A Five Minute Guide to Creating Your First Physical Product
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Ever wanted to make a product? To create something tangible that people can actually hold in their hands and use? As an entrepreneur, there is perhaps no thrill quite as exciting as creating a physical product – especially if that product is something you’re very proud of, something that you think could really make a difference to people.
What’s more, is that making physical products is still the best way to make money. Unlike a service, a physical product is completely scalable meaning there’s no limit to the potential revenue you can generate. Unlike a digital product, a physical product is something that anyone can appreciate and something that can sell to a huge audience.
To demonstrate the difference here, try and sell an ebook to your Grandma and see how you get on. Now try and sell an ebook to 10 of your friends. Chances are, unless they are very tech savvy and interested in internet marketing, most people you know aren’t going to be interested in buying digital products that they can’t actually hold. MOST people don’t read ebooks and MOST people don’t even understand why they would pay for something they would be able to get online for free (essentially). A digital product on the other hand has very clear inherent value, it’s easy to explain and it feels like a good value proposition. And if they still don’t get it, you can actually show it to them.
For your own sense of satisfaction and for the understanding of your audience, there is nothing quite like making a real actual thing that has a clear function and a clear material value. When you start adding physical products to your site, you’ll find that it immediately elevates your business and that people start taking you more seriously. Only ‘real’ businesses sell real products!
So with all that in mind, why aren’t more people creating their own physical products? Why are there a million ebooks on how to make money from a blog, an ebook affiliate sales and so few on how to create and sell a real, genuine product?
The answer comes down to perception. And specifically, the perception that creating physical products must be hard and probably out of your capabilities.
But the reality is actually quite different from the perception in this case. That is to say, that creating physical products doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, thanks to the tools afforded us by the web, it can actually now be rather easy. In fact, you don’t actually have to do much of it yourself – you can outsource a vast amount of the process and you don’t even need to invest any of your own cash! Read on and we’ll see how this can be possible…
What You’ll Need
To create your own new product from scratch, you’re going to need a few things. Firstly, you need your idea. From there, you then need a plan to put that idea into effect. This plan should essentially include a 3D CAD file (computer aided design), functional specifications, bill of materials and a minimum order of quantity. You’ll also need a prototype.
From here, you then need to find yourself a manufacturer and order X number of products so you can start selling them at a profit. This will require a big upfront payment/investment.
Okay, so admittedly that all sounds a little complicated. But it’s not. Not in today’s digital age anyway! And in this guide, you’re going to learn everything you need in brief. Then, if you want to deliver further, you can read the full eBook (Your First Product) to learn all the shortcuts, trade secrets and alternative options to help you get there even faster!
In short, by the end of this document, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to go ahead and start building your product!
The first thing you need is an idea. You can’t very well make a product, physical or otherwise, if you don’t know what you want to make! To come up with this idea, you’re going to have to think creatively and a bit logically.
To come up with the idea, it pays to first think about the audience you want to target/the niche and then to try and come up with an idea in that area. This will be easier if you are already a blogger, or a YouTuber or otherwise have your own audience of some sort. So if you have a fitness YouTube channel with 10,000 subscribers, you might want to consider making a fitness product. If you often blog about DIY, then creating a DIY tool can help.
Now look for ‘pain points’. What are the most frustrating aspects of that thing you love to do? What could be made quicker? Easier? More fun? This is called ‘scratching your own itch’.
Another idea I like to apply is something I call the ‘step back technique’. This is basically a thought experiment that involves coming up with an idea that is purposefully too ambitious and then ‘stepping it back’. For example, you might decide you want to create a suite of Iron Man armor. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. So instead, think about what the closest thing is to that that you could realistically build. Likewise, think about what it is about that idea that gets you excited. For instance, if you decided you wanted to make something that could make you fly, then you might have been the inventor of the wing suit that was recently on the news. If you decided you wanted to make something that made you travel fast, you might have designed something like an electric skateboard.
Then, you need to make sure that your idea is actually likely to be profitable. Is there an audience out there for what you’re proposing? It’s no good to invest a lot of time and energy into an idea, only to later learn that there’s no-one out there who actually wants to buy it! SO do your market research, ask your audience if they like the idea and look at the competition.
Finally, think about the actual design of your product. This is called ‘design engineering’ and what it basically means, is that the look and feel of your product should be intimately connected to its function. You design what your product looks like and how it works around the intended objective.
