In my last post on ReadWriteStart, I talked about how, in many cases, it wasn't an advantage to build your start-up in stealth mode. As a continuation of that theme, I thought it would be interesting to explore five tools you can use to iterate and improve your startup idea before writing one line of code. There is nothing worse than building a tool no one is interested in, so I'd encourage you to consider these options before starting down the path of building your next startup.

Specifically, these five tools can help you do three critical activities before starting to write a line of code: create a wireframe, get feedback from the target market and test value proposition through multiple landing pages.

Editor's note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we're re-publishing some of our best posts of 2011. As we look back at the year - and ahead to what next year holds - we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It's not just a best-of list, it's also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2012. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!

iMockups for Wireframing Concepts

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a good mockup is worth 1,000 lines of code. If you own an iPad, iMockups is a killer solution to quickly and efficiently create wireframes. It's been interesting to watch a number of the startups I advise shift from trying to use PowerPoint or Keynote to flesh out concepts, to using iMockups. The feedback from those startups has consistently been that the iMockups tool makes it so much faster to put wireframes together that the time savings was well worth the $10. Check out the video below to see iMockups in action:

Feedback on Concept from Target Market

Once you've got a concept put together, it's often valuable to get some early feedback from your target market. Obviously, in many cases this can be done by setting up meetings with your target customers and walking them through the idea.

Another simple and relatively low cost way to get feedback from a critical mass of potential users is to use Ask Your Target Market. While there are a lot of online survey tools, the nice thing about this tool is it has developed a great network of respondents (or "panel" in market research parlance) who you can target for response. This allows you to get statistically meaningful feedback from a specific target audience.

Build & Test Landing Pages

A final obvious technique to testing and improving your idea is to build some landing pages to test out different value propositions.


LaunchRock: We've covered them a few times before, but with tools like LaunchRock that have automated the process of developing these landing pages this is a great way to test interest and get signups.

If you aren't familiar with LaunchRock, see the video the team did for a demo with Robert Scoble:

A/B Testing Different Value Propositions: To take this approach to the next level, you can even use a solution like Optimizely, Google Website Optimizer or Sumo Optimizer. For a thorough review of these options check out this analysis on our SMB channel ReadWriteBiz of the tools. The general technique of optimizing your landing page is a practice most startups should do. But before you build out your solution you can actually see which value propositions and features are more compelling by testing which call to action - for example "find new sources of information" vs "filter the information you already read" - gets a higher percentage of requests from users.

Conclusion

As an entrepreneur, you have to figure out the right plan to test and build your product. However, locking yourself in a room and designing and then building your product is rarely optimal. Before opening your IDE of choice, maybe the best step next time is to launch one of the tools mentioned above and started getting some feedback? Do you have other techniques to test out your ideas? Let me know in the comments below.

Test tube image from Horia Varlan