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How to Ride Another Company's Coattails

Lots of start-ups make their money by identifying other companies' biggest hits and developing complementary products. You can, too.
Olloclip developed a clip-on lens for the iPhone. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, it's now widely available in Apple stores, Best Buy, and Bloomingdales.
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You have an idea for how to make a wildly popular product better, and you might even be able to make a business out of it.

Lots of people have done it--just look at the number of computer peripherals, aftermarket automotive products, or mobile device accessories on the market.

One example: Olloclip, a 3-in-1 lens system that clips onto the iPhone. It's the epitome of a product that wouldn't be around were it not for another device that people love.

A year and a half after Founder Patrick O'Neill launched the company, the Olloclip is now on shelves in every Apple store around the world, not to mention sold at major retailers such as Best Buy, Sprint, and Bloomingdales.

Want to know the secrets to O'Neill's success? He has four nuggets of advice.

Tailor-made is better than generic.

The key is to identify an excellent and ubiquitous product and make something equally great to work with it. Case in point: The iPhone. Unlike Android, which is running on hundreds of different devices, Apple is able to sustain an entire ecosystem of accessory products that work with its handful of mobile gadgets. "If you make a product that will work with any device you've compromised it to begin with," O'Neill says. "If you make a product that's tailor-made to work with one device you've really made something that is going to be a much better product than a generic one." 

Simplicity trumps complexity.

The Olloclip is undeniably simple and easy-to-use--you just slide it on the iPhone and take photos or videos as usual, but with the wide-angle, fisheye, or macro lens over the camera's lens. O'Neill points to Lotus Cars founder Colin Chapman and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, both of whom were big influences in his design mentality because of their desire not to overly complicate their products. "I think for most things simple always is better because if you add complexity you're also adding cost. So if you can take [the idea] and distill it down and get it to the most simple and elegant [design] it's probably going to be a better product," he says.

Keep iterating the design.

O'Neill says Olloclip now employs seven designers who use a 3D printer to iterate hundreds of designs before they get to a finished product and as soon as they start to hear rumors about what the next iPhone will look like. "As soon as we hear those rumors we're thinking 'OK, should we try this, should we try that?' We look at different designs and we'll draw them up on the computer, we'll print them on the 3D printer and we'll test them and we'll ask 'Is that a good solution to the problem?'"

Don't jump right onto Kickstarter.

Yes, Kickstarter is a great place not only for funding to get a product up and running, but for exposure, as well. The problem, O'Neill says, is too many entrepreneurs try to use the crowdfunding platform before the ideas are ripe, and sometimes even before they've done market analysis or filed for a provisional patent. As a result, all of the development happens after the campaign is finished, which makes it difficult to meet any promised shipping dates.

That's not to discourage anyone from using Kickstarter at the right time. Olloclip's four-week campaign was terrifically successful--around 1,300 backers in more than 50 countries contributed funds, resulting in Olloclip achieving 455% of its $15,000 funding goal.

"I spent a ton of money getting to the Kickstarter point and it was a fantastic experience and I'm glad we did it but I think a lot of these projects are not as far along as they should be before they do Kickstarter," O'Neill says.

IMAGE: Courtesy of company
Last updated: Jan 31, 2013




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