Four Considerations Before Launching a Crowdfunding Campaign

Crowdfunding can help hardware startups launch not only a product, but an entire company. The power of “the crowd” is strong and can be a great asset for entrepreneurs. However, by now we have all heard of those crowdfunding campaigns that make headlines, for all the wrong reasons—Coolest Cooler and Pebble stand out, both raised a considerable of money, but stumbled when it came to production manufacturing and order shipment. In order to avoid issues early-on, there are a few considerations to take into account before you launch that crowdfunding campaign.

Evaluate Your IP Exposure

Is there a business out there with a similar product? If so, how is yours different? “Start by reviewing any patents marked on similar competitive products, product packaging or your competitors’ web sites. If your product is similar to a specific competitor’s, you can search patents by owner of record. You can also search on Google for any patent-infringement lawsuits related to the same or similar products/services. (Entrepreneur)”

Do your due diligence and research patents that are similar to your product. You can be liable for patent infringement whether you knew about the patent or not.

Consider trademark and copyright protection for your product and startup as well. It is better to have your logo, tag line, text and photographs protected, than to risk someone else using them without your permission.

Decide If A Patent Is Necessary

Securing and protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights to your invention is key to successful commercialization. As soon as you make your crowdfunding campaign public, you forfeit your right to obtain a utility patent on that product unless you have previously filed a patent application. Costs can be an issue when it comes to filing a utility patent, however a provisional patent application is cheaper and still protects your invention. A provisional patent application will allow you to keep your rights to a utility patent for 12 months while you decide the next move for your startup. You will also be able to use the coveted, “patent pending” term as you market your product.

A design patent is another option if the value of your product lays largely in its unique design. This design patent can block competitors from making an exact copy of your product, but it doesn’t block them from making a functionally equivalent product with a different appearance.

Build A Functional Prototype

A functional prototype is necessary when you are trying to get people excited about a new product. While people can indeed envision a product from a great description, there is no substitute for the actual thing. This prototype not only shows potential investors what your product can do, it is also necessary for the marketing material on your crowdfunding page.

Develop A Video

Let’s face it, you can’t have an exciting video unless you have a functional prototype. The video portion of your page is where you let your product shine. You want to demonstrate your product to potential customers and let them get a feel for what it has to offer. The more descriptive and creative your video is, the more people are going to get truly excited to contribute to your campaign and share your campaign with friends.

While there are many moving parts to a crowdfunding campaign, these four considerations should be thoroughly reviewed by your team to set yourself up for success right from the start.

 

Have questions related to product development? We are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at info@3d-innovations.com

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I Have A Product Idea—Now What?

product

Developing an idea into a physical product that people need, love and enjoy is a fulfilling venture for any entrepreneur. For first time entrepreneurs though, the product development journey may seem challenging and fraught with obstacles. With so much information available it can be confusing as to what needs to be done first and who you can turn to. Below we discuss the first five steps of product development to help you dig in and get to work.

Document

Write your idea down in detail. Talk about the functionality of your product, what it looks like and what you want it to achieve. Writing the details down will ensure that you don’t forget anything and help clarify the idea for yourself.

The documentation process doesn’t have to happen in one sitting, but may evolve over time as you continue to build upon your idea and narrow its scope.

Research & Evaluate the Idea

This step is going to take some sleuthing, but it will be well worth it. Take the time early-on to properly evaluate your idea, research the market landscape as well as potential competitors. With this research in hand you are less likely to make the (costly) mistake of developing a product that is already out there and available to consumers.

If you are planning on filing a patent, this research should also extend into preliminary patent research. Consulting an Intellectual Property Attorney would also be a great idea to assist with the patent research and be provided with all the necessary patent filing information.

Target Market Evaluation

Get to know your potential customers. Who do you want to buy your product? How does your product suit their needs? How will you be able to get their attention? These questions, and others like them, will help you narrow down and define your target market. You want to know all the details, age, gender, occupation, likes/dislikes, preferences—keep narrowing it down until you have a complete picture of who will be purchasing your product.

Make a Prototype

Depending on the type of product you want to develop, you might be able to make a prototype at-home with traditional household items. However, keep in mind that this prototype won’t suffice as you head into manufacturing. In the very early stages, a homemade prototype will help convey your idea to potential investors and customers. As you moved towards manufacturing, you are going to need a functional prototype developed using DFM (design for manufacturability) methods to ensure a smooth transition into manufacturing.

