When a new, user-friendly and purposeful product is developed and brought to market, users will love it. People will buy it – and they will purchase future iterations of it and/or other products from your brand.
Great products have staying power. Here’s an in-depth look at many aspects of the process – including getting started, doing your due diligence researching the market and patents, understanding the trajectory of design and development.
1. START AT THE END
This sounds counterintuitive, but it is generally the smartest way to begin. The key to success is to first develop a detailed vision of the desired end results of your product design effort, and then to work backwards to figure out how to begin. Assuming you reach your desired goal of creating a product that makes it to market, is sold and then adopted by your intended user group(s), that’s where your planning process should start.
What product do you and your team want to end up with?
Begin with these three questions:
- Who will use this product? Why will they use it? How will they use it? This requires research into the product category, how they are used and by whom.
- Why will they love it? Why will they purchase and then LOVE using your product instead of similar ones already for sale?
- What will differentiate it from everything else on the market? Make it a USEFUL differentiator – a feature or function that will either make the product simpler to use, clean, or store. Or, the differentiator could be a simple thing that will simply delight the user. Better yet, do BOTH. But do be wary of pointless or unnecessary features simply in the interest of being different or seeming ‘cool’ — such as embedding a flashlight on a coffee mug or creating a see-through tablecloth. Your differentiators should not only please your customers – they should also have perceived value.
WHO ARE YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS?
Research similar products already on the market. Who is buying them and using them? And who will purchase and use yours? Will you target only one user group with your first iteration or more than one?
I liked this video explaining the how-to’s of creating a storyboard for your development and marketing efforts.
You can either create a rough-drawn storyboard as in the video, or create a more polished one with live-action shots and product montages. Later, we will discuss how to observe individuals or groups of folks from each of these user groups to ensure even greater success for your development and marketing efforts. See bullet point number 5 below.
2. DO A THOROUGH MARKET STUDY: WHAT COMPETITIVE PRODUCTS ARE ALREADY OUT THERE?
Where does it fit within the existing market category in which you’re aiming to compete? Is there room for it within the current size of the product category market? Ideally, this study should be undertaken prior to the advent of your design and development efforts, and “day in the life” scenarios should be drawn out for each of your anticipated user groups.
Conduct a patent search to ensure that your idea is not already owned by someone else, or that the exact product has not already been created and sold. That there may be similar, already successful products out on the market is not necessarily a bad thing – as a matter of fact it could well mean that the market might like a new and better version. But this means that you and your team must do due diligence to define the needs and desires of potential customers in that market.
3. MARKET SIZE AND SATURATION
Before beginning any design efforts and deciding on product features and details, engage in a thorough study of the current products in the market category.
- What IS the category? Could your product possibly fit more than one category, and if so, which will prioritize?
- How big a market is it? Tools like this one from SEMRUSH can help.
- Is there room for another product in this field? How large a piece of the market share do you estimate you can capture? If you’re not self-funding, this information is key to creating a clear story for potential investors who will want to know what kind of return you can predict and hence, when they may begin to see a returns on their investments. How can my new product bring something different and desirable to users in the category?
- How will we create and target brand and product messaging in each of the categories?
Be sure to consult a patent attorney or do a thorough search yourself to make sure your product is not a duplicate of something already on the market. To be protected, it must be different and bring new feature(s) or function(s) to your buyers. Also, once you’ve started the process, find out when you should begin using the trademark ‘TM’ indicator in preparation for the full copyright approval process.
5. CONDUCT INTERVIEWS WITH POTENTIAL USER GROUPS
Put yourself in the users’ shoes – depending on how any one type of customer might plan to use the product and for what purpose, what would be important to them? Maybe they live in small quarters and would like to have an air fryer that is smaller and doesn’t hog cabinet space. Or they’re a homeowner who wishes their garden hose wasn’t so cumbersome and was a LOT easier to retract and store.
6. ASSESS YOUR RISKS
Troubleshoot potential pitfalls. Difficulties could be lurking in the supply chain, figuring out the precise skills you’ll need for a complete and successful development effort, or in finding the best talent and convincing them to come to the table.
7. BUILD THE RIGHT DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT TEAM
- What skills are needed to complete the design and development process?
- Is there hardware to be designed (in other words, is this a physical product or is it a software project and what specific hardware and software engineering skills are needed? For example, if your product is an app, on which platforms do you intend for it to be run… Android? IOS? MS? All of the above? Consider that you will also have to adapt and redesign your app software to be optimized for various screen sizes and aspect ratios so it is easily viewed and used on everything from desktops to tablets to phones.
- If it’s a connected product (in other words if it relies on the internet to function) you will need systems architecture and embedded software development talent as well.
- Who will own the data? How will it be stored and retrieved? If this is relevant to your product, you will want to enlist cloud migration services and choose a platform to house the data for easy retrieval and analysis. Also, be sure to consider whether the data itself could be parsed or purposed in such a way as to be a profit center.
8. GIVE THE SUPPLY CHAIN CAREFUL CONSIDERATION
Everyone’s tired of hearing about it, but the issue of shipping delays and parts shortages will not vanish completely in the immediate future. If you’re producing a physical product, especially an electronic and/or connected one, take a thorough look at how best to deal successfully with supply chain and component availability issues.
Some “how-to” help is here:
9. PLAN AN APPROACH TO RAISING CAPITAL
How much funding will you need and when will you need it?
- Look for local resources to help support your funds raising – e.g. many states have economic engines that work with startups and often can direct entrepreneurs to sources and investors.
- Be aware of the expectations of funding and business development resources; very few of them, if any, will not have requirements for things like an equity stake in your company, a guaranteed time frame for completion and market entry or the exclusive right to sell the product for a specific amount of time.
- Friends and Family
- Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo)
- Angel Investors
- Incubators / Accelerators (local, state, and national programs (See Bullet point 11 below.)
- Venture Capitalists
- Loans / Credit Cards / Debt
- Small Business Grants (SBA (Federal resources available on a local level)
- Financing with your own resources
10. AVOID LENGTHY GAPS IN THE DEVELOPMENT TIMETABLE
This is closely related to planning your capital raises; you don’t want to run out of money and be delayed, or worse, during any part of the design and development effort.
11. HAVE POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS TEST-USE PROTOTYPES AND OBSERVE THEM CLOSELY
- How are they interacting with the product? Do they seem engaged? Happy? Frustrated?
- Notice differences in how each user approaches the product and get it to work for them.
- Record these test sessions on video, and have notes taken in person and in the moment, if possible.
- Conduct post-test session interviews yourself or with trusted advisors.
Mockup vs Model vs Prototype:
Understanding the Difference Between a Working Prototype and a Production-Ready Design
12. GET HELP FROM YOUR LOCAL OR STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS
Quite a few US states have active support systems that exist to help startups get started and thrive. Some provide active support throughout the entire process from development of your business plan through to launch, market entry and continued company growth.
- In Suffolk County, Long Island, NY
- In Nassau County, Long Island, NY
- In NYC for startups producing hardware (physical products of any kind as opposed to exclusively a software application): NYC ITAC
- In Brooklyn, NY (also hardware-focused): Newlab
- In California
- In Washington State
- Nationwide US Resources
There are programs in many more states and localities and a thorough search based on your location and intended product(s) is sure to yield potential resources for you.
It’s also a great idea to do some extensive research on startups ‘on the rise’ and learn from their stories. Here are some related resources:
13. BE PREPARED FOR UPS AND DOWNS, BUT ALSO LOTS OF EXCITEMENT AND FUN
The product development process is a roller coaster; it may make you dizzy sometimes, but it’s also thrilling and fun!