src=”https://buffer.com/resources/content/images/2022/04/merve-sehirli-nasir-da_0dNX5aew-unsplash.jpg” alt=”What I Wish I Had Known About Product Development Before I Spent Three Years Doing It”>
It’s not an easy task to build a business. People will tell you this all the time. Perkies, my innovative underwear company, was what I expected when I set up Perkies. It wasn’t about the destination.
It was a three-year journey to create my signature product, a sticky bra with replaceable adhesives. I did not expect it to end in one.
It was worth it, I assure you. The glowing reviews we get from women who feel more confident wearing our product make up for the long days spent cold calling manufacturers, assembling prototypes with my own hands, and developing rash while searching for body-safe adhesives that actually work (true story).
My multi-year timeline for creating a product has never existed before was also not unusual. There are some things that I wish I knew to help me set expectations and make the process go more smoothly.
These are the four things that I wish I knew from the beginning to help other entrepreneurs who are embarking upon the journey of creating a product.
1. It was more complicated than I thought
It was obvious to me when I first thought of creating a product for women tired of having to throw away entire bras because adhesives had worn off. “How could anyone have thought of that before?” I asked myself.
However, I realized quickly that, while other people may have had the same idea as me, not many people had taken the time to turn the idea into a product. This is likely due to the many steps involved.
Let me give you a quick overview. I needed to find the right suppliers for each component and then locate the manufacturers that would put them together. For the bras, we worked with a Chinese manufacturer, American manufacturers for the three adhesives used, and an adhesive converter to laminate the layers into the final stack up. It was also necessary to collaborate with several experts in order to develop special materials and processes. I quickly realized that I would not be able automate everything. I used to cut the adhesives’ exact shapes by hand until recently. I still add the layers of pull tabs myself.
This is not to mention shipping and fulfillment as well as the supply chain problems that have plagued us since the beginning of the plague.
Murphy’s Law was applicable at almost every step of the way. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to extend deadlines while I waited on a manufacturer. I’ve also been in tears when a supplier sent me something that wasn’t working or accidentally sent a defective sample to a customer.
Entrepreneurs who are grity enough to persevere through the challenges will be what ultimately separates an idea and a product. My experience has taught me that it is important to allow yourself sufficient time and mental strength to handle the challenges. It was also incredibly helpful to have other founders of product-based businesses to share my frustrations with.
2. I either needed a lot of time or a lot of money.
If I had a little money, I knew I would be able streamline the development process. I could pay material experts to source the best adhesives. I could also pay manufacturers to expedite my orders. After I had developed a working prototype, it became clear that investors weren’t interested in writing a check. Without money, I could not create my product. I also couldn’t raise funds without a product.
It was hard work. I spent weeks searching for manufacturers that could answer small questions such as whether the adhesive should be thicker to increase adhesion. I tried different adhesives every time I went to a class to test how they held up to sweat for months. To test molds, I invited friends with different sizes of bras to come along. It took a lot of effort and time, but I made small gains towards my goal.
To give myself more financial flexibility, I moved in with my family. If you are unable to move home to start your business, you should make a plan on how you will finance it or how much time you’ll spend. Even if you don’t have a prototype, can you still find angel investors or family members who believe in your idea? I’ve found that angel investors and VC firms who were once founders have a better understanding of product development than those who have never founded a company. You can do product development at night and on weekends, while still working full-time.
3. I had to build interest long before my product was ready.
Because I wasn’t sure how long the whole process would take I felt compelled to keep it secret from my closest friends and family until the final product was available.
Instead, I went out of my comfort zone to create traction on our social media channels. Instead of creating product images, I created fun graphics that hint at the final product. It was also a great way for followers to see the process behind product development. It was beneficial to have an already established following of potential customers when the bras were ready for sale.
A quick way to build brand trust and make a few dollars was to develop an ancillary product. While conducting customer research early on, I discovered sticky nipple cover was a very popular undergarment in this market and that they were much easier to create. So we launched “Perkies Petals”, six months before the sticky bra. This helped me to iron out any kinks in sales or shipping before sticky bras were available.
I also learned a lot about the popular strategy of pre-order solicitation. The bras were pre-ordered by friends and family. While the cash flow was great, it added pressure as we had to push back the timeline (see point 1).
My advice is to only pre-order with people you trust will be tolerant. Whatever approach you take, make sure you do your best to create buzz. It is not what you want to end up with a product only to spend months trying to find customers.
4. Product development never stops
I had to push back the launch date again and again, leaving my family and friends who pre-ordered hanging. Finally, I set a strict deadline for May 2021. Although the product was not 100% ready, I knew that I had to bring it to market. Plus, I wanted to give people their bras before summer. ).
Although it was difficult for perfectionists like me, it proved to be incredibly beneficial. Hearing about real customer experiences with the product has taught me so much. It was a great reminder that even though you don’t want to disappoint customers, you can still improve the product long after it launches. Remember: The iPhone launched without all of the features that it has today.
The majority of feedback I received was positive. However, based on constructive comments from customers, I changed the location of my pull tab on the replaceable glue, and improved the instructions that came with the bra. We are also working on new products to help the business grow.
Also, even though I have been in the business for almost four years, it is still not over. If product development is exhausting and you find it hard to stop, then this might not be the right choice for you. If you think that the constant quest to create something new every day will keep you energized, then you should stick with it. You’ll make something that customers love if you are willing to let go of your pride and put in the effort.
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