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 stick-to-it’ness 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, you may know Gary and Paul better by their full names: Stephen Gary Wozniak and Steven Paul Jobs.
As a techie type you need to either find your own Steve Jobs, or teach yourself to fill that role. Both are possible, but neither are easy.
Innovation + 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 commercial new product development.
However, just like anyone, 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.
The path you will follow will likely be very different than the path followed by an entrepreneur with little to no experience in development.
Most entrepreneurs, and especially those with a strong technical background, 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. That is likely do to the fact that it’s the first big obstacle for entrepreneurs to overcome.
However, product development is only one part of the long process to build a successful product and company. In this article we will discuss the challenges faced by technical entrepreneurs, and give advice on how to surpass those challenges, and ultimately succeed with your product idea.
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.
Instead of focusing first on your areas of strength, focus on your areas of weakness right at the beginning of your journey.
Once you have a plan to deal with your weaknesses, then you can turn back to focusing on your strengths.
Just be sure you don’t get crippled with low self-esteem when facing your weaknesses. 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 it too.
Are you completely focused on getting a prototype? Do you think you need this prototype before you can do anything else?
Goal number one for most hardware entrepreneurs is to get a working prototype, and this is especially true for more technical founders. This is an easy mistake to make because it’s where technical founders feel the most comfortable, and working with technology is their superpower.
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 making cool things.
The general thinking is that nothing can happen with a startup until you have a prototype. How can you market something that doesn’t exist yet?
So many entrepreneurs hyper-focus on development and getting a prototype.
Nothing else matters, until you have that prototype in your hands. Or so you think.
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 are looking at needing 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 an 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 really are paying for it, just 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 technical 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 the product, and understand 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, once you’re done with product development you’ll have an engaged audience ready to purchase it. I can’t stress enough how powerful it is to have this audience ready for 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.
Resist the Urge to Focus Solely on Development
The concept is simple, but the implementation is difficult. Simultaneously marketing your product while you develop it is by no means easy. As a technical founder, it’s likely that marketing will be one of your biggest challenges.
If you’re a maker, your brain loves engineering and you may be most comfortable behind the computer. It’s also safe to say that your brain probably doesn’t care much for sales or marketing.
In my experience working as a design engineer for a large tech company, there were always conflicts between engineers and marketers. They know they need each other, but neither seems to usually care much for the other side.
If you want to focus the rest of your career on becoming the best engineer possible, it’s a great goal and will serve you well if you work for a large company that takes care of everything else for you.
Designated individuals will do all the marketing-related tasks that you don’t want to do, which allows you time to focus solely on product development.
But once you start your own company you’ll quickly realize that you need marketing and that there’s no one else to do it. You don’t (yet) have a marketing department.
You, as the founder or founding team, must do both the engineering AND the marketing, at the same time.
You have to do everything on your own or find the right people to fill in the gaps for the things that you can’t or don’t want to do.
As difficult as it may be, it’s important to work on your weaknesses before working 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.
How to Build an Audience and Market Your Product
Marketing will ultimately be your key to success when developing a product. Therefore, it’s where you should focus a significant amount of time and energy even if you find it challenging.
Four straightforward steps to market your product are:
1. Create a website
No big surprise here. If you expect to be taken serious and you want people to find your product, then of course you need a website.
Creating a website is simple. First of all, I would definitely recommend that you create your site using WordPress.
Secondly, do not get fixated on the design and style of your site. You can have the ugliest website in the world yet still have it be a massive success if you provide massive value.
For example, check out this website by a well-known tech entrepreneur named Steve Blank (geez, there are a lot of Steve’s in tech startups!). Steve has founded eight successful startups, teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford, and was one of the leaders behind the lean startup movement.
His website is loaded with valuable content, but the design of the site doesn’t look like it’s been updated since the 90’s. However, entrepreneurs visiting his site are there to learn, not to be dazzled with pretty graphics.
Creating the website is the easy part, but simply building the website isn’t enough. If you have a website out there and don’t publicize it, no one will find it.
2. Provide valuable content consistently for free
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 keep consistently giving, without asking for much in return, you will build up an incredible amount of trust with your audience. Trust is the foundation of all businesses!
If you provide valuable content on a consistent basis during product development, by the time your product is ready you will already have an audience of people that trust you and will want what you have to offer.
What type of content should you create: blog, video or podcast?
