The Two Essential Ingredients for Success with a New Hardware Product
In this article we discuss why entrepreneurs should market and develop their product idea at the same time. Learn why you don’t need a prototype to start marketing your new product idea.
I’m going to start with a story about an engineer named Gary.
Like many engineers and makers, as a child Gary always loved playing with electronics and computers, so it was no surprise that he ended up with an electrical engineering degree. He spent his free time as a teenager tinkering around with circuit boards and building odd ball things like a dial joke machine.
By age 19 he had built an electrical box that could hack into the public phone network, allowing him to make free phone calls. To Gary, this wasn’t a job or a way to make money. It was the ultimate way to have fun.
Gary, the brilliant nerd, probably never imagined that in 30 years time he would be a bona fide billionaire and dating an Emmy Award winning Hollywood actress.
But there is no way his engineering skills alone could ever make that happen. Sure, he had the ability to create amazing technology, but he was missing some of the key elements required for massive success.
His path to success all started when he took a contract job from a friend of his working at a popular video gaming company. His friend, named Paul, took interest in a side project Gary had been messing around with at home.
Paul also loved technology but his strength was marketing, not engineering. One of his best qualities was his tenacity and drive, and his refusal to accept no for an answer. This type of fortitude is an essential part of running a successful startup.
Without Paul the marketer, Gary the engineer would forever be tinkering in his garage. But, without Gary, Paul would have nothing unique to market. They needed each other.
If you’re a maker type like Gary, then you need your Paul. On the other hand, if you’re an extroverted marketing type like Paul, then you need your Gary.
The rest of this story is history. Oh yeah, I used their middle names and you may know Gary and Paul better by their full names: Stephen Gary Wozniak and Steven Paul Jobs.
If you are the engineering type, you need to either find your own Steve Jobs, or teach and embrace marketing on you own.
If you are a marketing type, but lack engineering skills, you want to find and partner with your own Steve Wozniak.
The engineering and marketing sides of running a tech startup are possible, but neither are easy.
Engineering innovation combined marketing is a powerful duo that can literally change the world!
When bringing a new physical product to market, being an engineer or maker is a huge asset. Especially, if you happen to have considerable experience with developing new commercial products.
However, if you’re a maker, hacker, or engineer you’ll have your own set of struggles since bringing a new product to market requires a huge variety of skills and personality characteristics.
Let’s look at a common pitfall for technical founders. Most, unfortunately, take the wrong approach when bringing a new product to life – they develop it first, then market it later.
Product development is obviously critical when bringing a new product to market. It’s the piece of the puzzle that seems to get all of the attention, probably because it’s the first big obstacle for an entrepreneur to overcome.
However, product development is only one part of the long process to build a successful product and company.
If you are not an engineer, then you’ll likely need to fill the gaps associated with product development. Start by surrounding yourself with those that have the skills you require. Then, eventually either outsource development through freelancers, or bring on a technical partner.
Keep in mind, it’s impossible for one single person to be able to do everything required to bring a product to market. It doesn’t matter how smart you are and how much you know, you’ll still need help from other people to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.
Many non-technical entrepreneurs never make any progress on their idea because they mistakenly believe that development is the very first step of the process. How can they dare to get a product to market if they are already stuck at the very first step?
But, development is NOT the first step in the long process of bringing a product to market. Instead, market research, product validation, planning, and ongoing marketing should be the first steps. So don’t freeze up thinking you can’t proceed with your idea.
So let’s look more closely at how to get over your weaknesses, leverage your existing strengths, and ultimately produce a successful product.
Focus on Your Weaknesses, Not Your Strengths
We all have different strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know what they are and to do what is necessary to compensate for the weaknesses.
It’s a natural human tendency to gravitate toward your own strengths. No one likes to feel weak, and focusing on your weaknesses can have that effect.
But ignoring your weaknesses doesn’t make them go away. Instead, you need to confront them head on with a plan to turn them into strengths for your startup.
Remember, we ALL have weaknesses, and the key is to acknowledge them, and then find solutions to overcome them.
If You Build It, They Will NOT Come
The saying, “Build it and they will come” is the biggest myth in all of entrepreneurship! No one will come if you only build it because no one will know that it was built. You must market your product too.
Are you completely focused on getting a prototype or a patent? Do you think you need this prototype or patent before you can do anything else?
Goal number one for most hardware entrepreneurs is to get a patent and a working prototype, and this is especially true for more technical founders. This is an easy mistake to make because it’s where many founders feel the most comfortable.
That’s exactly what Wozniak did, because he wasn’t focused on growing a new company. His focus was just the pleasure he gained from building cool things.
The general thinking is that nothing can happen with a hardware startup until you have a prototype. How can you market something that doesn’t exist yet?
But fast forward one to two years, when you have a working prototype. You finally raise your head up from development to see what the next step should be.
Unfortunately, you quickly discover you underestimated the time and work required for marketing. Now you need another one to two years to market your product in any significant way.