So if you invented the hammer, then you might have come up with the idea that you should build something that would make nails easier to drive into wood or walls. But that’s not a product. Rather then, it’s the way you design a tool to give that function that becomes the product. This means creating the handle, making it ergonomic and deciding on the shape and material you’re going to use for the hammerhead.
This stage is also where you need to start thinking about resilience, safety and cost. What materials will you use? Could it be make either bigger or smaller in order to save money, or to make it more resilient? How thick should the product be?
This leads us nicely into the next stage of the process…
Creating a 3D File
So you have your idea and a rough concept of how it’s going to work. The next thing you need to do is to take that idea and turn it into a set of clear instructions that a machine can potentially understand. This means you need to create a 3D model, which is a file that works very much like the 3D graphics in computer games or in films. The only difference is that it needs to be a 3D model that accurately reflects how the end product is going to look.
You can create your 3D model yourself by downloading CAD (computer aided design) software. A free example of such a tool is Blender, though there are many other programs that do the same thing such as Rhinoceros 3D. This is easier than you would expect to use and you can find instructions online.
If you want to add a circuit board to your product though, then you’re going to need to also create a gerber file. You can do this using more 3D software such as Cadsoft Eagle.
Getting daunted? That’s where the first example of the internet ‘being wonderful’ comes in. That’s because it’s actually possible to outsource this whole process to other people – and remarkably cheaply. Sites like CrowdSpring, CAD Crowd or Idea Bounty will allow you to crowdsource this step in the process. All you do is explain your idea, perhaps add a sketch and then pay the person who comes up with the solution you like. You can get some great designs for as little as $7 on some of these sites and they’re regularly used by big companies. Of course you can subsequently tweak the files as much as you like to get it just right. There is a full run down of these resources in the ebook.
Something else to consider is that you can create products using circuit boards that are ready made. For example, the Raspberry Pi can be used to create a wide range of products and you don’t need to pay any license or fee in order to use it in a commercial project! Don’t you love open source?
Making a Prototype
Now comes the fun bit… making your prototype!
What you’re doing here is creating a basic version of your product that might still be a little rough around the edges. But it’s going to serve as a ‘proof of concept’ for you to check over, as well as something you can show to your manufacturers as an example. It can also be used when trying to drum up funding and support on sites like Kickstarter, which we will come to in a moment.
So how do you make your prototype? Well there are plenty of options. One obvious option is just to DIY it. This might mean hammering together some wood or building something from card. Really though, you’ll be better off with something with a similar look and material to the intended finished article. That’s why you’ll want to use ‘3D printing’ which is a tool that basically ‘prints’ a 3D model in a chosen material and with no need for up-front investment. Essentially, 3D printing lets you create as many units of your product as you want and you’ll only pay for the cost of the material plus a small fee for the company handling the printing. Of course you can also buy your own 3D printer but these are expensive depending on the type of objects you need.
A great example of a site that handles 3D printing is Shapeways. This site will let you send off a 3D STL file and will return your object in the post, made from your chosen material. You could create a plastic action figure for example of yourself and it would only cost whatever the plastic, metal or china cost. Assuming you’re using a plastic resin and the model is a few inches tall, it probably won’t cost much more than $5-$30.
The great thing about 3D printing is that it’s so easy and accessible As long as you have the requisite file, you can build anything you like. This means that in theory, you could actually sell basic products this way. Say you want to build a phone case, all you’d have to do is design the 3D model (making sure to get the measurements right) and then order a bulk of that item for you to sell on to others.
In fact, if you want to make your own smartphone or some other ‘smart’ product, then it could be a simple matter of 3D printing the casing and then filling it with a Raspberry Pi or another circuit board. Again, you could buy each part in bulk, assemble them yourself and then send them out to your buyers!
There are some limitations to this option though. For starters, the overheads will be higher than if you were to create your product through a factory, thus damaging your margins. At the same time, this option would make it much harder to get your product into stores and would require much more work on your part. And you likely wouldn’t have the resources to assemble anything that complex.
So for now, use 3D printing and the other methods available to you to create your prototype. We’ll then look at how to go about manufacturing that and getting the funding you need.
Finding a Manufacturer
Now you have your idea, your design files and your prototype you have mostly everything you’ll need to send to your manufacturer. But not quite!
