PowerPoint (or similar) to string together a slide deck that shows the main workflows of the product, effectively simulating what the product would look like to a user as they completed certain important tasks. You can then take this to potential customers or investors and walk through those workflows with them on screen and get some useful feedback. We also managed to sell a product on the basis of this mockup and then deliver the real software down the line.
If I were doing this again (which I may soon), I would use Balsamiq Mockups to build the screenshots as it is far less work. The key point is avoid building software until you have to.
I am a big fan of MVP and lean but please understand that creating a minimum viable product does not mean it only takes a month. Sometimes some projects have some fundamental complexity that needs to be solved before you can even get to create your product.
It really depends on what kind of features your are proposing to add. All too often people will just create a set of wireframes assuming that what they are trying to solve is no biggie.
Then based on that assumption they get funding and too late realize that it's much harder than they originally thought. So they spend a year working on getting only that specific feature to work leaving them with an incomplete product or implement some really sad version of it pulling down the rest of the experience.
Therefore you should first figure out whether your feature set involves complexity that you are not entirely sure how to solve.
If you know it's a no brainer then wireframe away, but if you want to make sure that your funding will last longer then at least try and find out if there are unknowns that might become heavy hitters on your funding.
I would stick to what you are good at. Like Oli said, you dont want to lock yourself up for a year doing code (which isn't your area of expertise). You will create a better product if you stick to the things you have experience in. You should make it a priority to find a technical partner who will take some equity in exchange for building the product. This will free you up to do the major marketing and sales leg work, possibly even using the mockups that you did or did not decide to do :).
Since you are selling an idea, and that idea needs a visual representation to whoever is looking at it, the Mockup seems the best way to start.
The problem with mockups is that they don't have any functionality that can be shown. You can go about your presentation saying "and if you click this button you would go to this page and something would happen... but I haven't done that yet..."
This takes me to the first question: why you are considering doing a mockup in Visual Studio?! If you don't have the "business logic" underneath, you might as well do the mockups in Photoshop and make them REALLY appealing.
The problem with your option b) is time-to-market. By the time you have something to show, the investor is gone (maybe even died of old age!). Either you find a tool that allows you to create in a matter of weeks (or a couple of months) a working prototype that looks good and has some base functionality to pith your idea, or you're better off sticking to the phosothop mockups plan!
This is what I usually do: create a working prototype that has the base functionality and the right look and feel, show it to gather feedback, and then focus on implementing the rest of the application (and by the way, I'm not a developer).
If you have time, take a look at the Agile Platform. I think it might be a good tool to help you with what you're trying to achieve.
Hope this helps