Market Testing

Using your new functional prototype, it is time to reach out to those potential customers to get their feedback and insight. This could be done through focus groups, product testing etc. At this stage you want to know what customers like about your product and what they don’t. Keep in mind that you might have to re-evaluate the design of your product if you are receiving feedback indicating that change is needed—these design changes may deviate from your initial idea, but ultimately you want to meet your customers’ needs.

Once you have gone through these five steps it is on to production manufacturing and preparing for your product launch. Developing a product takes time and patience, but once you see your product on store shelves or in the hands of customers, the journey to get there will all be worth it.

Have additional questions about product development? Send us an email at info@3d-innovations.com

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Production Manufacturing Trip to China (Part 2)

FOG_Safe grease catchmentQuick recap: Our President, Collin Kobayashi, accompanied a client, FOG Safe, on a production manufacturing trip to China. They have returned to Hawaii, and are now discussing their recent trip to find the right manufacturing partner for the FOG Safe product, as well as the expectations of the trip versus what happened in this “Part 2” production manufacturing blog post. (View ‘Part 1’ here.)

Factory Visits and Deciding on a Production Manufacturing Partner
Let’s start off with, how was the trip?

[C. Kobayashi]: Traveling to the various factories was an exciting adventure for both myself and our client. Meeting factory management and touring the different factories is always exciting—no two factories are identical, so really getting to dive in and see the different manufacturing methodologies is a great experience.

[Client]: Seeing each of the factory’s capabilities really made a difference in deciding which factory is most capable of producing our product. Each had pros and cons, but at the end of the day, the one selected was based on 3D Innovations’ recommendation and my own impression of the visit.

What type of factories did you visit?

[C. Kobayashi]: We had the opportunity to visit with a handful of factories, both for product manufacturing as well as packaging manufacturing facilities.

What surprised you during this trip?

 [C. Kobayashi]: Improvements in manufacturing have come a long way. It was quite evident that manufacturing companies need to constantly upgrade their technologies to be efficient and competitive. During a few of the visits, we saw some advanced manufacturing systems that made them not only efficient, but able to handle large scale projects and track every stage of the process until the items were shipped out.

[Client]: I haven’t been to a factory before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. It was an entirely new experience for me. Visiting the various factories gave me a real comparison and I was able to see the differences, strengths, and weaknesses between each.

When you selected a final manufacturer, how did they stand out from the other factories?

 [C. Kobayashi]: Pricing will always affect the bottom line, but other factors are equally as important. All of these factors were taken into account when the final manufacturing partners were selected.

[Client]: A face-to-face meeting with these potential manufacturing partners really opened my eyes to see what goes on with the manufacturing process and what happens behind the scenes. Without these meetings taking place, it would have been a shot in the dark and hoping that the right manufacturer was selected.

What were the main takeaways from the trip to China?

[C. Kobayashi]: A few takeaways from this trip for me were seeing the various departments and logistics that handle the production process from start to finish. Being able to observe the entire process from machinery to quality assurance was an amazing conclusion to the project and development cycle.

[Client]: Trying to do this process without the assistance of manufacturing experts is impossible.  If doing this on my own, it would have been not only difficult, but there is a chance that I could have made the wrong decisions and ultimately sacrificed, time, money, and quality. I was fortunate enough to have 3D Innovations support the project from start to finish, and continually advising on the best way to bring our product to market.

What is the next step for the FOG Safe product?

[Client & C. Kobayashi]: Once molds are made, we will await the first samples and start full production quantities.

 

Have questions related to manufacturing a product internationally or locally? We are happy to help! Please send your questions to info@3d-innovations.com

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Hardware Startup: Seeing Opportunities That Others Have Missed

We have all heard the term, “ignorance is bliss”, and when it comes to launching a hardware startup this might just be right. Newcomers to an industry have fresh ideas, new perspectives and innovative ideas. These newcomers are not weighed down by industry norms and the mentality of “it’s always been done this way”. These fresh faces often see opportunities that industry veterans miss.

While newcomers lack preconceived notions, that doesn’t mean they are ill-equipped. Below are three ways to harness those “rookie smarts” and build a successful product.

Seek out stagnate industries

It’s no secret that many big industries need help—for example, healthcare, banking and transportation are all stuck in a rut and are in desperate need of fresh ideas and newcomers with bold visions. You don’t need experience in an industry to start a revolution. Elon Musk is a great example of someone who entered industries where he had little or no experience, yet had a vision of what they could look like and while pursuing his vision, spearheaded major transformation. Step out of your comfort zone and your areas of expertise to bring about radical change.

Listen to people that could be your customers

As startups grow into major corporations, they often take on the mindset of “I know what’s best” and stop listening to their customers. This is a surefire way to alienate customers and push them towards competitors. Many of the young entrepreneurs today understand the importance of truly listening to would-be customers. These types of entrepreneurs are not stuck in their ways and are in fact willing to learn.