Next, you’re going to need to create some more documents for the manufacturer. One example is a BOM or ‘Bill of Materials’. This is basically a list of all the different materials you’re going to need. You may need an ‘electrical BOM’ as well if you’re going to be making anything with electronic components. This will list things like capacitors, resistors, motors, LEDs etc. that will be needed for your product.
You can also include functional specifications if you are interested. This is basically a document that details things like how you want your product to perform, what you want it to look like, how long the battery should last, how big it should be etc. If you have provided detailed enough instructions, then you won’t actually need this element. Rather, this is for anyone who wants a little more guidance from the manufacturer and perhaps hasn’t settled on the type of battery they want or other aspects. You can opt to include it anyway though if you want to be absolutely clear about the aim of your product.
Finally, you’ll want to include an MOQ or ‘Minimum Order of Quantity’. This basically tells your manufacturer how many units you want made and how you’re going to sell them. It’s very important to include this so that you can get an accurate quote but also so that the manufacturers know which processes will be best for your order. That’s because some techniques are better at producing large quantities and others are better/most cost effective for shorter runs.
We’ll talk about the quantities in a moment because of course it will be tied very closely to your budget. Make an estimate of what you want though and that way you can get a quote so you know what your goal should be. Finally, you need to actually locate the company you want to use for this service. To do that, you can try using a site that lists manufacturers. These include Alibaba and the excellent Makers’ Row. Unfortunately, Makers’ Row charges a fee but it is very useful in that it provides a community, support and more to help you get your projects off the ground.
Before you can put in an order for 5,000 units though, you’re first going to need the money to invest. You can obviously choose to fund this yourself, in which case you will probably use a business loan (PayPal is good), savings, or money from another arm of your business.
However, this is always going to involve something of a risk as you may not manage to sell all your products. This is why it’s a better idea to try and get free backing from a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter. All you need to do is to create a project page, set a timeline and set a target amount (based on your quote from the manufacturer). Explain in a video what your product will do and why people should care, show off your prototype to build trust and try not to be too greedy with the amount you ask for. From there, it’s then a matter of promoting your page and marketing yourself as much as possible to get the maximum exposure. You’d be surprised how generous people are if they’re excited about your vision! This is how Oculus got its start, Pebble and many more tech companies that are now changing the world.
Finally, you always have the option of finding an investor the old fashioned way. This might mean going to a site like AngelList or Seedrs - but it’s important to note here that you’re going to be giving a way a portion of your business and a portion of your profits.
There are actually many more ways you can design, build and fund a product – and some of them are much quicker and simpler depending on what you want to build. Read the full book and you’ll learn how to turn your digital ebook into a physical ebook with no risk, how to license a product in order to make money from it without having to do any of the leg work yourself or how to create custom merchandise that you can create in less than an hour.
From there, it’s just a matter of creating a store to sell it from on your site or, better yet, trying to get your product into highstreet stores and big box stores. Once again, all that is explained in great detail in the full ebook so if you want to get all of the most advanced tips, tricks and secrets make sure to head over there and check it out.
Otherwise, why not start on your product today? Once you know what it’s going to be.
Why Isn’t Your Product Selling?
Releasing a new product to the world is an incredibly exciting time. Particularly if you have gone the entrepreneurial route and funded the product yourself with boot strapping or crowd sourcing, and created it yourself with injection moulding, 3D printing or other digital manufacturing techniques.
However good the feeling of releasing a product is though, what follows can be a testing time. Even if you have some basic success, you are likely to find yourself watching sales like a hawk, second guessing yourself and constantly questioning why it’s not selling better, or why people are asking for refunds.
This can be quite painful – like seeing your child getting bullied at school – and it can be difficult to comprehend. While of course there are any number of reasons that your product might be struggling though, often there are a couple of common problems that may be affecting your business. Here we will look at a few reasons your product might not be selling.
People Can’t Find It
Even if you were giving away free blocks of gold, you wouldn’t get any customers if no one knew what you were doing. Coming up with a marketing strategy in order to be able to get word out about your product and to get people interested is immensely important then and without it you can expect to see much success. You don’t necessarily have to spend lots of money on marketing either – you can get word out by using entirely free methods such as SEO or social media marketing, but what you need to do is to make sure that you consider this from the very inception of your launch.
