So you have an idea for a product, but at this point it’s just an idea. The process of making that idea in your head into a physical product alone can be daunting, let alone developing a business around it. Although there is not a cookie-cutter approach when it comes to launching a product, there are several steps you can take to help you on the path.
The very first steps of getting an invention off the ground is to put everything that you hope this product will be on paper. Write down and talk the ideas through to yourself and to others to determine if the idea has validity and really will fulfill the need that you have in mind. You can begin writing down possible pricing models and researching similar products already in the market. Creating this product plan sheet will help you have a clear vision in mind before you begin spending any money or making any prototypes.
Researching similar products that already exist is a step that cannot be overlooked. A simple Google search can go a long way in saving potential future heartache. A good product fills a need in a market, so first establish through research that this need actually exists and establish that it’s not already being filled through other means (such as another similar product). Although it is important to remember that just because a similar product already exists (barring that product having a patent) doesn’t mean that your product cannot have success. Name brand versus generic pharmaceuticals are prime examples of this; through brand loyalty and smart marketing you can differentiate your product from others already present in the market.
When documenting your product – what it is, what it will do, and what need it fulfills – keep your ‘target market’ in mind. A target market is the group of consumers (i.e. male teenagers, college students, etc.) that your product is aimed at, and therefore you will want to focus your attention marketing and designing the product with these consumers in mind. Write down who your target market is, big and bold, so that when you are later looking at different market and design strategies you can do this with your target market in mind. Does this target market see the need/inefficiency in the market the same as you?
Once you’ve researched and documented everything about your potential product the next step is to get the product physically in your hand. A working prototype can go a long way in giving validation to your plans and silencing any skeptics. Often seed capital is needed to get the initial product off the drawing board. This can be obtained through a variety of different means, including business credit cards or small business loans, though the latter can be harder to obtain. Other sources of seed or startup capital include angel investors, venture capitalists, and angel groups. Remember that often some of these sources can provide a lot more than simple seed capital; they can offer advice and counsel that can be crucial in your start-up years. Seek out credit lines that will support you and reward you. You may even want to consider using this time to start credit card flipping, to build up rewards while you start building up credit for your business.
Once your prototype is complete be sure to rigorously test your prototype through a variety of conditions to test for consistency and safety. With the increased connectivity of markets, bad quality and inconsistency can quickly lead to bad reviews which can tank your product’s chance of success before it even gets off the ground.
Establishing and maintaining good business credit from the very start of your business establishment will be crucial for future potential growth, so learn how to read an Equifax business credit report. Your personal credit will make up the basis for your small businesses credit, but over time it will develop and have strength and legitimacy of its own.
If you’ve watched a single episode of ‘Shark Tank’ then you know just how important a patent can be. A patent has the power to draw investors and provides credibility to any product launch. The patent system in America is designed to be in your favor, meaning as long as you fulfill the necessary requirements you should be able to obtain a patent for your product. The three major requirements are that the product needs to be: non-obvious (it can’t be something that everyone already knows about), have utility (it can’t be pointless), and it needs to novel or new. So as long as your product meets these requirements then you can and should try to obtain a patent. One of the major reasons why a patent is so valuable is that it gives you a government sanctioned monopoly in your sector of the market. No other similar product will be able to enter the market, and therefore you will be able to charge a higher price and not have to spend as much money marketing your product’s differences.
Although the requirements to obtain a patent may be a little more lax than one might expect, the actual cost of obtaining a patent can be quite high due to the complicated application process. It may also take more time than you might expect. Having to prove the requirements can be a daunting task and so therefore having someone experienced with this task (i.e. a patent lawyer) is critical. This usually results in a patent costing anywhere from $4,000 – $15,000. This cost is one of the major reasons why many people don’t try for a patent. The benefits of a patent can far outweigh their costs, however, so if your product is patentable then obtaining one prior to product launch is vital.
Marketing your product is a very specific action that can be executed in many different ways. The number one thing to consider when determining how to market your product is who your target audience is. Each possible ‘target audience’ needs to be approached in different ways in order to effectively market your product to them. So determine how your target market will see your product; will you go through a big box retailer (Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc.), smaller specialty store or try and sell directly online? The fight to get shelf space can be very intense, and it usually starts with a soft launch in select store, and then expands from there. If your product is sold at a grocery store then you may be required to even pay for shelf space, and you will have to make the decision whether or not you will pay extra for premium shelf space.
No matter what route you use to take your product to market, developing a virtual home for your product (i.e. a website and/or a page on a shopping website such as Amazon) will be crucial to your marketing effort. Being able to quickly and succinctly inform your target audience of what your product is, and why they need it, can greatly increase your success.
After every step of the process it is important to seek out and apply feedback to your decisions. Although it is your product and ultimately your decision, it is important to not let this cloud your judgment from making simple smart changes that could help your product perform better. Seek out feedback from individuals with experience in your desired market and from individuals in your target market.
If you are planning to market and sell your product overseas then there are government agencies that can help your business. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) has the goal of empowering exporters of U.S. goods and services in order to bolster job growth. To help achieve this they provide a variety of services such as private export financing, export credit insurance, working capital guarantees, and guarantees of commercial loans to foreign buyers. This independent agency can be an extremely valuable tool to help your product reach a significantly larger audience.
If you are crunched on time or don’t feel like you can devote the necessary time to your product launch there are several companies that can help you launch a product from the ground up. Some of these companies include GSK Innovations, Inventhelp, and Brainy Inventor. These companies charge fees to help you create designs, develop market strategies, and among other things, help you secure a patent. The expertise that these firms bring to the table could possibly be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful product, although it is not the cheapest option or a guarantee of success. Like all choices you make when deciding which path to take while launching your product, weigh your options and pick the choice that you believe will be right for you in the long run.
Crowdfunding is quickly becoming one of the top methods to get an invention off the ground. It combines many of the steps required to launch a product into one step. A well executed crowdfunding venture can result in thousands of interest free dollars from investors and valuable marketing to get your new product noticed. The general principle of crowdfunding is simple: individuals can invest in start-up products in return for a future product or reward. Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Seedrs are where almost all the crowdfunding takes place online. These websites will charge a percent fee (Kickstarter charges a flat 5% fee, while Indiegogo and Seedrs offer different fee options) of the total amount fundraised. These websites also allow inventors to gauge interest, market demand, willingness of consumers to pay, and different pricing strategies. This benefit, coupled with direct investment from thousands of potential investors, makes crowdfunding an increasingly popular option. There is no need to research market demand or market the product to consumers, because the crowdfunding process allows for this to happen automatically. Crowdfunding also lends authority to the launch of the product, with many consumers feeling more comfortable with this method than other investment means.
Although there are many positives to crowdsourcing, don’t think that crowdfunding is necessarily the only or even the best way to go about launching a product. The application process adds another hurdle to the start of launching a product. Significant self marketing may be required. Additionally, foreign copycats have been known to copy even patented products and try and launch them to the public before crowdfunding is completed. Weighing the positives and negatives is key when trying to determine which method would be best for the launch of your product.
Launching a product can be one of the most fulfilling things you ever do — watching an idea turn into a product, and then watching that product turn into a business. The sense of fulfillment knowing that you produced something that others want, and the feeling that without you it would have never have existed, is different than other business ventures you can embark on. The path is tricky and many people slip through the cracks on their way through it, which is why seeking counsel and planning out your path of action from the start is so crucial to your product’s success.