How To Successfully Get A Physical Product Invention Idea To Market

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By Kevin Mako, founder of Mako Design, the original product design firm providing world-class end-to-end product development tailored to hardware startups.

Knowing how to get a physical product from a sketch on a napkin to store shelves seems like a daunting task; however, it can be understood fairly quickly with the right behind-the-scenes insight. I have worked with over 1,000 hardware startups in developing their hardware product ideas, so the path to creating a successful product has become abundantly clear over the last 20 years of doing this and nothing else. It has also become equally (or even more) clear as to what does not work.

If you are sitting on your first invention idea and searching around the internet for answers, it is admittedly difficult to find clarity on this topic. Until now, with this article.

Simply put, almost every successful physical consumer product you see in the market today that was invented by a startup or home inventor became successful by getting the product manufactured. This seems obvious at first glance; however, many first-time inventors get caught up in thinking that there are “shortcuts” like licensing their invention idea, getting a big brand partner, selling their idea to the highest bidder, etc. All of these shortcuts and get-rich-quick concepts are fallacies in the actual new product market today.

When you watch Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den and you see an invention getting pitched, what is the first question the savvy investors always ask? — How many sales have you made, and what are your margins?

Simply put, in modern times, it is far easier to win the lottery than it is to get an invention licensed that is still in development (i.e., does not yet have real customers). The good news is that licensing, partnerships, white labeling, buy-outs, etc. certainly do happen; however, they happen after the product has gone to market and has had at least a few hundred real customers — customers who ideally also are raving fans of the actual physical product in their hands (meaning lots of great reviews of your product).

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In my entire career in this business, I have never seen a home inventor or a startup successfully and profitably license, sell or otherwise shortcut a product to market. Understanding how to get to market is simple: Develop your product, get to production and then sell units. After that, look at the whole range of options you will have to grow, scale, license and/or outright sell your product.

Go to the list of top hardware startups on Crunchbase and you will see that literally every single one in the top 100 on that list first became successful by developing their product to get it into production (and likely the entire list; I stopped looking after the first 100).

The second piece of good news is that if you are not financially willing to fully develop and produce your invention idea yourself, there are lots of options along the path to help you get there; however, all of them still have manufacturing as the goal. First, once you at least get through the professional CAD design phase, and ideally into prototyping, you can look to raise an angel investment or seed financing round. Then, at the point where you are ready for production (finished development and all prototyping), you can do a crowdfunding round to have real buyers pre-purchase units so that you can use that money to actually pay for the manufacturing of those units.

In conclusion, if you have a physical product idea or are in development, focus your energy on getting to that first production run. It does not even need to be a big production run, just something to get real units into users’ hands so they can start giving your innovation great reviews.