FAQ: How can I get my product to market if I have no money or experience?

 
This is the first in a new series called FAQ Fridays.

One of the hardest things for new entrepreneurs to comprehend is that your idea is worthless. Sorry but that’s the cold, hard truth. Almost everyone has ideas for new products, but very few have the determination to turn it into a real product.

You must remember that the value is in the execution not the idea. This is also why no one steals product ideas, instead they wait and “steal” successful, proven products. They know that an unproven idea is worth nothing.

This means that to succeed with your product you’re going to have to commit to doing more than just coming up with the great idea. The idea is the easy part, but nothing of real value is ever easy.

There are really two assets you can bring to the table beyond just the idea: money or knowledge. But you don’t have either, right? So what should you do?

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First of all, without much money and little to no experience, you’re going to have to accept that this process is going to take you longer. But, that’s okay. This will be a long journey regardless of what assets you bring to the project.

Secondly, you’re going to need to focus on raising some level of capital. It’s literally impossible to get a new product on the market without any money.

The good news is you don’t need to finance everything yourself, but you will need to invest at least enough money to get the product to the point that you can entice others to invest their money and time.

Third, you need to focus considerable effort on learning some new skills to bring to the project. The less money you are able to invest, the more skills you’re going to have to learn.

There are two broad skill categories you need to focus on: technical and marketing.

Unless you have a co-founder, you’re going to need to learn both of these skills. If you like technical stuff then bring on a co-founder that excels at marketing. Vice versa, if marketing is your strength, then bring on a technical co-founder.

Unfortunately, finding a compatible co-founder can be almost as difficult as finding investors, so you likely will need to learn both technical and marketing skills yourself.

If you’re a maker, then good for you, that’s a great start. If you’re not a maker, then you probably need to become one.

Buy yourself an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, and focus on learning some basic electronics.

If your product requires a microcontroller then get an Arduino. If it requires a microprocessor and an operating system then get a Raspberry Pi. If you are unsure which is needed then read this article.

In addition to the Predictable Designs blog, spend time learning from websites such as Adafruit, Sparkfun, Build-Electronic-Circuits, and BaldEngineer.

As far as money is concerned you need to save up enough to at least get the product far enough along that you can get others to invest. For most products, this is going to require at least a few thousand dollars.

Ideally, you can get the product to a point of having a production quality prototype, but that will take at least about $10,000.

If that’s more than you can ever hope to afford, then try to at least put together a Proof-of-Concept (POC) based on a development kit such as the Arduino or Raspberry Pi. For more about the various types of prototypes see this article.

If creating a POC prototype is still too complicated or expensive for you to do on your own, then your best option is to get a realistic animation video created that demonstrates your product.

A digital model of your product is your best shot at getting outside investments if you can’t afford to create a real prototype.

I personally advise against getting investments from friends and family. This may just create friction for you down the road, especially if your product ends up failing.

Although more difficult, you are much better off getting “strangers” to invest in your product. By getting strangers to invest not only do you raise precious capital but you also gain a bit of social proof that your idea is a good one.

The best way, although definitely not the easiest, is to raise money via a crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding can provide you both money and lots of social proof.

The only way to ever really know if a product will sell is to try to sell it. Normally, that requires you have the finished product ready to sell. But crowdfunding allows you to essentially sell your product to potential investors without a real product to sell yet.

To do that you’re going to need at least three elements: an audience, a physical prototype or at least a digital model, and accurate estimates on how much it will cost to develop, scale, and manufacture your product.

So to quickly summarize, focus on saving money, learning new skills, making connections, and building an audience. Finally, constantly remind yourself that the value is in the execution, and that it’s the journey that counts not the destination.

Most importantly, try to have fun! Because this will be a long journey, and there are no overnight successes in any type of business.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer as part of my new FAQ Fridays series? If so, please post your question below in the comment section.

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Leave a Reply 11 comments

Bamgbose Ayoyimika - October 8, 2017 Reply

This is so helpful. Good work

    John Teel - October 8, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the feedback Bamgbose!

    John

Csnbhel@gmail.com - October 6, 2017 Reply

With this kind of experience, why don’t u support viable ideas, to bring into poc stage and put the project to slow roll, the enterpreneur will take it further and gain speed to commercialise the product. He will reach market more confidently. To encourage new entrants with viable ideas, u may fix poc cost, 5 times estimated cost at which enterpreneur wants to release that product to market. Any comments…..

    John Teel - October 6, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure I understand your question entirely though? Typically I don’t work with POC prototypes, and I primarily specialize in manufacturable versions of products. Perhaps I misunderstood your question, and if so please feel free to clarify.