You Have No USP
At the same time you also need to think long and hard about how you’re going to make your product stand out among the crowd. If you have created something that already exists, and you haven’t done anything to differentiate yourself, then the established product will trounce your offering. You need to have a USP that will set you apart, even if this is something as simple as undercutting the competition on price (in which case your USP is affordability) or combining two existing ideas to make a new one.
It’s Too Different
While you mustn’t make something that’s completely the same as things already on offer, you also need to avoid making something that’s too different. Familiarity is a very useful tool in business, and if you can communicate that your product is ‘like’ something else, then you’ll be able to ride on some of that existing demand. If your product is too unique, or too much of a jump from what’s already established, then people won’t necessarily understand it and they may reject it.
You Don’t Have a Clear Message
Whatever you create you need to be able to clearly and succinctly say what it is and what it does. Lots of products fail because people don’t really understand them – what they do or what their ‘point’ is. By having a clear message with your product you can make it more focussed, and you’ll be more likely to attract the right kind of customer.
So You Want to Sell a Product? Here Are Some of the Things You May Have Forgotten
Creating and selling a product is an ambitious task and one that should definitely be celebrated. If you have the nerve to design and create your product – to take something from a vague idea to a concrete thing that people can buy, that will make lives better, and that might even earn you a lot of money – is an incredible achievement and takes a huge amount of optimism, guts and self-belief.
That's all good and well, but among all this self-belief it's important that you also inject some realism and some reality into your intentions. That is, there's a lot you need to consider going ahead and it's crucial that you think about those things before you get too far into the manufacturing process.
Here are some of the considerations that often get forgotten and that you need to take on board…
You can't just sell any product without ensuring first that it's safe and it's not going to cause problems. While some products won't have much of a safety-element to think about, others can create any number of hazards. If your product is going to be used by children, if it's going to be used around food, if it transmits or receives radio waves, or if it needs to bear weight of any kind then you're going to need to meet certain criteria and possibly gain some certification. This is something you should consider early on in your designs and business concepts, as you may otherwise find yourself having to rethink designs or materials once you've already spent money/committed in other ways.
Colours are also important and obviously you're going to need to think about these before you order materials. Likewise it's also important to bear in mind that the colours you choose for your product will also affect other aspects of your business plan – including your packaging and your marketing. And that needs to be the same precise colour code too if you intend to create a consistent image.
Storage and Shipping
Creating a product and finding a manufacturing contract isn't enough to get it into people's homes. If you want to actually sell a product, you'll need to make sure that your stock are stored and looked after and that you're able to fulfil orders. It's also worth thinking about where you plan on selling your items: whether you want to sell them internationally for instance. Again you should consider these points early, as they may affect the laws regarding safety as well as the type of marketing.
Another point to bear in mind is that storage and delivery cost money and that needs to be factored into your budget. Having a rough idea of these figures is crucial as otherwise you can find yourself eating into your profit margin – it may be that your item actually isn't profitable and that you need to rethink how you're going to make it or whether you should be pursuing that concept at all!
How to Set Up a Tech Company Starting From Nothing
Setting up a tech company is a dream shared by many. This is a dream that has been perpetuated largely by a number of incredible success stories: namely those of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. All of them started out in a dorm room or basement somewhere with an old piece of tech and a desire to make something important, and ultimately all of them ended up with a company that would make millions of dollars and truly change the world.
That's pretty much the American Dream encapsulated. So how can you accomplish the same thing? Is it possible? Read on and we'll look at how you can make a tech company from scratch.
The great thing about creating a tech company is that you can start by creating a digital product and perhaps later invest these funds into creating a physical product. What this means is that what you're making doesn't require any physical materials or any machines to create it. In turn, this means that you can start with absolutely no funds and this won't be a huge drawback. Tech businesses are ideal for 'bootstrapping' which means starting out with nothing and then using a few small steps in order to fund your larger plans.
Of course that's a little different if what you're planning on making is some kind of hardware. In that case it can be a good idea to start out with a digital product, or as a reseller of hardware, and then to move from there towards selling your own hardware (start with small things that you sell from the same site using a manufacturing contractor).
What you will need though is an idea of the niche you want to go into and the type of thing you want to build. From here you will know what precise skills you're going to need, and then you can either learn them yourself (unless you already have those skills) or find someone who can provide them for you.
