Let's Start at the Very Beginning, A Very Good Place to Start

The Tanooki Sprint Zero or, Why We Start with Product and Design

Tanooki Labs was founded in 2013 with a mission to be the most trusted development shop in NYC. A little over 6 years into our journey and we’re well on our way. With over 65 products under our collective belts, (not to mention all of our various passion projects) we’ve gotten things to a point where going from Idea to Product is a familiar journey. Over the years we’ve defined an approach to getting our entrepreneurs to MVP or V1 that now starts, more often than not, at the Tanooki Sprint Zero.

Sorry, Sprint What Now?

Like every good development shop that follows an (in our case non-dogmatic) agile process, we measure things in Sprints. But before a line of code is written, in fact even before the first user story is written and ticket placed in Pivotal Tracker, there’s the most important part of the process — The Sprint Zero.

Part of what makes Tanooki Labs unique is that we focus on a stage of product development rather than a specific industry vertical. For our developers and PMs that means there’s always a ton to learn. One project may be about organizing residential real estate listings, the next may be a new take on a learning management system and the next could be a social platform for live music lovers. But that diversity of product means that we rely on our entrepreneurs to bring a wealth of sector expertise to the table. Sprint Zero is how we meld the entrepreneur’s sector expertise with our product expertise.

Through a series of in-depth product meetings we help entrepreneurs come to a shared understanding of what their product is, how a user moves throughout it and (most importantly) what it looks like. This follows a modified version of our process with a Product meeting followed by a Demo/Feedback meeting. These meetings happen twice a week for anywhere from 3–5 weeks with the Tanooki Design and Product teams.

At the end of Sprint Zero we all gather around a Prototype of the product (generally produced in InVision or Sketch) that the entrepreneur team can click through and experience their vision.

And I Do This Why?

Most entrepreneurs use the Sprint Zero for one of two purposes — market validation or fundraising. Those who are committed to the prospect of fully bootstrapping their startup tend to look for market validation following a Sprint Zero exercise. This can involve surveys to prove out features with potential customers, product testing with in-person demos, and gather contact information with a lead-generation focused marketing site.

Entrepreneurs focusing on fundraising have successfully coupled the Sprint Zero Prototype with their fundraising deck and use of funds document (one of our very detailed estimates) to raise the funds required to build and market their product.

And Then What?

One of the additional benefits of the Sprint Zero process is that the following product is better positioned for development. Many of the product decisions that would otherwise get discovered in the course of development have been made already. Designs are not finalized, but they’re easily at 90% complete and in almost all cases enough of the underlying design decisions have been made so that development can make highly educated assumptions about how a feature should look and behave. 

All of this means that development runs more efficiently, products get done quicker, and there’s generally less change in scope from the product estimate and the final MVP/V1. And that means our entrepreneurs are set up to succeed with their products.