While there is a considerable amount of well-deserved excitement around creating a product you know will solve a problem, the actual product development process can be daunting for many. In my experience running a product design and development company, founders from all industries struggle with the minutia of product design, engineering, manufacturing, etc. and thus get discouraged at the thought of going through the entirety of the development process.
Whether you are a veteran in product methodology or a newcomer who doesn't know where to begin, following the steps outlined below will make your jump from product idea to success much less overwhelming.
The three steps are as follows: gaining market validation, brainstorming and establishing branding, and analyzing potential personal effects.
1. Market validation
Market validation is a necessary prerequisite for product development. According to CB Insights, 42% of startup businesses fail because there was no market need for their products and/or services. Prior to diving into the process of hiring an agency or multiple freelancers to get started, ensure you are not just designing the solution for yourself. I have found that many do not do the necessary outreach and research to establish market need, even development veterans.
Thus, it is best to speak with people who would potentially be users for your new product idea. And I cannot overstate this enough: the more of a test pool you have, the better equipped you will be in understanding which aspects of your product will drive demand.
Utilize whatever tools you have at your disposal for gathering this data: family, friends, colleagues, social media, (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, etc.), professional platforms (LinkedIn, Xing), and events or event platforms like Meetup (although many events are on hold as a result of COVID-19, there are still plenty of virtual versions of events happening, so this continues to be a viable option). I also recommend downloading a market research template to further your understanding and organization of your potential buyers.
When searching for product demand, here are several questions to consider asking yourself and your test pool:
What does my product do?
Can it look sleek without compromising its functionality?
Why would people want my product?
How much would people be willing to pay for my product?
How much do other similar products cost? What is their value?
How much would I need to charge for this business to be worthwhile to me?
How does this product fit with the overall theme and message of my company?
Exploring these options will help you to determine which users in which demographics (among other useful data) would benefit from your product - and which would benefit enough to want to buy from you. This will also help you find out if the need for your product does not exist ahead of time, saving yourself time and money in the end.
Lastly, do not be too concerned about the theft of your idea. I've found that along with the right concept, you also need proper execution to be successful. A thorough execution is what's going to turn your idea into a revenue-generating machine - the idea alone is quite worthless. Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, calls it the Myth of The Great Idea: that success comes from doing, not from the idea.
Thus, you are likely already ahead of others in building your brand and establishing your company name in the market, which leads us to step number two. (However, don’t hesitate to mention this concern if you are working with a product development firm as there are methods to ensure your idea is protected.)
Branding is an often overlooked aspect of the product development process. In fact, 84% of U.S. adults are loyal to retailers and 82% are loyal to product-brands. Based on this research and my personal experience, it has become clear that a central brand strategy is paramount to having a well-established company rather than just one well-established product.
When constructing a brand, here are several simple questions you first need to answer:
Do I have any competitors? If so, what separates my brand from theirs?
Am I creating a product around my already established brand or am I establishing a brand around my new product?
What place does my brand occupy in the minds of consumers?
What's my purpose for existing? (This should be an ‘ownable’ mandate, not a generic statement.)
What are the top three things my brand stands for and places value on?
Why is it important and meaningful for me to do this?
Figuring out your answers to these questions early on will help you understand your target persona and attract your ideal customer. For example, deciding to create eco-friendly or recycled products or participating in any charitable causes are factors that will largely impact your mission and brand strategy. According to a study by The National Retail Federation and IBM, 55% of Gen Z consumers choose brands that are eco-friendly or socially responsible, so it is important to think about how these considerations will weld into your product idea.
The last point I will cover regarding product and branding is their relationship with the quality. When shopping, many consumers are of the mindset that there is a direct correlation between price and quality; that a higher price means a better product. However, my experience in product development has shown that perceived value is an important aspect of your branding strategy as companies with a better brand strategy seem to have better brand recognition than their competitors and can get away with charging more for a product of the same or similar quality.
Without realizing, consumers often buy products based on brand recognition rather than functionality or design; in fact, 36.5% of shoppers said they will spend more on products if they're loyal to a brand, even if they can find cheaper options elsewhere. Although this is true of many consumers, it is still important to focus on having good functionality, quality, and design when developing your product as many polls have proved time and time again that product is the number one reason consumers are loyal to a brand. Therefore it is critical to consider what your product's price will be and how your branding will illustrate to your target audience that your product is high quality, valuable and worth the investment.
3. Impact on personal life
When jumping into product development, whether via freelancers or an agency/firm, it is critical to consider its effects on your personal life.
A good initial step is to determine how much of your time you expect the development of your new product to take. This can be done either by asking other founders and entrepreneurs that have gone through a similar process, researching via a few Google searches, asking for general time frames from other online resources (such as LinkedIn) or, if you’re thinking of hiring a firm, asking the firm how long the process will take during an introductory call (all of these will be approximate answers as each product is different, but you will gain a significant enough perspective in order to plan ahead).
Here is why this step is critical and why even some industry repeats may not understand its importance: each type of tool needed to build your product requires a different length of time to complete. If you are used to timelines with developing silicone-based products (such as baby teethers) and you wish to branch off into home goods products, you'll need to understand the materials and processes required to build those products and how they will differ from something like the compression molding processes with silicone. Understanding timelines for your product does not have to be complex as there is much you will not be hands-on with, but it will provide you with a basic understanding so you can take the other necessary steps required prior to the launch of the product, such as planning a crowdfunding campaign, should you choose such a route.
Another important element to consider is your financial standing. This may be an obvious point, but many don't understand the costs that factor into product development. From investing in the industrial designers and product engineers to the manufacturing, tooling, marketing and sales, the development process requires a thorough look into what expenses you are able to set aside in order to bring your idea to life.
Don't be discouraged by this point, however, as many entrepreneurs and founders are able to go through the development stages on a step-by-step basis and pay along the way. In addition, there are business loans and, as mentioned before, crowdfunding campaigns you can participate in which have proven to propel thousands of businesses into prosperity.
Lastly, while it is an incredibly exciting venture to have the prerequisites mentioned above, it is just as vital to have an open mind when you begin. Most qualified development experts (industrial designers, engineers, product managers, etc.) have previously done for many what they are preparing to do for you, so coming into this project with an open mind to a vast array of solutions and being unobstructed to creativity can be exactly what your product needs to flourish. This does not mean changing your idea or lessening its value or purpose; I am simply saying that being open to alternatives with respect to design and engineering can show you possibilities you may not have considered that have the potential to better your product.
Product development does not have to be frightful; just remember the benefits you will eventually reap and ensure these points are considered in the infancy stages of your brand. The necessary efforts will set you up for a lifetime of success alongside loyal brand and product followers.