We’ve all experienced it, that moment when you’re in the shower or driving down the freeway and a great product idea pops into your head and you say, “someone should do that!” But there’s a lot of steps that occur between turning an idea into a product and eventually yes, a full-fledged company. Perhaps it’s this anxiety of the unknown that prevents so many of us from converting the objects of our minds into tangible reality. In the hopes that more of us can become doers and not just dreamers, we’ve created a four-step guide to help you turn that ethereal shower idea into a killer product.
Whether you already have an idea in mind or you need inspiration—research is the first step on your journey to turning an idea into a product. During the ideation stage you should be on the lookout for untapped markets. “Untapped” is a buzzword that’s thrown around a lot, but ideally any business hoping to find the path of least resistance should consider fulfilling needs in the marketplace. Whether that’s a fresh dose of entertainment, a ground-breaking electronic device, or a much needed new cleaning product—you will find the path of least resistance by researching what already exists in that space and either improving it, adding a twist, or creating something new altogether. It’s precisely this improvement or twist that will become your main selling point and focus for future ad campaigns.
Once you have an idea of what you want to do, you will need to consider the following:
- Legality (hiring, patents, licenses, copyrights, etc.)
Each of these areas of business will require a thorough study before you invest any more time and resources into your idea. It’s easy to forego these things and say “How hard can it be?”, but surely many of the 90% of startups that fail (and yes, that’s a real statistic)—have undoubtedly said the same thing.
There are three basic routes you can choose from when it comes to developing a product.
If you are skilled in your product field and low on funds, you might consider developing your own product. This will likely be the most time consuming but also the most fulfilling. At first glance this seems like the most obvious route to save money and give you the most control over design aspects—but lack of expertise could cost you loads of money and valuable time. And if you’re skill doesn’t match your vision, your design might not meet your standard either. If you are convinced you need to go it lone-wolf, there are numerous free resources to help you refine your skills like Khan Academy or Coursera.
Side Note: 3D printing is quickly becoming a viable and more accessible option for the public. Sure, even with a 3D printer it takes specialized knowledge to convert what’s in your brain into a tangible object—but it’s only a matter of time before the process becomes more user friendly. Be on the lookout for ways to exploit this increasingly available technology.
If you’re willing to invest a little bit of money, hiring a freelancer can be a great way to save time and garner expertise you might not possess. Undoubtedly you will risk giving up complete control over design—as it can be difficult to convey the exact nature of your idea. But illustrations, references (pictures of similar products), and detailed instructions are all useful tools to help mitigate the communication gap. Here are some great resources for those considering hiring a freelancer.
Industrial Design Firms:
Perhaps the most robust option, industrial design firms specialize in developing products from nothing. Their quality and consistency is often easier to judge as they are usually in the business for the long haul and finding reviews isn’t difficult. Despite these things, Industrial Design firms will likely be the most costly. But the price tag comes with a lot of benefits—hiring an industrial design firm is like hiring an entire team to have your back. Engineers, artists, programmers—industrial design firms are a package deal. And unlike many freelancers who often have 1, 2 or even 3 jobs—their entire livelihood depends on the quality of their work.
Despite their upsides, industrial design firms aren’t necessary or optimal for all product types. This is especially true with extremely simple products like jewelry and crafts or highly technical products that require hyper-technical expertise.
Once you have a working prototype, you will need to fully test the product before mass producing and potentially dumping thousands of dollars into manufacturing costs. This can easily be done by testing the product yourself, with family and friends and, perhaps most importantly, complete and total strangers.
People are always looking for free things to test, so think about your target demographic and where they might be. Are you attempting to attract millennials? Pay a visit to your local college campus. Is your target audience mechanics? Visit your local auto body shop. Whatever you do, make sure to get specific and objective feedback. Judging whether a product is “good” or “bad” is only part of the process.
Knowing the exact things that lead to a positive or negative experience will be the key to perfecting your prototype. This will require a system of hyper-focused questions as well as every effort possible to prevent a bias relationship between test subject and tester (you). This can be mitigated through blind testing. If feedback is negative or even lukewarm, you might need to return to step 2 or even 1 before proceeding. The last thing you want to do when trying to get your project funded is to do so with a flawed product.
Launching a business without money is like trying to drive a car with no gas—it won’t go anywhere. Marketing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution—all need money. To fund your endeavors you’ll be forced to choose between bootstrapping or seeking investment. Both options have their ups and downs—business owners would be wise to learn these differences before choosing either. OPEN Forum has a great article outlining these differences.
You will be hard pressed to find anyone willing to invest in your business without having properly completed the first three steps in the product creation chain. But even these three steps alone aren’t enough. Remember, the odds are stacked against you—even more so than in a Casino—and that’s saying something.
You’ll need a detailed business plan, proof of product (sales), and a convincing pitch before investors will even consider touching your idea. And yes, until you’ve proven it in the marketplace, even a physical object is still just that—an idea.
Austin Miller is the Head of Content Marketing at Bookly where he ideates and produces content for their blog and various social media outlets. Bookly is a cloud-based bookkeeping service geared towards helping small businesses thrive in an ever competitive world.