Consumers today are radically different than they were 10, 15 and 20 years ago. The culture of how we buy goods, how we procure services and what we expect from businesses has shifted. A hardware startup today needs to be in tune with their customers and willing to modify their vision to meet the needs of these consumers.

Get prototyping

Have an idea? Get prototyping! Lead the way by taking your idea and bringing it to life. Does your prototype need to be fancy, no, does it need to be perfect, no, does it need to convey your idea, yes. We see homemade prototypes built out of traditional household items all the time, and you know what, that works! As long as your homemade prototype can get your message across you are on the right track.

Being an industry newcomer certainly has its benefits. If you are ready to learn, listen and build quickly, your hardware startup can be the change a stagnate industry is in need of.

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Production Manufacturing Trip to China (Part 1)

FOG_Safe grease catchmentOur President, Collin Kobayashi, will be accompanying a client, FOG Safe, on a production manufacturing trip to China later this week. We are often asked about the process of researching and procuring a manufacturing partner, so we have decided to delve deeper into the topic of “manufacturing partnerships” in a two-part post here on our blog.

In this first post we discuss the benefits of traveling to the factory and getting acquainted with both factory management and factory processes. In our second post, we will dig into the details of the expectations verses experience of our client.

Finding a Production Manufacturing Partner

This is our client’s first time manufacturing a product and they are eager to dive right into the manufacturing phase of product development. They have asked Collin to accompany them on this trip to assist in visiting and selecting a manufacturing partner. 3D Innovations has developed strong supply chains and manufacturing channels, both locally and internationally, over the years and is well versed in manufacturing partner selection. For many entrepreneurs, visiting a factory for the very first time can be overwhelming and intimidating, so having a partner present to help guide and explain the process is greatly beneficial.

Visiting the manufacturing facility has many benefits, the primary benefit is that the client gets to physically see where their product will be manufactured. Seeing the parts being molded in front of their eyes, gives them a deeper appreciation of the entire design process and practices that went into getting their product developed. Also, there is no substitute to a face-to-face meeting with the individuals that will be building the product and directly seeing the process in which it will be manufactured. At the end of a factory visit, such as this one, we find that clients often feel confident in their decision to begin the manufacturing phase of product development, accompanied with a huge sense of relief to have finally decided on and secured a manufacturing partner.

Depending on your individual product and the complexity of the design, factory visits are not mandatory or always necessary. However, after a visit you will have a better sense of what your product will look like in the end.

Do you have questions related to manufacturing a product, send us an email at info@3d-innovations.com, we are happy to help!

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How to Avoid Common Hardware Startup Failure Traps

hardware

Yes, hardware startups fail and no, that doesn’t mean that yours will. By making yourself aware of the common reasons hardware startups fail, you are preparing yourself, your team and your startup to avoid these roadblocks. The adage may say that “hardware is hard”, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—we would even dare say that launching a hardware product has never been easier than it is today.

If you are in the preliminary stages of product development or still considering whether to pursue the innovative product idea you have, the list below will give you an idea on what challenges will arise and how to navigate the hardware landscape.

Not Considering DFM (Design for Manufacturability)

Design for Manufacturability not only matters, it can truly make or break your startup. DFM is the process of being proactive during the product design phase by considering the manufacturing stage of product development at the start of the design cycle. Early consideration of the manufacturing phase shortens product development time, minimizes development costs and ensures a smooth transition into production for quick time-to-market.

Overall development costs are minimized when DFM is utilized because the product design, from the onset, aims to reduce the number of parts that need to be manufactured which speeds up assembly. The entire goal of DFM is to produce a product that is easily and economically manufactured.

If you start down the road to product development without DFM in mind, you are embarking on a much more expensive journey that is full of delays and unnecessary frustrations.

Underestimating Product Development Expenses

Developing a product from scratch comes with costs. There are ways of minimizing costs, but you will still face expenses on the path to commercialization.

The cautionary tale of the Coolest Cooler shows what can happen when you don’t accurately estimate your costs—the company raised nearly $13 million dollars on Kickstarter, yet the Coolest Cooler almost shut down. The startup miscalculated not only costs, but their development timeline as well and ended up having a lot of angry customers and major delays.

Lack of Target Market Research & Validation

Research is vital—you should be constantly researching your target market and the industry you are venturing in to. Too many startups build their products in a vacuum, only to realize later that they are not meeting the needs of their targeted consumers.

