In this first lesson you’ll learn about competitive research, the danger of being overly secretive, how to validate your product, proving your product concept, and why you must first simplify your product.
The critical initial steps I’m about to discuss in this first lesson are often rushed past or ignored completely. I can’t stress enough how important it is to take your time and do these steps right.
First, you need to research the competition and confirm that a market exists for your product.
When entrepreneurs do competitive research a common misconception is thinking that any competition is bad. In fact, most entrepreneurs panic and think it’s the end of their project when they find a competing solution.
In reality though, some competition is actually good because it proves there is a market for your product.
However, trying to enter a crowded market segment that is dominated by big players like Apple or Samsung for example, will prove very challenging.
It’s usually best if you find some competitors, but none who are totally dominant. This proves there is a need for your product and there is a market opening.
Also, online surveys are helpful at this point. You can get general feedback on the problem your product is supposed to solve so you can understand who and how many people have this problem.
You may also wish to perform a patent search just to see what other solutions have already been patented.
If you find similar patents, don’t panic! Most patents are considered “narrow” scope patents which means they are easy to work around.
Don’t Be Overly Secretive
Being overly secretive is an extremely common mistake made by new entrepreneurs. But I’ve never known a hardware startup to fail because someone stole their idea.
That simply does not happen. Instead, entrepreneurs fail because they’ve been unsuccessful at getting the word out about their product.
To succeed you need to be the opposite of secretive, you need to be shouting from the rooftops about your product and getting feedback from everyone possible.
I understand why many will be reluctant to do this without their idea being protected. As I’ve already mentioned, pursuing a patent is not where you should be spending your time and money.
Instead, in the United States, I suggest you file what is known as a Provisional Patent Application. This will give you protection for one year while you validate that your product idea is worth the investment of a full patent.
The beauty of the PPA is it is very simple and cheap to obtain. No attorney is needed, and you can easily file the paperwork yourself for only a couple hundred dollars. Other countries likely have something similar.
Validate Your Product Idea
Once you’ve determined that a market exists for your product, and you’ve filed for a provisional patent or equivalent, then the next step is to validate that people will actually buy your product.
Below are some of the ways you can validate that your product will sell and is worth the investment:
Make a sales flyer – I suggest that you start by designing a nice color one-page sales flyer that visually showcases your product.
You can have a photorealistic 3D model of your product designed for a fairly low cost. You can then use this model in your flyer to show off your product.
Share it with strangers – Feedback from friends and family is always going to be biased, so you need to seek out feedback from total strangers.
Even simple things like sharing your idea with a stranger while waiting in line for coffee can give you some valuable, unbiased feedback.
There are various online forums to share your product and request feedback. One benefit of this method is people in forums tend to be more honest with their negative feedback.
If you can find the right forum it can be a fantastic way to get unbiased feedback and also make some helpful connections.
Share it with retailers – In addition to sharing your product with strangers I suggest you also share it with retailers for feedback. Do this even if you don’t plan to sell via retailers.
For example, take your sales flyer down to a local retailer that sells your category of products and show it to a manager for feedback.
You can also email your sales flyer to higher level decision makers. I did this with my own product.
I sent my sales flyer to a Vice-President at Blockbuster Video (back when they were worth billions). He liked it, which eventually led to an invitation to present my product at Blockbuster headquarters in Dallas.
Setup a sales page which goes to a waiting list – One of my favorite early ways to validate a product idea is to setup an online sales page which showcases your photorealistic 3D product model.
On this page you will have a “buy now” button. When a customer tries to buy, have a message popup that says the product is not available yet and ask them to join your waiting list.
Although no money exchanges hands, this is still valuable validation because a customer thinks they are about to purchase your product.
Crowdfunding – Although crowdfunding is one of the best ways to validate a product, you should first have a prototype nearly ready for manufacturing.
Otherwise, it’s impossible to accurately forecast when a product will be ready to ship, so you risk upsetting your backers.
Prove the Concept
At this point you have proven that there is a market for your product and that people will pay for it.
Now the question you must answer is whether your idea solves the intended problem as expected.
This is the goal of a Proof-of-Concept (POC) prototype which is an early prototype built using off-the-shelf components with little to no custom hardware design.
They are usually based on development kits such as an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or a variety of development boards available from chip manufacturers.
I’ve already stressed the importance of not focusing too early on a prototype, but a POC prototype is an exception because it’s not overly expensive to build.
A POC allows you to prove that your product solves the intended problem, and helps give you insight into the feasibility of your product.
However, a POC prototype is rarely something that can be brought to market. The cost is usually too high, the size is too large, and the appearance is commonly rather ugly.
Define and Simplify Your Product
Now it’s time to specify the details of your product based on the market research you’ve done, and the potential lessons learned from your POC prototype.
You can never develop a product without a proper specification. The more details you specify the more likely you are to end up with the product you intended.
When specifying your product it’s critical to avoid unnecessary complexity. It’s tempting to throw every imaginable feature into your product thinking it will sell better. But, you need to embrace simplicity in order to have a chance at product success.
Focus on those critical core features that are essential for your product. Eliminate all of the nice-to-have but not essential features, at least for now.
You should work with experienced product developers to help simplify your product before you begin full development.
Since simplifying your product lowers the engineering costs these developers should be independent from your primary developers in order to avoid any conflict of interest.
This strategy of product simplification will allow you to get to market much faster and cheaper with a higher chance of success.
Okay, that’s it for this first lesson. In the next lesson I’ll be discussing business models, legal structures, sales plans, funding, estimating your costs, and why you need advisors.If you need help from experts that have done this all before then be sure to check out the Hardware Academy.
Other content you may like:
- The First Critical Steps When Bringing a New Hardware Product to Market
- The Right Way to Bring a New Product to Market
- Why Patents Are a Death Trap for Entrepreneurs and Startups
- Why You Need to Stop Over-Focusing on Your Product
- How to Validate Your New Product Idea