Everybody has an idea,but very few people understand the process of taking that idea and bringing it to market. Here at Miproto, we see it every day. There are many ways to go about launching a product.
Not every one of our stages may apply to your product; maybe you have succeeded in a different manner – but the major details are the same. PRODUCT. Not patent. Customers won’t buy your patent. Okay one could, but that’s a different post. Customers want to buy your product, so that is where the focus should be.
Here, I detail a basic overview of how you should plan your route to market. This is based around the introduction of a physical product, but elements of it could be reflected in digital mediums too. It isn’t necessarily the right or only way, but this is how we like to work!
Your initial idea is the most important part. You know, roughly, what you want to create. You may not understand exactly how it will work, or how it will be made, but the dream is there. Start by noting things down–create rough sketches and annotate them. What does your product do, how big is it? Consider materials and their fitness for purpose. A tip for those who have a fear of Crayola and an obsessive pessimism of their drawing skills: Try drawing from 3 angles in 2D. Draw on gridded paper with a ruler, from the front, side and top view. This is the best way to convey your idea to somebody who is technically minded.
Detailed drawing and sketches
Once you have developed your concept into a potentially functioning item, you can begin more detailed drawings. The idea of these drawings is to bring a reality to your design. Try to draw to scale and consider the premade components you may include in this design. If your Crayola self-esteem is low, you could consider working with a product design firm on this. At Miproto we like to keep this early stage development in one ‘Rapid Prototyping’ package, however some firms may structure differently and you should be wary of hourly fees for artistic drawings!
CAD modelling and simulation
CAD modelling is the creation of a 3D, computerized, drawing. The model is used to compare components in scale and in some cases simulate function for testing. CAD packages nowadays are very powerful; it is possible to simulate almost anything. We work with Innova Systems, using Solidworks to simulate everything from material strength to cooling air flow and heat distribution. These systems are expensive and complex industry solutions, you may wish to use programs yourself. The ideal entry level CAD program I have found is Sketchup. You won’t get the simulation features, but you will be able to build accurate scale models for evaluation.
Rendering is done from the CAD model. Using a rendering engine, you can create images of your product from the model that looks almost lifelike. These are great for conveying a vision to both potential customers and retailers. Programs like solidworks have built-in engines. We like to use Keyshot at Miproto. Shaderlight is a plugin available for Sketchup that has very strong capabilities. These images are perfect for beginning your marketing campaign and discussions with potential buyers.
3D Printed Models
Yes, yes. It’s what everybody is talking about. The truth is, 3D printing has been around for a long time. It was first functional in the 1980’s, but the media attention does mean prices are coming down! You can directly export your model to a 3D printer for creation. If you have managed to produce a model yourself, you have two options: either invest in a desktop printer or send your designs to a professional print factory. Desktop printers are getting cheaper, but I can’t stress enough how they are not the real thing! We use desktop printers in the office. Each designer has one next to their desk. They are used to quickly produce rough models and try out ideas–however, we never present those to clients. Anything that is to be professionally presented should always be produced by SLS or SLA processes that provide a much more detailed and finished product. The desktop printer quality is just not good enough at this stage.
We feel that having scale models is so important that we include it in the price of our first stage Rapid Prototyping package. You can use printed models to start presenting working ideas to people. Does your product have mechanical components? You can use printing to demonstrate its function to potential buyers and suppliers. It is a key part of building interest and marketing as well as evaluating function.
Buzz word! But it is important. You want to sell your product to Common Chris? Then you need to hear what Common Chris has to say throughout your design process. Ask his friends too. There are many ways to perform this research–we have found that the best way is to introduce your product to people. Why not take your idea to dinner with a group of friends (and their friends) for feedback? Don’t have friends? Make new ones! We often use TableCrowd to host dinners with a focus group of complete strangers. They can provide valuable feedback on designs mid development. Scared of people and social interaction? Do it through the internet! Create videos, create blog posts, use online surveys. Do everything you can to get feedback on your product. Positive reviews are good, negative reviews are better. At this stage you don’t need to hear how awesome you are, you need to know what’s bad about your product whilst fixable!
Development on Market Response
This response is valuable. Treat it with utmost respect. The public is going to buy your product, so consider what the majority has to say; this is your opportunity to make changes! It’s good, at this stage, to skip back a bit, modify your CAD model, create new renders, new 3D printed models and go out for more abuse! You’ll grow to love the abuse, I promise!
Presentation to Potential Retailers
Once you have stopped getting a lot of flakk, get out there and sell! It doesn’t matter that you’re not finished–retailers always like to have a say in a product. Bring them the prototypes, show them the market feedback. Heck, get a projector and project your CAD model onto their secretary. Do what it takes to get your product in front of people. They will be able to give you more feedback. If they like it, then it’s full steam ahead! If they don’t, make sure to find out why.
Whether it’s positive or negative you will have feedback. Take it on board, and build it into the CAD model again. Then go ahead and manufacture more models.
You have the public and retailer feedback followed by improvements; it is time to collect some money. Pre-selling a product is a very efficient way to raise capital for first production runs. You don’t have to give away equity, pay interest, or borrow against your house/land/spaceship. It’s also proved quite an effective marketing tool for some people. The risk in pre-purchasing a product on Kickstarter before it is available to the public seems to provide the high of angel investing for people, albeit with slightly lower stakes.
Even once you think you’re done, more feedback will creep through and you’ll find something you never considered. This is your opportunity to make final changes in the CAD models. Use renders and printed models to check your improvements. Perhaps get your grandmother to test it, that is, if she can figure out your new-fangled technologies.
Short Run Sampling
Preparing your CAD model for manufacturing can require small changes. If pieces are to be injection molded, you may have to position the injection locations etc. By doing a test run of 1 – 10 units you will ensure everything assembles correctly. Having 100,000 units of something that almost works, but not quite, is a bit lame.
NOW, you lawyer loving shareaphobes can get your cash out. You have your product and you know exactly what it does and how it works. How different is it to what you originally thought up? Yeah, Josh was right! By sitting tight and waiting, you will save endless sums of money patenting features that you end up changing or not even using in your marketable product. I could tell you a lot about the technicalities of patenting, but I won’t. Make sure you make your claims are as broad as possible and always, always do international patent searches prior to filing even for a local patent. Nothing is worse than watching your patent pend for 2 years only to have a foreign patent holder exercise their rights and strike it down.
First Batch Manufacture
It is then time for a shipping container. You have your samples and you know that everything is assembled correctly, so there is nothing to worry about! You can order enough units to fulfil your pre sales plus any orders you managed to negotiate with suppliers as well as some additional units for stock. In our experience, manufacturer lead times are usually about 50% off. You should keep this in mind when making promises in your pre-sales! A big part of manufacturing abroad is trust. We have had to work with our partnership facilities for many years to build trust and understanding. We like to go out there every few months to check in and keep communication strong. Because of this, we can now trust the manufacturers we employ to produce our customer’s projects. If going it alone with foreign manufacturers, always make sure you get references and case studies that you can validate. Anybody can set up a website showing you rows of machines, how many do they really have?
This bit is fun too, but you’ll soon want to work on something new!
That’s it–that’s the how I suggest you do it. If you’ve succeeded to launch a product in a different way, or just want to talk your idea through, then I’d love to hear from you!
(No grandmothers were hurt in the testing of products at Miproto)
Josh Valman is 18 from London and Managing Director at Miproto. Miproto is an Internet based product design, development and prototyping platform. It allows anybody to upload and develop their product idea into something real. www.Miproto.com @JoshValman