It all starts with an idea. Many hardware entrepreneurs then spend months (or even years) specifying and mentally analyzing their product.
Once their product vision is solidified their next step is to protect their hypothetical product. So now they spend more months or years getting a patent to protect their product. This practice seems especially common for entrepreneurs in the United States.
Once they have their patent, they move next to developing the product which also obviously lasts for quite a while.
Product, product, product!
The entire focus is on the product. The product itself is the entrepreneur’s dream.
I’m here to offer you a different and more successful approach, but first you have to let go of your attachment to your product.
The product is an important piece for sure, but its only one piece of the giant puzzle to achieving hardware market success.
I get it, thinking and working on the product itself is fun. The product is also the one thing you probably best understand, or so you may think. Everything else – from manufacturing to building up a customer base, is full of scary unknowns.
The one thing most entrepreneurs know most confidently is the product they envision bringing to market. They may not have any idea how to actually develop it, but the vision of the product itself is quite clear.
Sure, product development can be scary and intimidating, especially if you are a non-technical entrepreneur with a very limited budget.
But, at least most entrepreneurs know they need to get the product developed, so that doesn’t feel quite as scary as what lies beyond the prototype. Developing your product just feels like the natural first step.
Until you get that prototype (and of course a patent) it’s easy to think there is nothing else to possibly do, so the patent and/or the prototype gets all of the focus.
But that focus is misplaced.
Instead, your number one priority should be your customer, not the product. By over focusing on your product you are naturally ignoring your customers.
This means that you are developing the product without their input. This is a big mistake!
Without input from your customers, you are making lots of assumptions about what your customers want. Many, if not most, of these assumptions will be wrong.
The most important assumption you must make early is that most of your assumptions will in fact be wrong.
Instead of focusing exclusively on your product, focus on understanding your customers. You need to quit hiding behind your product and get to know your customers.
I know that for many entrepreneurs, and especially introverted ones, nothing is scarier that talking with customers. But in every way possible your customer is your key to success.
As much and as early as possible, make your customers a part of the development process. Their input should be an integral part of defining your final product.
This can take many shapes and forms. It can be as simple as A/B testing a potential product feature with your twitter followers, talking with attendees at an industry trade show, or speaking to random people you run into on the streets.
You don’t need a prototype in order to get your customers involved. In fact, if you can find a way to get their input before you build the prototype then that is ideal.
For example, you can get a lot of customer feedback by just having a nice looking, professional sales flyer that features a 3D photorealistic model of your product.
This is how I first approached Blockbuster Video about my own product which was a miniature consumer lighting device that could be used, among other things, to illuminate a TV remote control in the dark.
One major reason I chose to target Blockbuster Video, instead of a mass merchandiser like Wal-Mart, is because I rightly figured they get pitched new products a lot less often.
I had created a sales flyer that featured a realistic photo of my product in use on a remote control. I then emailed it to their Vice-President of Purchasing along with just a few sentences explaining how the product is a good fit for their customers.
Surveys can also be a helpful way of getting some early customer feedback.
However, be very careful with how you interpret the results because what people say they will buy doesn’t usually correlate well with what they will actually buy. Someone may say they would buy your product but then pass it on the shelf a hundred times without a second glance.
But, nothing really beats just talking with potential customers about the problem your product hopes to solve.
No matter how you interact with your customers, the point is to get them involved as soon as possible. Gather as much customer feedback as possible.
Build a Company Not a Product
Another important thing to remember is, you’re not building a hardware product. Instead, you are building a hardware company.
When you focus too heavily on the product itself, you can forget that it’s really a company that you should be focused on building.
You can eventually earn a good income by developing a successful product. But I doubt you’re spending all of this time and money, and taking all of this risk, just to one day make a good income.
There are much easier ways to earn a nice income.
If you really want to financially boost yourself to an entirely new level then you have to build and sell a company, not a product.
Building a successful hardware company is so much more than just building a product.
Keep in mind, you can’t build a thriving company from just one single product. You’ll need to constantly innovate new products in order to build a company that survives long term.
Building a profitable, successful company also requires marketing, sales, manufacturing, logistics, financing, customer support, intellectual property protection and more.
Also, you can’t just build any company. It has to be a sellable company. This means it must be scalable and be able to operate entirely without you.
Don’t focus all your energy on the product.
First, focus on your customers so that you can build the right product. Nothing is more important than the customer, yet they are the most often overlooked piece of the entire puzzle.
Build, and improve, that first product into something profitable that sells really well. Then use that success and the knowledge you have gained about your customers to build more successful products.
Eventually, this turns into a successful, profitable company which can be sold in order to fund your next stage of life dreams!
Other content you may like:
- Rules for Success I Learned Bringing My Own Hardware Product to Market
- Lesson 5: The Strategic Way to Develop and Sell Your New Electronic Hardware Product
- How To Effectively Use Outsourcing to Power Your Hardware Startup
- The 6 Parts of a Hardware Startup You Must Conquer to Succeed
- The Right Way to Bring a New Product to Market
This is totally me ! overthinking the product …..Uggggg
time to re-focus. Thanks John
This is you, me, and just about every entrepreneur starting with their first product. Glad it was helpful!
Great insight, I agree that we need to know what the customer wants to further improve the product or service that we are offering. By asking for feedback or providing them customer survey forms, we can learn what needs to be added, prioritise based from their feedbacks.
Your product needs to be the best answer to a question your customers are asking. I agree that starts with know who your customers are, and then what they want. The easiest way to get past the fear of talking to people is to just ask for their help. Most people, even strangers, will at least listen when you start with a request for their help.
I think the saying is “hammer seeking nail”? We have solutions seeking problems, but like you said it should be the other way around. Problem is, an introverted, technical guy like me does not tend to get out much to socialize with people from different parts of life and understand how I can save them money or help them make more money. Fishing is hard. A great fishing partner with a vested interest should not be undervalued.
Awesome quote! And so true.
Thanks Dave! Yeah, I kind of liked that one too:)
John – this sounds like a lot of work! 😉 Great post.
I think technical people tend to be product people.
And like you said, designing product is WAY more fun than marketing! (IMHO)
But staying open, meeting payroll like a champ, paying your bills on time, and being wildly successful with your product are also SUPER fun things.
I need to remind myself of this frequently…
Thanks Michael for the feedback!
I think it’s all about your mindset, and I now find marketing almost as fun as engineering.
Nothing wrong with being product focused if you are an inventor, maker, or DIY’er but not if you are an entrepreneur hoping to build a successful startup around your product.