Now you have your idea and your team (if you needed a team), next is to start looking into workflow.
Depending on when you want to launch and your financial restrictions you may decide that the best thing to do is to continue working another job at the same time. This is perfectly possible in the vast majority of cases and simply requires that you start working in the evenings or at weekends. This is going to be a strain on your lifestyle and your relationships potentially though, so do be aware of that.
Alternatively, if you want to make this into your 'main concern' straight away, then you may need a little capital in order to keep yourself afloat. There are numerous different ways you can achieve this – from saving your own money to invest in your business idea, to trying to get investment from investors or even from crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter.
If you're working as a team, then you have several options. One is to work out of your own homes, and for this you might want to use cloud computing/video conferencing software in order to be able to communicate and collaborate with colleagues who are a long way away. Otherwise you can have occasional meet-ups using coffee shops or by renting conference rooms on occasion. If you can afford it though, then leasing an office is a great bonus.
Finally, once you’re making money from software, you can start thinking about reinvesting that money into hardware. These days, it’s easy enough to prototype a product but from there you can simply turn your idea into something physical by taking a CAD file to a manufacturer and using your capital to invest in inventory.
How to License Sports Associations for Your Product
The baseball cap-shaped computer mouse was an invention by Bob Diee that made him $1.5 million in sales in 2007 alone. A success by all accounts, but it wasn't just the idea itself that made the product so successful. Just as important and just as instrumental in his success was another idea he had - to obtain licenses from the minor, major and even university baseball teams and include their logos on the mice. So not only could a baseball fan enjoy the novelty of a mouse shaped like a piece of sporting paraphernalia from their favourite sport, but they could also use it to support their favourite team and demonstrate their support. It helped to get the product into many more stores and gained it tons more coverage and generally provided as a springboard to guaranteed success.
It's an inspiring story and it begs a simple question: could you use licensing in a similar way to help your product to sell? Let's take a look…
Is Your Product a Good Fit?
Before you start chasing down license agreements for your product, ask yourself whether your product is suitable for this kind of licensing. Is it at all relevant to the sport? Is it something that someone is going to be willing to pay money for? Is it something simple with a clear market? Does it have an easy space where a team name could be printed? Remember too that it's not just sports teams that will license - you can also get licenses from TV shows, computer game characters, theme parks and more. Make sure that the license is relevant to your offering though, and that its well-known and popular enough to give your product a boost.
Approaching the Teams
When Diee first had the idea for the mouse, he approached the larger teams with no success. It was only once he approached the minor leagues that the idea was accepted and it was from there that he was able to get into the major leagues.
This is something worth considering when trying to get your license - don't pin all your hopes on one team or one company (it doesn't have to be your team on that product) and don't get disheartened. If you can secure a relatively small deal to begin with, then this could provide you with the proof-of-concept needed to persuade the bigger fish.
You should also make sure that you get your pitch right to begin with, and that you are able to put across your passion for the idea and how it stands to benefit everyone involved (rather than just your product and not the team or the sport). Have a working prototype to show off, calculate the cost of production and the RRP (you need a solid business plan that includes a percentage for the organisation), and do your market research to prove that your idea is popular. It's the account manager for licensing for each organisation that you will need to speak with, so try and learn as much about them as you can as well.
Once you've landed a deal your next step is to try and market your product and get it into the right retail outlets. Your new licensing is going to open up many more avenues in this respect, so make sure that you've approached the sports stores as well as the hardware stores etc. You can sell through team magazines likewise or even at stadiums. With the branding on your products you should find that
they're far more desirable and much more eye catching and it should be more than worth the effort you put in to secure the deal.
How to Go From Idea to Solid Product With Very Little Work
The idea of creating a physical product is something that many people will find instantly daunting. Their presumption is that you need to be a big company with a large budget, warehouse and manufacturing plant in order to create anything that has ‘parts’ or that can be sold in stores.
But in reality? The web has come along and made a massive difference to the way we approach product design and creation. If all you have is an idea… well then you’re good to go! And you won’t even have to lift a finger.
First you need to turn your idea into a design. This is an important part of your process because it’s going to impact on the cost of your product, its durability and more.
To create a design, you need a CAD file. Luckily, there are websites where people will bid to make these for you – for as little as $7. Just head over to a site like CAD Crowd or CrowdSpring and you’ll be able to find people willing to turn your idea into the necessary files. And they’ll even give you the BOM (Bill of Materials) and other documentation that you’ll need later.
While we’re trying to get this done as quickly and as cheaply as possible, it is important that you prototype your product. This will allow you to identify any flaws early on and to show your design to people who maybe want to work with you.
To do this, all you need to do is to take your CAD file and send it to a 3D printer – such as Shapeway.
Once you’ve received your prototype and you’re happy with the way it works, you can then go about actually trying to get it mass produced. That means you need to find a factory/manufacturer. To work with them, you just need to send out proposals which will include all the documentation that you got from the design stage – including things like your BOM and technical files. You also need to make sure that you include a rough order estimate. You can ask for another free prototype at this point.
Unfortunately, you now need to pay a fair amount of money to get lots of items printed off. Fortunately, the web has once again stepped in to save the day thanks to ‘Crowdfunding’. Sites like Kickstarter will allow you to generate funding without giving away any of your business or taking out loans.
If that falls through, loans are still an option but be careful. A good option is to get a loan through PayPal.
Find a Sales Representative
Now you just need to sell your products! One way to do this is to simply find a sales representative, who is someone that will promote your products on your behalf to Big Box stores and the like. Another option is to build an ecommerce store right on your own website, though depending on the number of orders you expect to receive, you may want to work with a fulfilment company for this part.
How to Find and Work With Fulfilment Companies
If you’re an entrepreneur, or if you run a start-up, and you make money by selling a product, then the key part of your business should be developing a great product that people want and that provides true value. However, this isn’t the whole story – and just as important if you want to be successful is your marketing, your packaging, and ultimately your delivery.
That last bit – the delivery – is the last part of your service and is equally as important as the rest. In order to ensure that your customers are 100% happy after doing business with you, you need to ensure that their item arrives on time, and in great condition.
This is called ‘order fulfilment’ and often it’s handled by logistics companies. Here we will look at what your options are and how to make sure that this goes smoothly.
Before we get started, there are two ways you can skip the need to find a fulfilment company altogether. One of course is to handle the delivery of your product yourself, though this takes a lot of time and effort when the orders get large (and can actually cost more too as you don’t get the same discounts that fulfilment companies do), and the other is not to sell directly to your customers. If you sell your products to stores and resellers, then it will be their job to both store your products and to send them on to customers. Note though of course that you will have to find some way of getting your product to them – which can be simple or challenging depending on the nature of your business.
How to Find a Good Fulfilment Company
Otherwise it’s down to you to find a company that can handle this aspect for you. FedEx of course is a well-known example of a company that can handle fulfilment, but there are many more.
When choosing between these, you should look for reviews to find out how reliable and effective their logistics is. Don’t be too put off by a few cases of items going missing – that’s inevitable when a company ships thousands of parcels every day – but instead try to get an overall feel for the company’s efficiency and make sure to read up on their policies. Note that a company like FedEx is actually a franchise – experiences can differ greatly from case to case. Many fulfilment companies will provide sample services which allow you to test the service without having to commit to a long-term agreement.
If the company you’re looking at is also going to be storing your products, then you should look into the security that they provide on-site and at the way your items will be stored and organised. Some companies will also allow you to do things such as checking inventory levels and sales activities online, and allow your customers to track the location of orders. Options like this can greatly help you to provide a good service to your customers and even to reduce your overheads by paying close attention to your stock and requirements.
How to Create a Cheap Prototype for Small Businesses
If you are launching a new product and you're a small business or entrepreneur, then you can't afford to make any mistakes – especially if it's your first product that you're using to launch your start-up. Manufacturing, marketing and distributing are all highly expensive investments and if your product doesn't work or doesn't appeal to your target demographic then it's crucial that you know this sooner rather than later and don't pour large amounts of cash into a project that's doomed from the offset.
And one of the best ways to quickly find out whether your product has legs and how it needs to be tweaked for the best performance if it does at all, is to create a prototype. Without actually holding your product in your hands there's only so sure you can be, but when you're able to properly examine it and test it in person you will have a much better idea of how well it works, where there's room for improvement and what it will actually be like to use. And this is even more useful when you start looking for testers or using focus groups.
