Eight tips to Survive your Product Launch from the i3D summit
John Hayes posted on December 02, 2013 |

The Maker movement is turning into the start-up economy.  New companies are launching at a feverish pace, fueled by capital from the likes of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  

They are leveraging open source platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and cranking out prototypes on 3D Printers.  Sometimes it seems like anybody can launch a start-up hardware company.  

But not every story has a fairy tale ending.  Most will fail. 

i3D is a meet-up in Las Vegas aimed at helping start-ups commercialize their products.  Autodesk recruited some great speakers to talk about product design, innovation and failure including Beto López of IDEO, Jen McCabe from the Vegas Techfund and Alice Taylor of Makielab

You won’t like everything they have to say.  But if you are thinking of rushing to bring your smartphone-enabled robotic key finding invention to market in time for Christmas, read on to learn why you are pretty much doomed before you start.

1.       Jen says to build a product that people want, you need to focus first on your target customer and their needs. Then assemble a team.  And finally, start designing a product.  Almost every team on Kickstarter does the opposite.  They start with the product idea, then assemble the team, and finally they show it to customers.  Tell me this doesn’t sound like every invention you’ve ever heard of.

2.       Jen also says teams need to manage two different product models concurrently.  Your “looks-like” model is the one that you use to solicit feedback from prospective customers.  Your “works-like” model is the one that the designers and engineers use to develop the functionality.  Beto says you ideally develop both of these models concurrently so that they never get too far apart.

3.       Customers lie.  Participants in a focus group will tell you what they think you want to hear.  They’ll say they will buy something if it has feature X, but they won’t.  They lie because they don’t want to be the ones to burst your bubble.  Friends are even worse.  The only way to get the truth is to watch people addressing their needs in the real world.  You can’t escape product anthropology.

4.       Design teams get seduced by thinking about production too early.  Images of factories busily making their products get lodged in their dreams.  They want to get on a plane to visit plants in China before they even build a successful prototype.  But production is only one part of the process of i) design, ii) produce, iii) sell, iv) ship and v) service.  And production is not the most important of the 5 steps.

5.       Organizations fail to innovate because they try to manage it, rather than lead it.  To lead, industrial designers need to look for answers outside the meeting room, in the context of customers using your product or prototype. 

6.       When innovation collides with a GANTT chart, the team has to change the delivery plans or the product will fail.  You can’t be a slave to a schedule before you have a viable product. 

7.       Alice says that companies need to launch prototypes rather than finished products, even though you will be excruciatingly embarrassed by how bad they are.  Early customer adopters will tell you what direction to take the product.  If you aren’t embarrassed by your first launch, you launched too late.

8.       Failure is a necessary element of the process. Not for it’s own sake, but for the learning that it brings.  Fail early and often and your cost of failure will be far lower than if you fail in the market.

Beto says most mature design teams and virtually no start-ups will go through the painstaking up-front iterations that it takes to ensure that a product launch will be successful.  They won’t have time to put successive prototypes in the hands of real customers to get feedback.  Instead, they will go all-in on the launch of their real product.

He says these design teams are betting rather than product designing.  In that sense, Las Vegas is a fitting forum for the i3D summit.  

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