A lot of new experiences involve an element of risk, but the success rate statistics for product innovation would upset even the most determined inventors and designers. Fortunately, they rarely look at such figures, because they’re too busy being creative and defying convention. But what if you want to temper all that passion with a little caution? What if you want to maximise the chances of your new idea actually making it to the market as a profitable product?
1. Ignore your mother...
...or any other friend or relative who says that your idea is a world beater and guaranteed to be a success. Don’t get me wrong, the support of your nearest and dearest will be essential as you develop your idea, but their enthusiasm should not be confused with proper market research and analysis.
If you want to minimise your risks, you need to be absolutely clear what the market potential of your idea will be. That includes defining how it will improve the lives of your potential customers. Will it be faster/cheaper/easier to use than current alternatives, or just better looking? How does it compare to your competition, both in terms of similar products and other ways of solving the same problem? If your design could be disruptive, map out how your innovation could change people’s lives, and what other products or services could form part of your overall plan.
Profile the types of people who will buy your product so you can work out the features and qualities that will make it attractive to those groups. Think about the life-cycle of the product – is it a new technology or based on something that might become obsolete quite soon? Consider what your idea will be worth to people, either because it takes away a pain or delivers a pleasure. Finally, try to establish an idea of what people will pay for your product, based on the price of similar offerings in the market and an evaluation of what it does for your potential customers.
For more advice on defining the market potential of a new product idea, download guides number 1 and number 3 from the Crucible website.
2. Get protected
There is a lot of nonsense written about protecting your intellectual property. There are also a number of unscrupulous companies who are happy to exploit the understandable anxiety that many inventors and designers have about protecting their ideas.
My advice is quite simple. To begin with, visit a website called 'Guide for Inventors', which is the successor to the excellent book 'A Better Mousetrap'. it takes you - in a very common sense and practical way - through every aspect of protecting and commercialising your idea or invention, including design registration, patents and licensing arrangements. You will also need to talk to specialists at some point, possibly to carry out a patent search or draft an application. I would also strongly advise against talking to anyone with the "Got an idea? Talk to us and get rich quick" style of advertising.
However, before you discuss your idea with anyone, you should draft a non-disclosure agreement or NDA . That will allow you to talk to potential suppliers and collaborators whilst still keeping your idea safe and confidential. Speaking of suppliers…
3. Find your mastic man
A skilled technician can put a perfect bead of mastic sealant around a sink in seconds. The rest of us take a long time to apply, shape and smooth the stuff, and the result still doesn't look as good as the one done by ‘mastic man’.
This is just an illustration that, in an increasingly specialised world, you can minimise your risks, and lead times, by working with the right specialists. Whether it is product design, engineering, electronics, packaging, regulatory issues or prototyping, there will always be issues and subjects that you either know little about or don’t have time to grapple with.
Many of these skill sets can be bought in on a temporary basis to solve specific challenges, but always make sure that the people you work with are organised as a team, however fluid or temporary it is. After thirty years of seeing projects managed and mis-managed, there is no doubt at all in my mind that assembling and working with a good team is the key to successful product development. For more information on this topic, download guide number 2 on the Crucible website.
Once you have your mastic men and women organised into a team, make sure they meet frequently, take notes and make decisions. That will allow you to identify issues before they become problems, maintain your time scale and ensure that things get done. Sounds obvious, but very few companies actually do it.
4. Don't cut corners
Whilst it is extremely tempting to do everything as quickly as possible so that you can rake in the profits from your new product, this approach is full of traps. Instead of treating time as the enemy, view it as a resource to be invested. Here are a few critical areas where it is worth spending some:
- Identifying your market and making sure that it is large enough and wealthy enough to buy your product in profitable quantities.
- Getting the design right, both technically and aesthetically. The first is vital, and includes how it is used as well as how it works. The second depends on your market, and the importance that it places on appearance.
- Prototyping, testing and approvals. Many people seem to think that you can leap from an initial prototype to manufacture and sales. Depending on your product and the sector you are in, thorough prototyping, testing and approvals processes can take months or years.
- Finding the right production partners. Finding good manufacturing suppliers, which may include companies that will assemble, package and ship your product, can make the difference between a profitable project and a complete disaster. Make sure that you find suppliers with a substantial track record, some great testimonials and a good credit rating.
Ideally, your business planning should also contain some form of risk assessment, where you can identify potential problems and estimate their impact. This does not need to be a complicated exercise, but it will help you separate issues that might become catastrophic from those that can be improved later when you have more time and, hopefully, income.
Developing new products is an exciting and potentially highly profitable activity, but it does involve significant technical and financial risks. Some of these are inevitable, as new ideas are tested, modified and developed, but it is possible to take out unnecessary risks that might kill an otherwise brilliant idea. By making sure that your idea is viable, that your intellectual property is protected, that you have the right team in place and enough time to develop it properly, you will have gone a long way towards achieving success with your new product.