From Prototype To Product

Conceiving of and designing a product is one thing, but building a relationship with the factory or software developers who will build it requires an entirely different set of skills and strategies.

The two categories of products most business will create are software and physical products, though some businesses will have to create both. Let’s go over some useful tips for each.

“[Chinese manufacturers] don’t want to think about your product, they just want to produce [it]” - Arthur Zang

Bringing Software from Prototype to Product

The moment you introduce a full-scale factory into your product development things get a bit more complicated. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, far from it. What it means is that you’re going to have to be prepared to get hands on.

The first and perhaps most important lesson to bear in mind with software is that the prototype-product (or alpha-beta) distinction is often overemphasized. It creates the impression that the final product is going to be somehow ‘finished’. Often, that mindset leads to perfectionism and big delays in getting a product launched.

A related issue is the belief that you know what the customer needs. In reality, you want to get customer feedback as early and often as possible. Don’t get stuck believing the Steve Jobs fallacy (that you actually know what the customer needs better than they do. In fact, that kind of thinking led Jobs himself to fail more than he succeeded).

For Edward, that meant not only going to a customer service center to have lengthy discussions with employees and managers about what they wanted from his software. It also meant identifying key people in that organization who were particularly helpful and open about their feedback.

By working more closely with those people, he got himself better feedback faster.

#Bringing a Physical Product from Prototype to Product

“You should be prepared for losses.” - William Addo

One necessary element is traveling to the factories producing your products, not just once but as many times as is necessary. Why do this? First, to understand who you’re working with and develop a good business relationship. Both Mr. Addo and Arthur learned the hard way how difficult that can be.

For Mr. Addo it came down to finding a factory which performed as well as they presented themselves. As with most business relationships, it’s easy to keep everyone happy when things are running smoothly. But, when an issue arose with the nozzles on his product, getting the company to fix its mistake proved difficult and costly.

Arthur learned that as a foreigner, he was viewed different when he visited potential factories in China. They assumed he had plenty of money to throw around and quoted him different prices. Here, again it was important to develop a personal relationship and keep strict quality standards backed up by personal inspections.

As Arthur put it, “you have to be patient.” He explained that if you’re more focused on the money you’re spending to get it right than on the results, you’re probably not going to get the results you want.

So in the end it comes down to being hands on, patient, personal, and focusing on the right end goals (the right product).

Can you relate to the stories we told here? How is your experience different? We’d love to hear from you. Your questions and comments are what will help us make better lessons in the future.