The Startup Guide to taking a product to market
Timing and good fortune are certainly useful when starting a business, but they aren’t critical to its success. Whilst the current state of the economy is making raising funds difficult, if you possess an exceptional idea and a clear market opportunity, you will eventually find someone willing to support you financially. Once you embark on your entrepreneurial journey, it becomes crucial to utilise the funds wisely and swiftly bring your product or service to the market.
Over the past eight years at Morrama, we have collaborated with more than 100 startups and indie brands at various stages of the development of products ranging from luggage to tech to cosmetics. In some cases, we advise against founders even starting out because we believe their product is not truly necessary in the world. On the other hand, there are success stories like Wild, a plastic-free natural refill deodorant, which has gone on to achieve sales in the millions to customers worldwide.
The steps below outline what we see as the most important milestones in validating, iterating, testing, manufacturing, and launching your product. Skipping over these is a quick way of putting your startup at risk.
Validating your idea
Back in 2016, there was a startup called Trunkster. The founders had been on SharkTank (the US version of Dragon’s Den) and had secured a sizable $1.4 million investment. The product was a zipper-less entry suitcase that went on to raise a further $1.3 million on Kickstarter. This would seem like validation, a whole lot of validation, 3,600 pre-orders of validation. Yet when the project launched, it failed. Why?
The critical mistake the team made was they didn’t validate the design with a manufacturer before they put it out in the world. Only when they had 3,600+ customers expecting a suitcase in nine months did they find out that it was going to be almost impossible to make. Whilst they made it happen in the end, it was heavy, overpriced, and the sliding mechanism took up precious packing space. It’s easy to tell stories, to yourself, to your investors, and to your customers. And we LOVE stories. But if the product doesn’t match up to the hype, it’s not only your reputation that’s at risk but a huge amount of other people's money.
Validation involves three important steps:
- Involve your audience
- Validate the feasibility of your design as early as possible
- Test your market
The Trunkster team had an idea and skipped straight to number three!
Get suppliers involved as early as possible
A woodworker will know that it’s good quality of materials and craftsmanship that makes the table. The same is true of any physical object. Whilst there is likely more than one place that you could manufacture your product, it’s important to build a relationship with a supplier you feel you can trust as early into the process as possible. They will not only be able to feed into the design process and provide costs that are vital to any business plan, but they might also present opportunities that will improve the outcome and let's not forget how vital they are to your supply chain once you are up and running.
Wild approached Morrama in 2019 to design something that had never been done before: refillable deodorant packaging with plastic free refills. When it comes to high volume packaging production, consistent quality is everything. Fortunately, we have a network of trusted suppliers, but in this instance, we were asking them to take a risk. Although we had determined that the refill should be made from pressed paper pulp, we needed someone to work with us to develop and test the design so we could carry out compatibility testing as early as possible.
Typically, factories don’t take a development fee, so they would only get paid if the project made it to manufacture. As Wild was a startup, this was not a guarantee. And so, we pitched to them, we got them excited about what we were trying to achieve, we made them feel like they were part of the journey and not just a production line. And they agreed to invest in the technology.
Having started with an order of only 10,000 units in 2020, they are now manufacturing millions of Wild cases and many more Wild refills a year. Wild has a quality supplier, and the supplier has a reliable customer.
Keep it simple, keep it safe
I can’t even remember how this memorable little phrase came about, but it’s often used at Morrama. It essentially means; don’t add in so much to your product that you end up with too many risks and complications. Founders have a huge amount of time to think about their product, talk about their product, and imagine what their product could become. It’s an easy trap to try and make it do too much too soon, and adding features in is the quickest way of delaying timelines and racking up costs.
We use something called a Design Requirement Specification at the very beginning of the process to determine what the product must, should, and could do. We then focus on the musts and only add in the should and could if it’s clear that there is no compromise to cost, timeline and, most importantly, the user experience of the essential features.
Whilst you don’t want to overcomplicate your V1, it is worth thinking about features you might want to add in the future. When working on the design of the hand-held controllers for gaming fitness brand Quell, we made the decision to implement a standard thumb stick, A, B buttons, and bumper on the controllers despite them not all having a function in the initial gameplay. Building them into the plastics housing and PCB from the beginning ensured that future game development wasn’t limited by the user interface.
While timing and luck can play a role in business success, they are not the sole determinants. Instead, entrepreneurs should focus on validating their ideas, involving their audience, and testing the market to ensure that their product or service meets the needs and expectations of their target market. Keeping the product or service simple and prioritising a positive user experience is crucial. By doing so, they can increase their chances of building sustainable businesses that meet customer demands and achieve long-term success.