How to Create a Prototype
While you may recognise the value of a prototype though, many small businesses don't realise that options now exist to allow them to cheaply hold their item in their hands. While this was once an expensive process however, prototyping is now actually very easy and affordable for even small businesses with few resources.
Do it Yourself: The first and most obvious method of creating a prototype is simply to try and build one yourself with makeshift materials. For more complex products this won't be an option, but if you are creating something that uses readily available materials then you can easily try and create that yourself in a makeshift manner.
Use 3D Printing: For those items that are slightly more difficult to produce, or for a prototype that will be more presentable for beta testing, another cheap and readily available option is to use 3D printing. 3D printing allows you to 'print' three dimensional items in a variety of materials ranging from plastics to ceramics to metals. Almost any design you can think of can be replicated cheaply as a 'one off' using a 3D printer as long as it can be assembled from single parts and is not too large or complex. To create your own 3D printed prototype you will need to create a 3D model using CAD software and then use a 3D printer of your own or use an online service such as Shapeways.
Outsource: If you aren't confident to make your prototype or it is too complicated for 3D printing, another option is to use prototyping companies and outsource the process. These services have come down significantly in price thanks to technologies such as 3D printing and in some cases they will even be offered by your manufacturing contractor. It requires an upfront investment, but compared with manufacturing and marketing thousands of units that no-one wants to buy it's a small price to pay!
How to Create 3D Models for Manufacturing and Design
Digital technology has come on a long way over the last few decades and has helped to make a huge range of different processes and jobs easier, safer and cheaper. This is particularly true when those processes don't require any physical products. If you want to communicate with business partners, if you want to distribute a book, or if you want to provide consultation with no need to travel then the web or the right software can help you in countless ways.
But that isn't to say that computers don't have any involvement in physical jobs however. In fact they can be incredibly useful for designing your products, for visualising them, and for adding the finishing touches. Most manufacturing and design companies will now begin work on a new product by first creating a digital version using a software package, and this will allow them to view it from different angles, to show it off to others, to simulate various scenarios, and even to get the blueprints they need to make manufacturing easy.
To do all this you need a piece of 'CAD' software. That stands for 'Computer Aided Design', and is essentially any piece of software designed to help you create 3D models that you can manipulate and visualise. Here we will look at how you can start making your own models for manufacturing and design purposes.
There are plenty of pieces of software available online that will help you to start making your designs and depending on the nature of your requirements you will want to choose the best package for you. A well-known example is AutoCAD, but others like Rhinoceros will make certain tasks easier. If you don't have lots of money to invest into the software then don't worry as there are free versions like Blender which provide many of the same features. These programs will help you to create 3DM files, STL files and others that can be read by digital manufacturing tools.
When you load up any of these pieces of software, you will normally be presented with four squares, each of which will be covered in small grid lines. Those four squares represent four planes of view, so if you draw a square in one, you'll have a flat square - but if you draw one in each (and rotate around the sides for a couple more) and they're all connected you'll have a cube. The grid lines will help you to calculate the scale and the size they represent can be altered in settings.
When using this sort of software, it's important to remember that it's very different from using a drawing utility like MSPaint or PhotoShop. For instance, you will also need to fill in those surfaces unless you want a spindly wire-frame cube, and you'll need to use a 'boolean union' tool to make sure that any connected squares/lines are considered 'one part' when the object is rendered. Remember too that you'll also need to fill the centre of the cube or whichever shape you've drawn unless you want it to be hollow.
It's impossible to go through all the details of every piece of 3D modelling software, but with those basic pointers you should have enough knowledge to choose the program for you and start learning the specifics yourself.
Entrepreneurial Lessons From Richard Branson
When it comes to great businessmen and entrepreneurs, few can rival Richard Branson as a cultural icon of capitalism and business savvy. Here’s a guy who built – quite literally – an empire from scratch and who did so with a fun public image and while involving himself in many exciting and daring adventures. He’s a real life Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy and a roaring success by anyone’s standards.
As such then he can serve as really rather an incredible role model for any other budding entrepreneurs hoping to one day follow in his footsteps and leave a mark on the world and the business scene. Here we will look at just some of the lessons that we can learn from old Rich, and that can help steer the way for the pioneers of tomorrow.
