Break the Innovation Barrier with Pretotyping

David Siegel
4 min readFeb 15, 2017


Break the Innovation Barrier — Start Pretotyping!

A few years ago, I wrote a short essay called Stop Innovating!, about how companies pay lip service to innovation but don’t actually do it. Today I’m going to give you a sharp tool that helps you find customers fast and build the product after you do.

What is Pretotyping?
What’s the hardest part about creating a successful product or service? If you’re Elon Musk building rockets, it might be the product itself. But for us terrestrial business beings, it’s almost always making the sale. One of the hardest things to do in the world is get someone to change his/her habits to try something new, especially something that would really benefit that person.

So — why not do the hard part first?

Pretotyping is the art of not building a product and trying to sell it anyway. In other words, find out what it takes to sell a fake product that doesn’t exist. If you can sell it, then build it! If not, you’ve failed cheaply and have plenty of cash left for another try. Since 99 percent of ideas don’t become successful products, pretotyping is a fast and lean way to try the idea without building the product and see if the market will buy it. It’s far more effective than focus groups and questionnaires, because you are actually asking people to buy.

This is what we call putting the horse in front of the cart. Too many start-ups and “innovation teams” build a minimum-viable product and then try to figure out how to go to market. Far better to go to market and see whether people will buy before you go to the trouble of building it. You’ll “burn” a few customers this way, but it won’t be that many, and if you have something they want, they’ll forgive you for not taking their money.

The term pretotyping came from Alberto Savoia, who coined it at Google, though people have been using the concept successfully for decades. In the 1980s, IBM wanted to learn whether people would dictate to a computer. So they put potential customers in front of a word processor and gave them a microphone and let them talk. In a nearby room, they had an ultrafast typist writing the words and following the instructions on a duplicate screen. By doing this cheap experiment, IBM learned there were many points of resistance and awkwardness in speech-to-text and wisely didn’t invest much in it. Still, today, many of those issues (or misperceptions of them) plague the text-to-speech software industry.

At Intuit, which sells payroll software, they noticed that a lot of people sign up for the software on Fridays, when payroll is due. They had a meeting to discuss the idea of adding a new feature for “Cut checks now, then set up the database and other options later.” The idea was killed in the meeting. So the next Friday, an engineer put up a button on the web site that said “Cut checks now! Get your payroll done in minutes, then set up everything else afterward.” And on the other side was a page thanking people for their interest in this feature, saying it’s not quite ready, but please leave your email address and they’ll notify you when it is available. The response was surprising. More than 50% of visitors clicked that button rather than the standard offer. So they built it and it was a big success.

There are many forms of pretotyping, and you can learn them in our upcoming webinars on pretotyping. Not only are they free and you can ask questions, but we’re having a contest to find the best decentralized pretotyping teams building blockchain solutions for consumers, industry, and government. We hope to offer more than $10,000 in prizes. This will be the world’s largest pretotyping hackathon. It starts March 1st, and our first webinar is coming up on February 23rd. Whether you’re involved in blockchain or not, these free webinars will get you into the spirit of pretotyping so you can do much more in far less time with far less money than you ever thought possible.

Corporations: we are looking for sponsors! The people who participate in our contest are the innovators you want! We hope to raise $10k to $20k in prize money for this contest. Please contact me ( to talk about sponsorship.

Did you notice something? I’m pretotyping my own pretotyping competition! By announcing it and getting people excited, I can show sponsors that we have genuine interest from innovators around the world before we actually launch it. That’s pretotyping!

Here are some useful pretotyping resources: — Alberto Savoia’s web site — an online community from Copenhagen

The Pretotyping Manifesto — video of a talk by Alberto Savoia



The Art of Pretotyping

I’m giving a free pretotying webinar on February 23rd. Sign up now!

Pretotyping is a far more agile mindset than normal innovation programs, and it gets its results from live market signals, not from panels or committees. I hope more people will explore pretotyping; it’s the new frontier in lean innovation.

Come to, register for our newsletter to get the details, and read about our pretotyping hackathon (no coding skills needed). We’re already doing it in our online community. Join a team and start pretotyping!



David Siegel

Provocateur, professional heretic, slayer of myths, speaker of truthiness to powerfulness, and defender of the Oxford comma.