Should we demo with a half-baked product?


I asked this question over on hacker news, but I thought this might be a great place to ask as well.

I'm working with an early stage startup, and one of the co-founders wants to demo our mobile app to potential customers in a focus group type setting. A few of the people we might demo to will have significant input into volume purchasing decisions within their organization.
However, our mobile app, iPad to be specific, is at best half-baked. UI is essentially non existent from a design standpoint. I would say functionality is about 30%, but enough to just barely get the point across. Design wise, it's less than 10%.

The co-founder is under the impression that if you're a startup, it's perfectly fine to demo with a "relatively half-assed" (his words) product, under the assumption that it will be refined at a later time.

In my opinion, if you are demoing to potential customers, you should have something that will impress them (even if not 100% complete), and not rely on them assuming it will get better (and by better, I mean getting to a point where it's actually useable).

My question is, am I wrong? Or is it worth it to take the extra time to create a great first impression?


asked Nov 18 '10 at 18:23
121 points

6 Answers


I've done several start ups. I presented a product that was months from completion to several multi billion dollar customers at the executive level. We didn't even have a hosting facility. Hell, we didn't even have a developer. We used a GA to create click-through mock ups.

Why? Two reasons, first, the sales cycle at these companies was at least 6 months and two, there were in evaluation mode of similar products. We played it as being a ways down the cycle, but still time to throw in their change request. We signed one right away and delivered the product (SAAS model) about 6 months later. The other presentation did not result in a sale, but we ended up getting a multi million dollar deal some 24 months later.

So, go for it. There is a saying in this word, "Fake it til you make it".

good luck

answered Nov 19 '10 at 11:16
91 points
  • Thanks for the advice Jimmy. One question though. The current app is pretty much junk. We won't be using it at all going forward as I'm planning to start from scratch and do it right. I had suggested using mock ups to demo the product, but the co-founder thinks mock ups have absolutely no merit. Is it better to demo using well designed mockups, or using a very poorly designed app that kinda makes us look like amateurs? – Jammur 13 years ago


You absolutely need to get feedback on what you're doing and make sure you are building products that people actually want. What means you accomplish that with is up to you.

People will often pay more for less refined than you expect. You do not want to fall into the trap of perfecting everything and never shipping anything.

I am very comfortable with showing people early product development and getting them to test drive it. But what you should needs to be fairly solid and survive a demo. If you're going to be controlling the demo, that can be a lower-end thing. Perhaps some PowerPoint slides about where you want to take things can help offset and rough issues.

At the end of the day, it's often about managing expectations, being credible that you are going to be able to make the product a killer app, and listening to customer needs and showing that so they feel that you will be building a product for them.

There's nothing wrong with not having a new 'business model'--In fact, that's a good thing. But your reply above seems to mix up product and business model, so I'm not sure if that's what you mean.

Hope this helps.

answered Nov 18 '10 at 21:28
659 points


In a current startup. We built a "proof-of-concept" demo. It was mostly UI as it will work in production, but all randomized data generated on the fly. Go back to a page in the demo, and it would have different data.

However, I think it was instrumental in quickly landing initial interest, from prospective clients and investors both. Also, it gelled our idea of the product. It's one thing to stand, handwaive and say: "Our thingy will do X, Y and Z.". But, it's a whole other game to say "Here's exactly how we see X, Y and Z happening in our app."

We actually spend some crucial time on this that could have been spent on the actual, final product, but it has been very much worth it.

The one thing about your situation, if I read it right, is that you actually have it backwards. The UI is lagging the lower stuff. Ours was the other way around. We purposely built the demo to showcase our concept with a solid UI. Given that to users the interface is the application, I'd think twice about demoing what you have.

answered Nov 19 '10 at 06:16
1,383 points


Is the demo going to show something with great promise or something half-baked with serious bugs/issues? Yes if 1, no if 2.

answered Nov 18 '10 at 19:07
Mark Stephens
976 points
  • I can't get into too many specifics, but I can say that the product is in no way revolutionary. The idea behind it is a solid evolution of the current business models in the industry. The app, in it's current form, will basically only show the potential customer that we've been writing code. The best analogy I can think of would be if Twitter demo'd with no stylesheets (I'm talkin' black Times New Roman text, on a white background), and the only thing you could do is update your status. But in this case, the idea isn't brand new like the concept behind Twitter. – Jammur 13 years ago


At least take one feature of the app and improve the UI design. You want to make a good first impression. This way you show you can do it, but just haven't gotten to the other parts of the application.

If these buyers are purely looking at the technical/engineering aspects, they may not care about the aesthetics, but it will make your selling job easier.

answered Nov 19 '10 at 00:55
Jeff O
6,169 points


Best case customers will buy based on the assumption it will improve (assuming you do really have a market for what you do that isn't completely saturated). Worst case you can get some feedback on what to improve next. I would absolutely do it, just be selective, pick just a few to talk to, otherwise it'll eat up time that could be spent actually improving the product.

answered Nov 19 '10 at 02:47
David Benson
2,166 points

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