The written word (blog) is the type of content that provides the most reach (meaning it will be seen by the largest number of people). However, video and audio offer much higher levels of engagement because people can connect to you better with video or audio than with just the written word.
The best answer is to provide content in the format preferred by your target market. If your product is for learning to play a musical instrument, then odds are video will be your best medium. But you also will eventually want to combine blogs, video and podcasts since they each have their own advantages.
What should the content even be about?
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?
Let me ask you a question. If you’re married, did you meet your spouse by walking up to her for the first time and asking her to marry you? Of course, not! You first got to know each other. You established trust, before asking for that type of commitment. Selling a product is no different.
For example, if your product is a pet product then create content about pets or pet ownership. If your product is a cooking product then create content about cooking or recipes. If your product is a music-related product then offer content about types of instruments or teaching music.
This will allow you to build trust with a large group of individuals that will potentially be interested in purchasing your product once it’s available.
As you continue to build up your audience, you can 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.
Google will usually start sending you traffic after a couple of weeks, but it takes months or years for it to grow into something significant.
Like I said previously, this is why you need to start building your audience immediately while you develop your product.
3. Collect email addresses
Once you’ve created a website with some valuable content, it’s critical that you begin collecting visitor’s email addresses. Otherwise, your website visitors will leave, never to be seen again.
Many people make the mistake of focusing on social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the main platforms for audience communication. While this isn’t harmful, it isn’t the most productive or valuable in the long run.
In general, communicating via email is the key to success. It’s more personal, direct, and one-to-one than using social media (and you don’t risk getting distracted by scanning your Facebook newsfeed instead of working!).
I’ve seen this with my own audience. I would trade 100 Twitter followers for one email follower, it’s that big of a difference. This is why I put very little effort into social media. It’s really all about email! This is true for any type of online business.
When collecting email addresses, you don’t want email addresses from just anyone; instead focus on getting email addresses from individuals that are in your demographic.
Your website is a great way to do this. Odds are that the people who visit your website are in your target demographic because they have found your website based on the content that you’re creating.
When they get to your website, offer them something in exchange for their email address. Using the pet product example, you could offer them a free PDF download on the Top 10 Tricks to Train Your Dog in exchange for their email address.
My own 15 Steps to Develop Your New Electronic Hardware Product cheat sheet PDF is another example.
That way you’ll know anyone that gives you their email address is a highly targeted person that will likely be interested in your product in the future.
4. Be consistent
When building a website, producing content, and building an email list, it’s absolutely important to produce content consistently. Consistency builds trust (with both your audience and with Google), and trust is the bedrock of all business.
It also takes consistency for Google to find your website and rank you. If you post inconsistently, and your audience only hears from you once every few months, it’s very difficult to build a significant relationship with them.
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.
Creating lots of this free content is like planting tiny seeds that will eventually grow into large, beautiful trees (maybe even a few will grow into money trees).
In order to be consistent, it’s important that you don’t overdo it. Setting unrealistic goals for yourself can be disastrous and discouraging. For instance, I started off with the goal of doing one blog per month because more than that seemed overwhelming.
Once I got the hang of one blog per month, I worked up to a higher rate. Shortly thereafter I got in the rhythm of posting content frequently and I’ve published a new blog post almost every week for about two years.
If I had instead tried to start immediately with a blog or two each week then I would have quickly gotten overwhelmed and quit. So it’s better to start slowly and keep building up from there.
The most important thing for a maker/engineer to remember is that marketing is just as important and challenging, and takes just as long, as product development. Therefore, always market your product and build your audience while simultaneously developing the product.
Avoid doing these tasks sequentially. Though marketing can be a challenge, it’s important to face your weaknesses as soon as possible. Make marketing a priority for your product to be successful.
Start by recognizing your weaknesses, and then come up with ways to compensate for those areas of weakness.
You can either train yourself to turn your weaknesses into strengths, or you can seek out other people to help you that have the strengths you are lacking. Know where you need help, and then get it.
If you’re tired of trying to bring your product to market all on your own, now you can finally get the help you need!
If you need engineering support, business coaching, training, and connections to help bring your new product to market then you need the Hardware Academy.
Not only will you get direct help from me (training courses and coaching), but you’ll also get support from other highly experienced engineers. And, you’ll get a ton of support from the other entrepreneurs in the Academy too. The Academy is a super friendly, helpful place.
Whether you’re an engineer, or a total non-techie, the Hardware Academy will give you what you need to succeed!