Fortunately there is a better way…
Market Your Product While You Develop It
Marketing your product is vitally important, but it is a slow and difficult process. Though tempting, simply sending a quick tweet that your product is completed, or posting a sales ad on Facebook, won’t serve as productive forms of marketing.
Marketing requires just as much effort, work, and time as product development.
There are two ways to do marketing. One way is quick and easy, but expensive. That way is to hire a PR firm and/or use paid advertising.
The second way is slow and difficult, but cheap. That way is known as organic marketing. A good example of organic marketing is creating a blog that generates Google traffic for free.
This type of marketing could be considered free, except you are paying for it with your time rather than money.
Most entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of being able to go the expensive route, so that leaves the slow, difficult, cheap type of marketing.
Because both product development and marketing are challenging, tedious, and long-lasting, why not do them together?
If you do them sequentially, you’re looking at one to two years of development, followed by another one to two years of marketing. On the other hand, if you begin both tasks from the start you can cut this time down significantly.
Therefore, my number one advice for founders is to focus on marketing from day one.
Specifically, I recommend that you validate your product idea by doing market research to determine if there’s a market for it. Once you’ve validated that there truly is a market for your product, and that it’s worth pursuing, the next step is to begin building your audience.
There is no better way to market a new product than by building an engaged audience of people interested in your product and what you have to say.
If you follow this recommendation, you’ll have an engaged audience ready to purchase your product once you have completed developing it.
I can’t stress enough how powerful it is to have an eager audience ready to buy your product.
Don’t forget – one of the greatest benefits of having this audience is that you can develop your product with their help and feedback.
What better way to create a product that the masses will want, than to get the masses to help you create it.
How to Market Your Product
Marketing is your ultimate key to success, but it requires a significant amount of time and energy. Four straightforward steps to market your product are:
It all starts with a website. No big surprise here. If you expect to be taken seriously and you want people to find your product, then of course you need a website.
Creating the website is the easy part, but simply building it isn’t enough. If you have a website out there and don’t publicize it, no one will find it. You need to build an audience that trusts you.
By audience, I primarily mean collecting email addresses. An audience built on email addresses is much more valuable than one built on a social media platform.
To build an engaged audience you must give, give, and give. You need to educate people and provide them with free, valuable content.
If you consistently give, without asking for much in return, you will build an incredible amount of trust with your audience. Trust is the foundation of all business!
If you regularly provide valuable content during product development, by the time your product is ready for sale, you will already have an audience of people that trust you and will want what you have to offer.
Many entrepreneurs believe their blog should be about their product. I mean if you want to sell your product, you should talk about it, right?
But the truth is no one will care about your product until they first trust you. Instead you need to talk about the things your target audience cares really about.
For example, if your product is a cooking product then create recipes and content about cooking. If your product is music-related, then offer video music tutorials, sheet music downloads, or content about different instruments.
This will allow you to build trust with a large group of individuals who will potentially be interested in purchasing your product once it’s available.
As you continue to build up your audience, start to tease them with your product. Ask for their feedback, and continue to build trust.
Keep in mind that building an audience is a slow process. You will need to publish quality content on a consistent weekly basis for at least 6 months before you notice your website traffic increasing.
This is why you need to build your audience at the same time as you develop your product.
When marketing your product in this fashion, it’s absolutely critical that you produce content consistently. Consistency builds further trust (with both your audience and with Google), and trust is the bedrock of all business.
Unfortunately, most individuals, independent of business type, push content marketing to the backseat as soon as things get hectic. Resist the urge to do this and force yourself to be consistent.
Simultaneously marketing your product while you develop it is by no means easy. This concept is simple, but the implementation is difficult.
If you’re a maker, your brain loves engineering and you may be most comfortable behind the computer. If your background is in sales and marketing, than you may be wondering how to proceed before developing a prototype.
In either case, you the founder(s) must do both the engineering AND the marketing, at the same time.
As difficult as it may be, you will need to overcome your weaknesses while simultaneously focusing on your strengths.
Force yourself to focus on the pieces of the puzzle that are outside your comfort zone because those are the areas you will naturally neglect.
The most important thing for a technical founder to remember is that marketing is just as important and challenging, and takes just as long, as product development.
Therefore, always market your product while simultaneously developing the product. Avoid doing these tasks sequentially.
Whether you require help with the engineering or the marketing, you will find the help you need in the Hardware Academy. You get access to a team of experts (including myself), plus in-depth training courses, valuable resources, and a thriving community of other hardware entrepreneurs just like yourself.
Other content you may like:
- The Importance of Early Marketing, Selling, and Networking for Hardware Startups
- Lesson 3: The Strategic Way to Develop and Sell Your New Electronic Hardware Product
- Introduction to Marketing for Hardware Startups
- Episode 32 : How to Build an Audience for Your Product with Craig Rettew
- Marketing and Audience Building for Hardware Startups with Craig Rettew (Interview)