    Thanks again!

    Best wishes,
    John Teel

Eugene - October 6, 2017 Reply

There is plenty of microcontrollers. If you need a fast processing of hefty amount of data (e.g. video processing) you will need more powerful MCs like ADI Blackfin or similar. Otherwise if you don’t need high speed and lots of data I personally prefer the Microchip PIC family, they are cheap, easy and friendly to use and have lots of SW and HW dev kits available. You can develop your POC prototype with one of the MC dev/eval boards and then use the same MC (that is used in the dev kit) and reuse the SW code in your final product, which answers your first question.

    Eryk - October 6, 2017 Reply

    PICs aren’t reliably cheap and depend on semi-proprietary and/or $$$ development tools. They’re also a minority interest compared to ARM M0 (fewer resources available) and they don’t scale (PIC32s aren’t really PICs at all, they’re MIPS variants). Start with an STM32M0 and you can scale all the way to an STM32M7 with essentially the same toolchain and C/ASM dialect.

    I would suggest an NXP or STM ARM to start with in most cases, adding Nordic Semi and TI CC2650 series if wireless comms are a vital consideration. Maybe Espressif ESP if you’re originating from a “maker” background and power consumption doesn’t matter. Of course if you’re starting from scratch skills wise, you’re best with Arduino (fun fact: Arduino was going to be PIC based but MicroChip wouldn’t countenance open source dev tools or support libraries … ooops. Now they end up having to buy Atmel to get a piece of the action).

      John Teel - October 6, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Eryk. I pretty much agree with all that you said!

      Thanks again!
      John

    John Teel - October 6, 2017 Reply

    Hi Eugene,

    Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts! Although I’ve used PIC controllers in the past in a few projects, I definitely prefer ARM Cortex-M processors now, and I only use PIC microcontrollers in very, very simple applications.

    Best regards,
    John

Joseph Ricafort - October 6, 2017 Reply

Hi John! thanks for sharing this very valuable info. I’ve been following your posts all way through.

I have made a functional prototype using Arduino and I have some few questions below:

1. How do you prepare your hardware and software so that you would easily incorporate or integrate it during the manufacturing stages? Do you have some guidelines to this?

2. Do you use the Atmel chip (in Arduino board) to your final product? How do you make some considerations in choosing the perfect microcontroller for your product?

Thanks again!

Joseph

    John Teel - October 6, 2017 Reply

    Hey Joseph,

    Thanks for the positive feedback and for following my blog posts so closely.

    For your first question I’m assuming you are talking about transitioning from a development kit to a manufacturable version of the product? If so, I generally think the best way to simplify this transition is to start with a dev kit that uses the same microcontroller that you wish to use in your manufacturable version.

    This will greatly simplify the transition and drastically reduce the amount of code rewrite necessary. The downside to this strategy, however, is that the MCU’s used in many dev kits are what I would personally recommend for production. Which leads to your second question.

    I generally stay away from Atmel microcontrollers for products that will be manufactured in high volume. I’ve found the ratio of performance to cost is too low. You don’t get near the bang for your buck that you do with Cortex-M 32-bit controllers.

    Unless the product is exceptionally simple and low-tech, then I almost exclusively use ARM Cortex-M architecture microcontrollers. Specifically, the STM32 series from ST Microelectronics is my preferred choice. They the performance to price ratio is very high.

    You can find about any level of performance in this line from the STM32F0 up to the incredibly high performance STM32F7 series, or the STM32L series for ultra low-power applications.

    Also I’ve found ST technical support to be very helpful, and they will even provide you with a free design review of any circuits using their solutions.

    For microcontrollers with BLE then my preferred choice are Nordic microcontrollers, but in that case I would go with a module. I’ve recently become a big fan of Nordic based BLE modules from Fanstel.

    If you need BLE, Bluetooth Classic, and WiFi then Espressif ESP32 module is unbeatable, although it still has some bugs being worked out, and it uses a rather non-standard processor which may be awkward to use for many.

    Overall, I agree with the comments left by Eryk.

    Thanks again for posting!

    Best wishes,
    John Teel @ Predictable Designs

      Eryk - October 7, 2017 Reply

      Another point worth bearing in mind about STM32 is that it is a reference platform (along with ESP8266) for MicroPython. That could be significant if you have no real programming background and/or you’ve never had to live without a garbage collector or type interference (sorry, “inference”). Even if that doesn’t apply and you’re going to code in C, having a REPL can be a game changer for debugging.

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