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Are you ready to launch a startup in 2018? As the year begins to wind down, many people use this time to assess current goals and make new goals for the year ahead. A new year is often looked at as a fresh start or a new beginning—a time to make a change and forge a new path.
If you are considering developing a product or launching a hardware startup in the new year, we have a few pieces of advice to help you gear up for this adventure and to get you started in the right direction.
Grab a computer and start typing. Write everything down that has to do with your product idea. What it looks like, how it will function, its size, who will use it—all of this needs to be down on paper so that you can review every detail about the innovative idea swirling around in your head.
We suggest that you draft a business plan, however don’t get bogged down by it. Business plans can be high level, and just a couple of pages at this point. A business plan is a great way to take all of the details you have written down, and organize them. A simple internet search for a business plan template can help get you started. With your ideas organized and in one place, you can then begin the process of listing “action items” and getting to work on them.
In the very early stages, a homemade prototype may suffice. Depending on your product idea, you might be able to find the items you need to build a rough version at your local home improvement store. As you build upon your idea and start to assess your target market, you will need to work on a functional prototype.
A functional prototype will allow you to refine your design, gather market feedback, rally financial support (if you are looking for VC or crowdfunding investments) and file a patent.
Many people envision entrepreneurs as “lone wolves”, however this could not be further from the truth. No one person has the skill sets necessary to build a startup completely alone from start to finish—the key is to find quality partners. You might decide to bring partners on full-time or to consult with outside agencies (product development, intellectual property, legal matters, to name a few).
Often, entrepreneurs think that they need to have a firm idea in place before setting up a time to meet with a product development firm, this is not the case. Many times, a product development firm will be able to help you refine your idea and provide suggestions on maximizing the design. A product development firm has extensive experience in both design and manufacturing, so meeting them early-on is advantageous.
The new year is a time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you still find yourself on the fence about developing that product idea, ask yourself this one simple question, Why not?
Have additional product development questions? Please e-mail them to us at email@example.com
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, we are happy to help!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com, we are happy to help!
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)”
Learn 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As news of the latest advancement in experimental 3D printing of tissue and organ regeneration gains attention, it would be easy to believe that 3D printing in the medical field only happens in the lab. However, new equipment and devices are being 3D printed now and in real world settings.
After years of feasibility studies, 3D printing for medical equipment and prostheses is becoming reality.
Reports have continually shown that 3D printed devices are both practical and less expensive than traditional options. For example, a University of South Florida study[i] related to prosthesis molds found that “Owing to the similarity of the 3D printed materials and the traditional materials, the 3D printed molds are easily integrated into current processing procedures.” And a UK study[ii] observed that 3D printed sensors added onto a prosthesis could help medical professionals increase comfort levels for the prosthesis wearer. In addition to better comfort, these sensors improved overall patient care.
Alan Louie, research director for IDC’s Health Insights Life Sciences Practice, which helps investors with business decisions, has this to say about 3D printing technology: “There is a lot of investment in 3D printing at the moment because there are some very clear ways that the technology can be used to improve existing processes.”[iii]
Louie sees 3D printers as a way to revolutionize medicine. “There are areas where you can determine that using a 3D-printed replacement for the current methodology can actually save money, improve healing, reduce pain, and improve overall patient care—all positive driving factors that are helping the industry move forward.”
An example of how 3D printing medical tools reduces costs is with this bone drill that required an update to better suit the needs of both the patient and surgeon. The existing drill needed a redesign that would consistently keep its temperature low in order to avoid having to pause the procedure to let the tool cool down. The only solution available prior to the 3D printed upgrade was to pause drilling. However, with the assistance of 3D printing technology, a new drill was made using a biocompatible material “designed with their own integrated cooling ducts”. This new drill could be used for longer periods of time during a surgery. “The tests of the 3D printed bone drill determined that its use had reduced the temperature produced by drilling up to 70%”. This upgraded device has shortened the time required for surgery, saving both time and money.
The design process for medical devices and tools begins with patients, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They are at the forefront of the industry and keenly aware of the challenges, limitations and frustrations with existing devices. From their daily observations, efficient product re-designs and new medical device designs can, and will, transform the entire medical support field. These innovative ideas create an opportunity to improve care and support, while reducing costs.
3D printing is quickly reshaping the medical device landscape and creating more efficient tools for the medical community. Rapid prototyping brings to life product ideas that support patient care while keeping innovation at the forefront of design.
[i] Jairo Chimento, M. Jason Highsmith, Nathan Crane, (2011) “3D printed tooling for thermoforming of medical devices”, Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 17 Issue: 5, pp.387-392
[ii] Development and validation of a 3D-printed interfacial stress sensor for prosthetic applications. Laszczak, P. et al. Medical Engineering and Physics, Volume 37, Issue 1, 132 – 137.
About the Guest Author:
Becky Wilson writes about the applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, highlighting the heart in the tech. Known as Writing by Becky, she lives in Nova Scotia with her family, including two cat overlords, along with various tech gadgets – maybe adding a 3D food printer someday. You can connect with Becky on Twitter (@WritingByBecky).
A one-size-fits-all approach can be utilized for a lot of things however, product development is not one of them. Throughout development, the stages of the “Product Development Cycle” will remain relatively unchanged (Concept, Design, Prototype, Test/Validate, Manufacture and Commercialize), but the approach and time spent in each stage will fluctuate based on the individual needs of your product.
When it comes to the development of a product, there is a great deal of time, energy and effort that goes into both the specialty design and product launch. Just like the fact that each product is unique, product development needs to be unique and customized in order to be successful.
Below we discuss three examples of why the “one-size-fits-all approach” just doesn’t work.
Chances are that if you are working on a highly specialized product, a one-size-fits-all approach would be detrimental to its outcome. Medical equipment, custom manufacturing tools and prosthetics are examples of products that need specialized attention and where precision and accuracy are of the upmost importance. When it comes to the development of these products, your product design will need to be extremely detail oriented and there is no room for error.
With the help of 3D printing technology, one-of-a-kind products are now feasible and quickly gaining in popularity. In a world full of customers, individuals want to stand out and have their unique style recognized. Customers are shying away from the “big box retailer” approach to purchasing products and instead opting for products that suit their specific needs. Hardware products that are highly customized range from in-ear headphones, replacement car parts to orthopedics. With the onset of mass customization, the phrase “one size fits none” is becoming more of a reality for hardware startups and manufacturers alike.
When it comes to licensing and intellectual property, a highly customized product development plan needs to be in place. Often times the product development cycle will also be slightly altered if you are aiming for a licensing agreement or focused on obtaining a patent.
With a license agreement, you will not focus as much on the commercialization stage of product development, since this will be taken care of by the licensee. Instead, your energy will be on developing a product that meets the needs of customers while simultaneously appealing to potential licensees.
If obtaining a patent is your goal, you are going to need to focus more energy early in the development cycle on items such as: patent research and line drawings. Depending on the type of patent you are trying to get, the process can take months or even years, so from the start you will need to communicate to your team what your goals are after obtaining your patent.
Developing a product is a very personal journey for many entrepreneurs—nurturing an idea and seeing that idea take form and eventually a place on store shelves is no easy undertaking. With the right product development approach and team by your side, reaching your end goal can be both feasible and enjoyable.