Understand your customer base and obtain their feedback throughout the development process. This validation will not only allow you to modify your product to meet their needs, but to also validate each product iteration. At the end of the day, you want to be sure that you have customers that are as excited about your product as you are.

Unwillingness to Change Your Initial Hardware Product Idea

The product that you dream of developing might be drastically different than the product you end up developing. Your design might change because of customer preferences, manufacturing constraints or simply because there is a better and more streamlined design option. No matter what the reason, be open to change. It is great to love an idea, that is why you are embarking on this journey in the first place, but be prepared to modify that idea.

Wrong Manufacturing Partner

When the time comes to manufacture your hardware product, having the right manufacturing partner on your team makes all the difference. Speed, accuracy, reliability and open communication are all characteristics to look for when picking a contract manufacturer. Building a supply chain from scratch is challenging and the pressure is high to find the right match.

Make sure that you are evaluating factories that have proper documentation, strong referrals and the ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner with you. Many startups realize that it is advantageous to work with smaller factories at the beginning so that their product gets the attention it deserves. A large factory that produces millions of parts a month might not be willing to take on smaller batches or give you product adequate attention.

Now that you are aware of these common pitfalls, navigating the hardware landscape just became a bit easier. If you still find yourself with product development questions, send us an email at info@3d-innovations.com, we are happy to help!

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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We Pause, Reflect & Give Thanks

Hawaii and Las Vegas have a special bond, in fact it is often fondly referred to as the “ninth island”. There is a closeness, a friendship. The senseless tragedy that took place last Sunday has hit close to home for many of us. A heartbreaking event such as this really makes you stop, reflect and give thanks for everything you have.

In the wake of this tragedy I wanted to personally reach out to our family, friends and customers to say, ‘Thank You’.

Thank you to the customers that have become friends. Thank you to the friends that have become family. Thank you for entrusting us to help develop your idea and launch your business. Thank you for your role in helping our business succeed.

While we are thankful every single day, it is easy to get caught up in routine and not express our gratitude nearly enough.

We are very fortunate to call Hawaii home and are thankful every day for our supportive community. We are part of a community that rallies around one another and works hard to help others succeed. The guidance, support, mentorship and generosity we have received throughout the years is humbling—and for all of it, my warmest mahalo.

 “Always remember people who have helped you along the way, and don’t forget to lift someone up.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Sincerely,

Collin Kobayashi, President & Chief 3D Officer of 3D Innovations

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Hardware Startups: Working in Lean Startup Mode

September 28, 2017

The very heart of the Lean Startup approach focuses on the overarching goal of producing a top-quality product (or service) and delivering it at a minimal cost while providing a great customer experience.  In the business world, and particularly with hardware startups, the Lean Startup approach is synonymous with creativity, risk taking and quick acceleration.

Here we discuss three reasons why your business, at any stage, should embrace the Lean Startup method for product development.

Create order. Organization and order are fundamental pieces of the Lean Startup approach. A detailed, organized and methodical approach to product development creates order and ultimately saves hardware startups time and resources—thus adhering to the Lean Startup principals.  “Using the Lean Startup approach, companies can create order not chaos by providing tools to test a vision continuously. Lean isn’t simply about spending less money. Lean isn’t just about failing fast, failing cheap. It is about putting a process, a methodology around the development of a product. (The Lean Startup Methodology)”

hardware startupsLearn when to pivot. Entrepreneurs understand that there is no shame in missing the mark with an initial idea, as long as you learn enough to pivot to something that works. “Successful entrepreneurs have found that the extreme uncertainty of a new product or service usually requires many course corrections, or ‘pivots’ to find a successful formula. (Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup)”

Not all ideas are going to be great right off the bat, but with customer research, market feedback and adequate product testing you can build upon your initial idea and create a product that is true to the needs of your audience.

Continuous innovation. Startups embracing this lean approach understand the importance of failing fast and learning from past missteps. Quick adaptation based on customer feedback is something that lean startups thrive on. By continuous product testing and communication with the target market, lean startups can innovate at a rapid pace to meet customer needs.

With the help of the build-measure-feedback loop, startups are constantly gleaning new information about their product market fit and learning ways to augment the design so that the optimal, and most innovative, product is achieved.

Building a product is hard work—however, with the right tools in hand, strong partnerships and a “work smarter, not harder” business approach, you can successfully bring your product to market.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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The Benefits of a Provisional Patent Application for Your Hardware Startup

patent IPA provisional patent application early-on can be very beneficial for a hardware startup if your business goal is to either license your invention or proceed with a patent filing. Before we delve into the benefits of filing a provisional application let’s first define what a “Provisional Patent Application” is—According to the USPTO it is, “A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application filed under 35 U.S.C. §111(a). It also allows the term ‘Patent Pending’ to be applied in connection with the description of the invention.”

