Picture it: you’ve had your lightbulb moment. You have a great idea for a fantastic product, and it’s going to save people a lot of time, money, or just make their lives better. Your product is going to be awesome. Does this sound like you?
Nothing compares to the excitement we get when we have a great product or business idea and that urge to just get it started as soon as possible. Every day, entrepreneurs go through these motions and attempt to bring their product idea to market, pouring thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours into development – and many of them fail. But why did they fail if their product ideas were so great? The reason usually boils down to not following one of five crucial steps every aspiring innovator should take.
By following these five pieces of advice and being realistic and critical with your product idea, you will give it the best possible chance of making it to market and succeeding. I’ve been developing innovations with people for the past 20 years. If you’re not sure what to do after creating your product idea, here are 5 things you should do.
File a patent
Have you ever watched the show Dragons’ Den (or Shark Tank for our American readers)? In many episodes, an enthusiastic entrepreneur will come in with a fantastic product idea and give a great presentation to the investors, but as soon as they’re questioned on the patent status of their product, they stumble. “We have a patent!” they’ll cry but on further due diligence it appears they only have patent pending status. Or they’ll say “we have a patent on the software, so we’re protected!” but fail to understand the importance of patenting the hardware too.
If you have a totally unique product idea and want to take it to market, a patent is extremely important. Eventually other companies in your market will try to replicate what you’ve done or find ways to take a share of your revenue. Not having a solid patent on your idea that ensures you have a Unique Selling Point which other companies cannot compete with is like leaving your front door wide open for fierce competition.
There’s a website called Espacenet where you can browse other patents on products in your market. You’ll be able to see if anyone has protected your idea already, and get inspiration for how to do your product differently. Sometimes just browsing other companies’ patents leads to new and even better product ideas!
You should also know after 20 years has lapsed on a patent, you can normally use any part of it in your product. It’s always good to talk to a patent attorney about your idea and its unique features to see how you can move forward. Most patent attorneys will offer you 30 mins of free advice, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?
Talk to other entrepreneurs
Fantastic businesses and products are made when talented people work together and share their ideas. Every market comes with unexpected risks and nuances, and it’s good to get an idea of these before launching a product. So, you should always try to speak to other entrepreneurs and startups in your market to glean useful information.
You don’t have to reveal too much information about your idea if you’re uncomfortable with it. Just saying “I’m X and I have an interesting idea in the Y industry that would do Z” is often enough to convince some industry figures to have a quick conversation with you.
Google search is also a great tool in this context. You can find other entrepreneurs and small businesses in your market and network with them through LinkedIn and email. And if you really want to become an industry expert – and have the time and money to spare – going to conferences, trade shows and events can help you meet people and learn more.
Do competitor research
Companies sink or float based on how useful their idea is to the end consumer, and how much competition is out there for the consumer to pick between. Assessing your target market and finding out who you’re up against is an absolute must before going through with any product idea.
Let’s say you have an idea for a baby changing bag you want to create and sell. You’ll want to search for all their big brands of baby bags and analyse their websites to see what they’re doing already, what they could be missing and what obviously works. You may have new ideas in terms of colours, patterns and materials – ideas that differentiate you from your competition and make your product more desirable to the consumer.
Some good questions to ask yourself during your competitor research:
Who are the big players in my market and is there room to compete with them?
What do consumers like and what are the current trends in my market?
What sells best and how can I improve on existing ideas to give myself an advantage?
Are there unsolved problems in the current products on the market and can I find a unique way to solve them?
Understand your market
Every day, product-based businesses fail and close their doors for one simple reason: people didn’t want or need what they were selling.
Creating a great product but discovering later down the road that actually there’s nothing compelling consumers to buy your product is a really easy error to make. Many successful entrepreneurs have made this mistake before they found their big break!
When you understand your consumer, you understand how to make something they’ll love. During the conception and planning phase of your product development, you should be talking to as many people as possible to see if they like the idea or could find it helpful. Fellow entrepreneurs, consumers, marketers, even just random friends who have an interest in your market.
Many entrepreneurs are terrified of telling people about their ideas because they think someone will think “that’s genius, I’ll make that!” and copy their business plan. Although market competition is a very real thing, it’s actually exceedingly unlikely that you’ll have your product idea stolen in my experience.
Most other great innovators and business people with the resources to copy your idea are too busy working on other projects! However it is always best to talk to a Chartered Patent Attorney to see what can be done to protect your future potential Intellectual Property. Confidentiality agreements can often help ensure that you don’t inadvertently stop yourself getting a patent further down the line. Take some legal advice on this but don’t let it stop you obtaining the valuable market insights you so desperately need.
Create a prototype
After you’ve confirmed that your idea is needed by consumers, different from the competition, and has room to grow in your market, it’s time to start making it. And this is where many inventors try to run before they can walk. They’ll pour too much of their budget into unnecessary features, try to build their product from the top down, or get bogged down in the details. That’s why you need to start with a prototype.
If you can, try to get some initial drawings of your idea – a basic prototype, that’s all. Many people find this stage very difficult, so start small. Jot your design down on a piece of paper, create a model out of easily accessible parts like cardboard or wood, or design a crude 3D model (you can learn how to do this with free software like Blender very quickly).
Your prototype doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles of your final product – in fact it should have the bare minimum required for the product to function and benefit the consumer. A barebones design with nothing super fancy or complicated. This will give you a brilliant starting point to begin the nitty gritty of product development, and give you a reference point to return to if you struggle along the way.
If you’re not an expert in product development or don’t have thousands to spend on hiring a team to build your idea for you, you should really consider recruiting the expertise of a product design company. A great agency will help you create proper prototypes, design your product for cost-efficient manufacturing, and lead you through bringing your idea to market.
Done your research, proven your concept, but need an extra hand with design? Book a call with one of our experienced product designers at D2M.