You Don’t Need a Fancy Education
Richard Branson famously has little in the way of educational qualifications, but he never let that stop him. In fact that’s probably part of the reason he did strike out on his own. Don’t view a lack of degree as a barrier to success then. If you have the skill, you have the skill – you don’t need a piece of paper to prove it.
Controversy sells, and Richard Branson knows this well. Not only does Branson enjoy occasionally drawing attention to himself and his company with occasionally controversial stunts – but even the name ‘Virgin’ was one that was met with some hesitation when he tried to get it registered and it’s certainly not one that people forget. Which is why it’s such a stroke of genius...
Turn Weaknesses Into Strength
Branson was diagnosed with dyslexia which is part of the reason he left school at 16. However, rather than letting this stop him he in fact turned it into an advantage – reading everything out loud and thus gaining a better understanding of it and becoming a better communicator.
Build on Your Success
Richard Branson did something I like to call ‘springboarding’ – by which I mean that he used each success to help launch his next project. It started with a newspaper for students, moved on to selling papers and continued into almost every other industry. If you have high ambitions that you can’t quite reach right now, then start off with some that are a bit smaller and use them as a ‘step ladder’. Bootstrapping is one example of this.
Spread Your Bets
The Virgin brand is somewhat unique in that it isn’t associated with any on service and instead incorporates multiple businesses. Of course this puts Branson in a position of incredible strength (which he likens to the Roman Empire in his book Business Stripped Bare) because if any of the micro-businesses should struggle, all the others can hold it up.
Brand is Important
It was perhaps fate that someone called ‘Branson’ would become the master of branding – and what is Virgin other than a brand? Here the cunning entrepreneur realises that he can branch into any business he likes as long as the standard of service is consistent across the board because people will gravitate to a familiar logo they generally know to be reliable.
The Sky is Not the Limit
Branson shows us that you can go wherever your imagination takes you. Not content with flying his hot air balloon, Branson is now on the verge of finally privatising space flight. Which is rather incredible...
An Introduction to PCB Manufacturing
A PCB, as any techies reading this will know, is a printed circuit board. This is the board that you will find in the vast majority of your electronic devices and gadgets and which is used to support as well as connect the various components that are required for its function.
The ‘printed’ part of printed circuit board describes the pathways or ‘traces’ that run between those components and which dictate the way the components operate. This is normally accomplished by laminating copper sheets onto a non-conductive substrate (such as wood), then scratching away the unwanted metal to reveal the desired pattern. This will then act as the circuits once attached to a power source (such as AA batteries) and as you know can be used to accomplish a huge variety of ends.
This is a crucial element in a vast number of products, inventions and creations and we owe a great deal of our modern-day conveniences to the process. With that in mind then, read on and we’ll take a look at the process responsible for automating so many of our daily tasks.
When talking about the board on its own without the additional components that give the circuit its function, PCB is actually not the correct term. More accurately, the board alone is known as a ‘printed wiring board’ (PWB) or an ‘etched’ wiring board (EWB).
The first stage in manufacturing these wiring boards then, is to create an image of the wiring to work from using CAD software the same way you would make schematics for the part itself. This is your job as the inventor, so make sure that your circuit works by testing it with your breadboard or whichever set-up you have at home first. Next you should do a ‘test print’ onto a sheet of paper using a laser printer.
Before the circuit itself is created, raw PC boards will first be loaded into a drilling machine which will drill the required holes where needed. These boards are usually made of glass-epoxy and will have copper attached to either side (we’ll get to that in a moment). In some cases silk screening will have been used beforehand to add company logos and other branding.
What you’ll be left with is a file that can then be used to recreate that circuit using conductive strips and a board with holes drilled into it. This is usually accomplished through an etching process that uses a laminate material with sheets of copper already attached to both sides. This copper is then ‘etched’ away in order to leave only the desired connections and circuitry to connect the various components.
This etching however doesn’t resemble the etching you might have done at school, rather it involves corrosive chemicals that can erode the copper where it isn’t wanted. First though the desired ‘traces’ need to be protected.
In large volumes this can be accomplished using a silk screen printing method and this is the main commercial method (here etch-resistant inks are printed to protect the copper foil). When the circuit boards are required in smaller volumes, the circuits will often be printed onto a transparent film to act as a ‘photomask’ before etching begins. Conversely, in some cases additive processes can be used wherein the copper strips are added to a bare laminate.