It's the classic setup: Make $10,000 by selling ten thousand things at one dollar each. Easy.

Actually, it's not that easy. This is a classic entrepreneur's pitfall when trying to bring physical products to market. What if the cost to set up a way to produce one hundred things ends up costing $10,000? Because it typically costs way more than that.

Any product idea that isn't expected to sell tens of thousands of units probably won't be able to justify the immense effort and high cost required to set up manufacturing to make it a reality. Luckily, we live in a time where there are newer, better ways to connect to customers and create physical products that don't require a Fortune 500 budget to get started.

Find a Fab Lab or Makerspace.

You probably can't afford a factory, but you can afford factory equipment. "Desktop" sized manufacturing equipment like laser cutters, vacuum formers, 3D printers, and computer-controlled metal cutting machines can be found in open design spaces in almost every major city and can be used at low cost. These Fab Labs make it possible for a startup to create a short run of a product, say ten custom skateboards, without the upfront cost of a manufacturing line but with plenty of room for profit.

Entrepreneurship used to require a big idea, mass appeal products that solve really big problems, in order to justify the cost of making a physical thing. The upfront cost of manufacturing forced this sort of scale.

Now, even a small solution--made possible by a homemade product, for a small number of people--can be a smart venture. Combine that cost effectiveness with the internet, which makes it possible to find an infinite number of small communities with unique product needs, and now having several small ideas instead of one big one is a serious business model.

Build a product (it's not that hard).

The fabrication tools to design and create your idea no longer require degrees, certificates, or the endorsement of an industry giant. All It takes is drive, caffeine, and an internet connection.

Plan a few late nights and early mornings to experiment with new software, or exploring YouTube tutorials for new skills. Without previous training, you can easily self teach critical development skills like computer-aided design or design thinking.

Now, build something! If you don't have the fabrication tools on hand, order them online. Equipped with a decent product idea and 3D model, it's easy to order a prototype online from a 3D printing service so that you can test, further develop, or even pitch your product.

Get your small idea out as fast as possible.

We can easily get caught up in the minutia of branding or the aesthetics of products, packaging, and websites. Put your "think small" hat on and remember your small solution goal, and respect the tradeoff of effort in versus value out.

Get the thing you just built into real customer hands as early as possible, regardless of the fine tuning. It's much easier to learn the shortcomings of your design from real users than it is to discover those invaluable learnings in a bubble. The more you engage new audiences with new products, the easier it becomes to create new, better, succinct solutions.

Once you get a response from your prototypes or short run of products, you'll know whether or not it has potential in the market. Engage that community for feedback and incentivize community testers to be good evangelists for your small solution.

There's a simple, low risk elegance to a small solution powered by low building cost and the internet. Small solutions also mean small failures, but one small hit within a niche community can mean big success.

Published on: Sep 29, 2017