It is important to note that a “provisional application for patent has a pendency lasting 12 months from the date the provisional application is filed. The 12-month pendency period cannot be extended. Therefore, an applicant who files a provisional application must file a corresponding nonprovisional application for patent (nonprovisional application) during the 12-month pendency period of the provisional application in order to benefit from the earlier filing of the provisional application.” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12 month period.

As with any patent application, your application needs to be as complete as possible to be truly beneficial—this means that you must describe and document all variations, alternatives and permutations to your invention in detail. The best way of obtaining this critical information is by turning your idea into a functional prototype. A prototype will allow you to hold the invention in your hands, and make any necessary modifications to your final design. 3D CAD renderings and simulations will also help define the limits of your invention.

Below we discuss the two main benefits of a provisional patent application for your hardware startup:

Your Invention is Legally Protected

In the early-stage of product development inventors understand the importance of confidentiality and protecting their idea. While a confidentiality agreement will suffice when talking about your idea with engineering firms and licensing firms, investors can be slightly weary of signing one—and this can make things very difficult if you are seeking outside funding.

“Investors get proposals from many people and if they sign a confidentiality agreement with you, and another who has a similar idea, that could lead to liability on their part where there was no liability present absent them signing an agreement. (IP Watchdog)” Thus, if you want to show someone your invention without any legal protection, the pros and cons must be heavily weighed. If you have a provisional patent application pending though, you have defined your invention and it has a legal filing date, which makes discussing the invention with outside parties much less risky.

The “Patent Pending” Terms Can Be Used

“Patent Pending” is a term that is not only legally beneficial, but it gives your invention and your startup credibility. You are creating “perceived ownership” while defining the details of your idea. An idea that has been turned into a tangible invention (i.e. with a functional prototype) is more valuable when discussing potential licensing agreements and funding with outside investors.

The earlier you file a provisional patent application, the quicker you limit your exposure and prevent others from cutting off your rights (i.e. by filing for a similar invention before you do). The “Patent Pending” term shows that you have established priority for the idea/invention.

Developing a product should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint. Taking your time early in the product development process to protect your invention will be immensely beneficial for your hardware startup later on.

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5 Major Challenges of Manufacturing Your Product Abroad

The manufacturing phase of product development is one of the stages that causes hardware startups the most stress. By the time you reach the manufacturing phase, you have a solid design in place, funding efforts are either underway or nearing completion and you now find yourself with the (daunting) task of securing a manufacturing partner. Keep in mind that manufacturing, either locally or abroad, comes with obstacles—however, these obstacles don’t have to be a crushing deal breaker for your startup.

If you have decided to manufacture your product abroad, there are a few additional obstacles that need be accounted for. Below we discuss five challenges your hardware startup will face while manufacturing your product abroad.

Cultural Differences

It’s no secret that business is done differently all over the world. In one country a handshake can seal the deal, while in another a deal may quickly vanish if you find yourself late to a meeting. Before you start connecting with manufacturers, learn the culture. Research cultural etiquette and, if possible, talk to others that have done business in the country before. A little research ahead of time, can save you major heartache later on.

manufacturingQuality Assurance

When you are not in the same country as your manufacturer it is very easy to lose product quality. Things usually start off well, yet as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years, quality can fade without your awareness. To protect yourself and the integrity of your product, be sure to include quality clauses in your contract and continuously examine and test your product.

Large Quantities

Most of the time you will need to order large quantities to receive a price break and make it worth while for your business. Quantities of this size can cause a bit of a cash crunch for a hardware startup just gaining its footing. With larger quantities also comes longer wait times. You may find yourself waiting months for your product to make it to the United States.

Choosing the Right Manufacturer

Whether you are manufacturing abroad or at home, this is always a challenge. Ideally you want a manufacturing partner that has experience manufacturing similar products to yours who is easy to communicate with. Vet prospective manufactures and select a factory that has the best reputation. If you are not able to inspect the manufacturer and factory on your own, consider outsourcing an audit. Before the contract is signed, do your due diligence so you can be confident that your product is in the right hands.

Logistical Costs

If you are manufacturing your product in another country there will be the additional costs associated with logistics. These fees can vary widely and become shockingly high if not researched properly. Before finalizing your decision of manufacturing abroad, take this cost into consideration to be sure that it isn’t a deal breaker for you.

Manufacturing abroad comes with certain trade-offs. Do your research and reach out for experienced expert advice before you delve into this phase of product development.

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