Throughout my product development career, I've designed, sourced and launched hundreds of consumer products generating more than $2 Billion at e-commerce and mass-market retailers. I've also realized that there are massive patterns and similarities in product launches that fail and product launches that succeed. Using these patterns, I've put together my top ten list of product launch hazards. These are the pitfalls and the errors that run brands into the ground, so work smarter, and avoid these traps at all costs.
The Top Ten Hazards of Product Launching
- Too Many Niches. Plenty of entrepreneurs let their excitement get the best of them, and they want to be everywhere, selling to everyone, all the time. Brand confusion is something new brands, especially small businesses, cannot afford. If you end up with too many different customer focuses, too many target markets, spread too thin- it will reflect in your brand. Also, brand confusion prevents loyalty. It's hard for customers to be loyal and feel a deeper connection to your brand when they can't define it. Lastly, on this point, if you are spread too thin, you will spend a ton on marketing across all mediums, something that will also eventually interfere with your ability to connect with your customers.
- Too Much Inventory. I did a case study and interview with the founder of Striped Shirt, an entrepreneur who learned the hard way, the cost of filling your garage with too much product. Inventory traps your capital... capital you need to move a ton of inventory. It traps you in a place where you might be forced to lower prices or sell out of desperation. A better idea, rather than dropping $20,000 on products, is to write in a back-up plan or two about what you will do if you sell out of the products you do order.
- Over Patenting.When I am working with inventors or entrepreneurs, I ask them this: What's the least amount of money you can spend on protection until you have full market proof and a complete design? I have talked a lot about provisional patents in the past, and encourage entrepreneurs to do their research before they make a decision on this. Plenty of people file patents too early and end up having to file extensions because their product development was not yet complete. Plenty of people file international patents before they have their market research in. All of it creates unnecessary cost and waiting, taking away time, resources, and energy from other critical elements of business.
- Staying Secretive. The reason a lot of businesses over-patent is because they are afraid of their idea being stolen, and feel the need to protect it. A lot of times, if left unchecked, this type of behavior streams over into paranoia, and this creates major hazards. When you can't or are not willing to talk about what you are building, you put yourself in a position to potentially lack awareness around features or improvements. Collaboration is an essential part of any product launch, and shutting everyone out to protect what you've got, actually leaves you unprotected. If you want to take the best possible product to market, of course be smart about sharing, but collaborate, get input, and start building productive conversations around what you are building.
- Being "Me Too". Laziness around a launch will land you in "me too" territory, rather than "me only", which is where you want to be. So (so) many times, entrepreneurs will come to me because they have the holy grail of products, the next best thing, that will be in every household, on every major chain shelf. Except, they haven't done their market research, and it already exists in a very similar form... or sometimes, even an exact match. Don't be like this. Do your research, or hire experts to do your research.
- Carrying Too Long. Overstock costs are equal to a slow painful death. Especially when it comes to items with an expiration date. You only save money on bigger inventory runs if you know you can move it in the necessary amount of time. Having overstock isn't where you want to be starting out, because small startups cannot afford to have capital tied up for extended periods of time.
- Not A Core Source. Don't shop, source. Or shop, then source. Either way, you have to go directly to the source, build a relationship, build trust, weed out the layers of sales, find potential margins that can be minimized or people that can be cut out of the process. If you connect with the source and they trust that you will grow more business together, they will protect you, they won't sell out on you, or undermine that relationship. Which, on your end, will help you protect your seller rank, avoid delays, fulfill orders as promised, and so on. These "hiccups" are what we most often see eat small businesses and they can be easily avoided.
- Cost-Basis Pricing. A lot of startups skip market-basis pricing and only price based on their cost. So you might say, "If I can make this for $2, I can sell it for $4 and I'll be in good shape." But there is so much more you have to take into account, like: wholesale, adjustments, competition, and all the other unforeseen things that can affect profitability. You have to look at pricing from all angles. You have to consider everything. If you plan on going the route of cost-basis pricing, make sure you leave at least a 70% profit margin for all of the costs you haven't considered.
- Time Wasters. There are things we procrastinate on and things we get sucked into, that waste our time during a launch. The problem with this is that, because we've spent too much time doing something, or not enough time doing something else, we end up rushing in the end to get everything done, and then we make big mistakes
- Out of Compliance. Here in California, we are 95% labor non-compliant. This means, not only are businesses not paying California wages, but they are also not paying federal wages, essentially making the products "hot goods" because the labor was stolen. This happens across most industries, and even big brands fall victim to non-compliance. When a factory suddenly gets shut down, it's too late to take action on your end, and small brands cannot sustain these types of hazards. Not knowing is not protection. Know your process, from source to completion. It's a small price to pay, doing what's right, to build something sustainable, that you can be proud of.
Whew! Just talking about these hazards is stressful. Protect your launch, protect your brand, and protect yourself, for a product launch that propels you into success.