Instead, successful entrepreneurs follow certain timeless principles that enable them to make their goals a reality. Fortunately, these principles can be broken down into specific steps that you can adapt to your own product launching efforts. In fact, there are 9 steps to bringing a product to market.
9 Steps to Bringing a Product to Market
In this article, we will examine each of these 9 steps in detail. By understanding these steps inside and out, you will be better positioned to launch your product no matter where in the process you happen to be. Feel free to skip to the stage of product development or launch that you happen to be in.
Step 1: Thinking of an idea
Brainstorming invention ideas can feel like a strange, mystical process. Much of this stems from the way people tend to think about ideas. If you have ever heard someone say “You can’t think of great ideas. They just come to you”, you know what this means. We are taught that good ideas spontaneously pour into us, and we need the good sense to act on them if and when they do. Venture capitalist Paul Graham addresses this in his article “Ideas For Startups”
“If coming up with an idea for a startup equals coming up with a million dollar idea, then of course it’s going to seem hard. Too hard to bother trying. Our instincts tell us something so valuable would not be just lying around for anyone to discover.”
The problem with this line of thinking, as Paul later explains, is that ideas in and of themselves are not what generates millions of dollars. The reason we feel so much internal resistance to the prospect of actively generating ideas is that we figure “If there was a good idea, someone else would’ve had it already.” In fact, this is the wrong way to look at ideas. Generating ideas is an active (and active-minded) process. What really makes ideas pay is how they are executed, which is something you can control considerably. But it does, of course, start with the idea.
So if it is possible to generate ideas, how is it done? One good way to generate ideas is to limit your thinking to fields you like, or know exceptionally well. This limits the people you are competing against to those with your level of passion and expertise.
What you really want to do is turn off the self-censorship instinct that all of us have as human beings. When we come up with ideas or new thoughts, we tend to think “No, that’s stupid” just because we have not already heard it elsewhere. Instead, try submitting your idea to a few minutes of rational scrutiny before discarding it as worthless. Think it through from top to bottom. Would I buy this? If not, why? What might my objections be? Can they be overcome? How? The further you get into this process, the more value your idea probably has. Above all, just let the ideas flow. You will separate the wheat from the chaff in step two.
Step 2: Decide if your idea is worth pursuing.
There’s nothing like the enthusiasm one feels during a proverbial “I’ve got it!” moment. However, you still need to step back and reflect soberly on whether your idea is worth pursuing. Here are some things to consider in doing this.
Determine how well it will work.
How well will your idea work in practice? Will it work well enough to replace what people in this field already use? One easy way to determine this is to actively work in the field you envision your product being used for. This will give you a first hand glimpse into the current reality of what’s out there and let you tangibly see how your creation would improve it. If that’s not possible, find someone you trust in that field and bounce your idea off of them for feedback.
Who wants it?
There’s nothing worse than wasting weeks, months, or even years theorizing about a creation that’s “gonna be soooo great!” only to discover that no specific segment of customers truly wants it. To avoid this nightmare scenario, tell others about your idea. Ask them if and in what way it would truly improve their lives. The trick here is asking people who don’t know you very well. They are more likely to be honest instead of preoccupied with not hurting your feelings.
How can it be made?
Another common pitfall is glossing over the messy particulars of how something will be made. In the euphoria of brainstorming, your mind is naturally drawn to the sexy aspects of invention, such as the huge market waiting to be capitalized or your pitch to investors. Instead, force yourself to focus on exactly what it will take to bring your patent idea to life. How can it be made? What materials are needed? What types of skills are necessary to put it all together? Having firm answers to these questions turns you from dreamer into doer.
If your idea can withstand this type of analysis, you are ready for step three.
Step 3: Creating an inventor’s logbook.
Documenting new ideas is not just good practice. It may be absolutely critical if you intend on getting a patent for something and bringing it to market. So how do you go about keeping good records?
