So, you've come up with a brilliant business idea that will launch your entrepreneurial dreams. The next step, however, is creating a product prototype. In fact, it could make or break whether your dreams come true.
A product prototype is essential to pitching your business idea because most of the time investors won't give you money without seeing your idea in physical form.
In this blog post, I explain (in five steps) how to make a product prototype. Now, not every entrepreneur or business professional has thousands of dollars to spend on manufacturing hundreds of prototypes. So for this blog post, I focus on creating multiple prototypes using only a 3D printer.
Step One: Assemble Your Team
You’re an entrepreneur, which doesn’t necessarily make you an engineer or designer. As a result, when it comes to creating a prototype of your product, you should assemble the following teammates:
- Designer: to take your napkin drawing to the next level
- Engineer: to make your napkin design come to life
- Lawyer: to protect your product idea
Remember, first impressions count, so make sure you’re working with the best team and products (you can afford).
Step Two: Do Your Research
There is no doubt that your product idea is amazing; just make sure it hasn’t already been done before. Run your product idea by the following sites to confirm you’re not copying anyone’s patents or stepping on anyone’s trademark toes:
Now, the language and regulations on these sites can be difficult to understand, which is where a lawyer steps in. A lawyer will not only help you understand what goes into creating your own patent, but he/she will guide you to make sure you’re protecting your product.
Another major area to research is the competition:
- Business and market trends: what does the market look like? Is there a lot of competition? Are you setting yourself up for success or failure?
- Obstacles: what challenges do you see your competition facing? What will you do to combat that?
- Customers: what do customers love or hate about similar products? How will you solve these issues?
Once you’ve successfully prepared for this phase, then you’re ready to create your prototype.
Step Three: Design and Print Your Business Prototype
Unless you’re an engineer, you might not have realized that the step in between the napkin drawing and final product is called the “product design phase.” And with almost any product design phase (furniture, fashion, automotive), CAM or CAD software is used.
That is where your designer steps in.
Designers rely on product design software to bring your product sketches to real-life prototypes. There is a variety of product design software out there but the most important aspect is to choose one that collaborates with the 3D printing technology you’ll use.
The design phase is one of the most important parts of creating your prototype because it helps you print out exactly what you need to show investors.
When it comes to 3D printing your prototype, talk with your engineer and let him/her know exactly what you need your prototype to do, look like and feel like. Your engineer will then be able to decide which 3D printer to use based on materials, colors and durability. To help you with this phase, check out our tutorial on creating 3D printed prototypes. This tutorial will teach you how to make the prototype look and feel exactly how you want.
I recommend 3D printing your prototype because it's faster than sending it off to a manufacturing company, especially during the test phase.
Step Four: Test, Design and Test Again
Don’t take your prototype to potential investors WITHOUT running it by your target customers and audience first. And although you might think, “Sure I’ll show my friends and colleagues!”
No, don’t do that.
It’s important that you run your prototype by complete strangers who will be 100% honest with you – and not afraid to crush your dreams.
Be ready to revise any system, scrap any method, abandon any theory, if the success of the job requires it. -- Henry Ford, 1923
Wayde Gilchrist, a startup consultant and Host at TechStartRadio.com recommends surveying at least 50 potential customers. For each target customer, do the following:
- Present the problem you’re trying to solve with your product – do they think it answers it?
- Demand feedback and criticism
- Ask them if they had a genie lamp, how would they improve it?
Step Five: Pitch Your Product Prototype
Now time for the stressful part -- pitching your product prototype. In addition to creating a great prototype, you also need to sell it; you need to explain the problem your prototype will solve, and why it’s worth investors’ time and money.
The biggest points to hit include:
- Your unique selling point: what makes you and your product different than competitors
- Target audience and market: describe your ideal customer with demographics and location.
- Customer/Product Acquisition: explain how you will make customers aware of your new product, and ultimately encourage them to buy it.
- Funding needs: it’s crucial to detail exactly how much money you need and how it will be used. Investors want to know where their money is going.
Above all, it’s important to carry confidence into your pitch.
Making Your Dreams Come True
In summary, you don’t need to have millions of dollars to turn your business idea into a product prototype. The most important ingredients include the three P's:
- A great prototype
- A great pitch
- A great plan
For more on creating a solid prototype, check out these tutorials on prototyping and creating consumer goods: