If you build a product, will people buy it? That is the essential question every maker, innovator, and founder of a startup faces early in product design and development. It is the question that keeps them awake at night. This question is especially important in hardware development, which typically involves a significant upfront investment just to get to something a potential customer or investor can hold in their hands. That’s why smart product creators don’t build first and then wait to see what happens on the customer front. Before building, there needs to be enough concept validation to convince creators that it’s worth taking those next steps.
There are several stages of validation that need to happen early in a product development cycle. The first is a simple reality check. After that initial burst of inspiration, creators should take a little time and step back from their idea to ask themselves, is this really a good idea? Innovations solve problems. They fulfill a need. So, the very first questions are, what problem will this innovation solve, and is this the best solution available to potential customers?
If in the cold light of day the idea still looks like a good one, then it’s time to begin testing the concept. Testing the concept starts with talking to friends, peers, and people who could be potential customers. If I built a device that did these things, do you think people would go for it? If the product would serve a particular function, ask people how they do that now. If they don’t do it, why not? What do they think the experience would be like for them if they had a product like this? What features would be important to them? Just talking to people about an idea will give you, the creator, insight into the potential value of your product idea. At this point, you will be able to begin thinking through customer use case scenarios and think in more detail about how customers will interact with your device before, during, and after they use it.
At the same time you are doing this level of concept validation, you must also research technical solutions and think about what is needed to build your device. This is the beginning of creating a proof of concept (POC). The purpose of the POC is to demonstrate to yourself and others that your solution is technically feasible. The POC process will answer essential questions such as can the device you have in mind actually be built? Can the necessary functionality exist in an integrated way? Is the product you have in mind technically possible? A proof of concept will not only answer the question of can the concept be built, but it will answer the question of what specific technologies you will need to include and integrate to build your device. The POC does not answer specific questions about physical design or product usability. The POC focuses on establishing the concept’s technical feasibility, and it is a necessary step in order to have meaningful discussions with other engineers, potential technical partners, and potential investors.
So, before you start to build anything, you need to know and understand the problems your device will solve, you need to have a POC that demonstrates the technical feasibility of building such a device, and you need to have a good idea of how receptive potential customers will be to your device. If all the signs are favorable at this point, then you are ready to start building something, and this is where the serious investment begins.
Most creators at this stage are ready to begin building their first prototype, which is the first working model designed to function in the real world. Prototyping is an essential phase in product development that addresses questions about product usability, package design, esthetics, and all the things that go into turning an idea into a finished product. Prototyping is typically a multi-phase process that uncovers and corrects design flaws and gets working models into customers’ hands so that creators have real-world feedback from real people. The purpose of the prototyping phase is to build and refine the design so that it becomes a product customers will accept.
If prototyping is the process that turns a viable concept into an acceptable product, when does that crucial question, “If you build a product, will people buy it?” find an answer? To avoid wasting time and money, you must answer that question as early in the process as possible. Some products lend themselves to the commercial release of a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a version of your product with the bare minimum of features and functionality needed to address the problem for which it is designed. Offering an MVP on a crowdfunding site is one way to test market interest in the product and at the same time raise the money needed to further your prototyping program.
Another approach to answering the critical question of whether there will be consumer interest if you build your product is to develop a presentation based on your POC and market research, and promote the idea to a hardware accelerator. Hardware accelerators bring a lot of engineering, business, and marketing expertise to the table, which increases the chances of product success as you work through the product development cycle.
The only way to get a final answer to the question of whether customers will buy it if you build it is to put your product in front of customers. However, there are many steps you can take during early design stages to ensure that the answer is yes. These steps include concept validation through researching technical solutions, interviewing potential customers, creating a proof of concept, prototyping your design, and engaging hardware accelerators.
David Talbott is an IT and Technology Analyst with Mighty Guides who focuses on emerging technologies including deep learning, cloud and edge computing, and ubiquitous connectivity, and how these technologies converge to create powerful self-learning systems.
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