The answer is something called a logbook. A logbook is essentially an inventor’s journal. It is where the inventor keeps track of his progress and dates each step. A logbook proves that you came up with your idea at a certain date and displayed due diligence in pursuing it. However, there are some definite standards you should adhere to when keeping a logbook. This will help ensure that your documentation looks legitimate to patent examiners.
- You should start your logbook as soon as you think of an idea. Write down detailed records of key concepts, test results, and anything else having to do with the creation of your idea. This is the type of material that belongs in a logbook.
- While there are pre-made logbooks for sale, you can easily make your own. Be sure to use a bound notebook, however, and not a loose-leaf. The reason is that bound notebooks make it hard to conceal the fact that pages were added or taken out.
- Number each page consecutively. This establishes that the progress you made on your idea took place in a sequential order that anyone with common sense can observe. When one notebook is full, begin a new one and specify that this notebook is a continuation of the last one. There should be no visible gaps in your record keeping.
- Each entry you write should be signed and dated by you and anyone else who participated in that step of the invention process. If at all possible, get a notary public to sign as well.
- Give each entry a header with information about what is contained in it. For example, the date, subject, number of participants, witnesses, etc.
- Include records of everything you do. When in doubt, assume that it is best to include it. Do not just include successful test results, for example. If you exclude negative findings or tests, the patent examiner may decide that you “cherry-picked” only the good stuff and reject your application.
- Any and all other participants in the invention process need to have their roles disclosed. The importance of this convention cannot be stressed enough. If you omit an inventor’s name from an invention he helped create, it is considered fraud.
- Any loose materials like drawings, photos, or sketches should be signed, dated, and cross-referenced to the notebook entry they pertain to. It is best to tape or staple this material to the notebook entries in question.
Follow these tips, and your documentation will be airtight and at the ready, should a dispute ever arise.
Step 4: Identify a target market.
When you set out to bring a product to market, it’s essential to know which market you are targeting. Many new entrepreneurs make the mistake of shooting for a very broad segment of the population. Their logic is that the more people they target, the more chances they have to make sales. In reality, however, it rarely works this way. In fact, you want to target as narrow a segment as you possibly can. This makes the people you target more likely to buy, and enables you to do more specific market research in your efforts.
Who is your ideal customer? What are their buying behaviors? Is your product seasonal, or do people typically buy it each and every month? The importance of scoping out the market cannot be stressed enough, as it will determine your distribution plans, price structure, and other important factors.
Ultimately, you will craft a marketing plan based on your target market. That is somewhat beyond the scope of this article, but here is a sample marketing plan. Consult it for details on what types of forecasts you should be setting and how to set them.
Once you have thought these questions through and come up with some plausible answers, proceed to step 5.
Step 5: Research that market.
Once you have identified your target market, the next step is to research it.
In this phase, you want to immerse yourself in trade journals, spec sheets, and periodicals about the industry your patent pertains to. You want to discover the prices of various commodities in the market that you will traffic in, the supply and demand patterns that determine the flow of the market. The goal of all this fact-finding is answering the following questions:
- Who are my customers? (age, sex, income, etc.)
- Where are they and how can I reach them? (what magazines/newspapers do they read?)
- What quantity (and quality) do they want? (are there surveys that gather this data?)
- What is the best time to sell? (Seasonal, yearly, etc.)
Many trade journals and industry sources can be accessed via the Internet. Yahoo, for example, offers an abundance of such material segmented by industry. Simply click the industry you want to research (law, jewelry, automotive, etc.) and you can browse a list of sources pertaining to them.
Step 6: Re-evaluate/improve your product based on that research.
To paraphrase Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, “no product survives first contact with reality.” If you are like most entrepreneurs, picking a target market and researching it has given you some ideas to improve your product. Here are some things you can tinker with, based on what you learned?
- Product packaging
- Distribution (where you’ll sell it)
- The name
- Just about anything else open to your control
Once you have made the improvements you see fit, head to step 7 — the prototype!
Step 7: Create a prototype.
Creating a prototype is one of the most rewarding phases of the invention process. It is that fateful day when all your hopes, dreams, planning, and research culminate in a working model. By this point, you are ready to whip up that prototype for display to investors, business partners, or the patent office (see next step.) Keep in mind that your prototype does not have to use the same materials, or look exactly like your finished product ultimately will. It just has to approximate what you have in mind and demonstrate that you are in fact working on it.
Once you have a prototype up and running, you can proceed to step 8.
Step 8: Secure a patent.
In the understandable excitement and inspirational fire of creation, many inventors rush into the patent process without doing their homework. Unfortunately, their zeal to push forward often comes back to haunt them in the form of longer wait times, higher fees, and more work that could have been avoided with proper planning.
One of the biggest mistakes many inventors make is filing a non-provisional patent right away. A non-provisional patent is “the real patent.” To file for one, you need to fill out a bevy of legal forms, include sketches and drawings of your invention, and pay hefty fees. If your application is approved, you are granted a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
While many inventors will one day need to do this, few of them need to do it immediately. Instead, there is another equally safe but less expensive way to go: the $100 provisional patent application. In a provisional patent application, you do not file a formal patent claim, oath, or any disclosure statements about your invention. But what a provisional patent will do is lock in your application date and give you “patent pending” status.
If you have ever seen “patent pending” on product packaging or commercials, it is because the company in question filed a provisional patent application with the Patent and Trademark Office. It is actually unlawful to use “patent pending” unless you have done this.
What this means in layman’s terms is that you can begin to market your invention and gauge how much interest (if any) there is before deciding to file for a non-provisional patent. In the meantime, you can market your invention with the full rights and protections of a non-provisional patent. If you have ever seen “patent pending” on product packaging or commercials, it is because the company in question filed a provisional patent application with the Patent and Trademark Office.
If you are smart and work quickly, you can use that 12 month period to hustle your idea and generate interest in it. By the end of that time you should have a very good idea of whether it is worth applying for a non-provisional patent.
Step 9: Decide on your track
There are several “tracks” you can take to bring your product to the marketplace.
One track is to become an “outsource entrepreneur.” In this way, you essentially become a hired gun. You, the inventor, perform the tasks of researching and developing the product. Then, you “outsource” the manufacturing and marketing to partners with money. Those partners will develop, market, and fund the startup costs. In return for their greater efforts, they will receive a greater return. The benefit to you, however, is that this is one of the quickest ways to bring a product to market and exit with cash in hand. If you are a serial inventor, this can be a great way to build up some cash and move on from one idea to the next.
A second track open to you is licensing or selling your patent outright. Very simply, licensing is when another company takes over your new product idea and cuts you in on the sales via royalties. While selling a patent is fairly self explanatory on the surface, you should seek consultation from a lawyer prior to finalizing an agreement to ensure all legal documents are in place. Licensees can be manufacturers, marketers, or basically anyone who wants to carry your product into the market and pay you for the right to do so. Licensing arrangements are also flexible; some licensees take on all the risk, some take on less. However, most companies will only license a product if they are more or less sure it will succeed. Therefore, it is up to you to convince them of your product’s prospects.
The disadvantage of licensing is that the earning potential is a bit lower than outsourcing, but the tremendous upside is that once you license a product you basically have no more responsibility to the product.
The other track is the most risky, and thusly the most potentially rewarding: starting your own company. In this case, you assume full responsibility: you make the product, you price the product, you get the product online or on store shelves, you handle the accounting, you pay the taxes, you own the process from start to finish. For more information on the steps involved, including writing a business plan and finding a manufacturer, view our other articles.
This is by far the most difficult process and many people rightfully so decide before hand to opt for sales or licensing agreements. However, if you do decide to move forward and create a business (highest reward and most risk) around your intellectual property you want to ensure that you hire on top talent. Failing to do so can lead to years of problems and ongoing stress. It’s far better to invest in something you believe in and share some of the pie to increase your chances of building a successful company than to go it alone and take arrows.
By keeping these 9 steps in mind, you can increase the likelihood of success in bringing a product to market with confidence and profitability.
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