The most difficult thing about inventing a product is not inventing the product... it's everything that happens next, if anything happens at all. Sure, you need to have a top-notch, functional, problem-solving, flawless product to make it in our competitive marketplace. But, that is one tiny piece of the massive product puzzle.
I could tell you the in's and out's of this in my sleep, because 1) I do product design, and 2) I do a lot of product launches, but I thought it might be more fun to share the insights and important lessons, you need to know, by sharing a real-life example with you.
It All Began In A Helicopter
Meet David Burnett, inventor of Tac-Clamp, he provided me both a cool story of designing with a need in mind, and also highlighted the real 'hazards' of designing with a need in mind. His story proves that no matter how well thought out your product is, or how much need there is for your product, you might still find yourself running into walls... a lot.
David was a Chinook helicopter crew chief of the 160th Special Operations Division. While he would load the aircraft with customers, be it Rangers, Seals, SF, or Delta, it was always the same cadence: get on, secure the gear, and get comfortable. However, the "whole securing your gear" predicament is where David's Tac Clamp was born. While it was sufficient to secure gear during departure, upon landing in dark or intense conditions, it became cumbersome to detach the gear and move on with the mission.
So A Product Is Born, And Barely Survives
After jumping back into civilian life, David pursued the launch of his Tac Clamp and learned some valuable lessons. Between pending utility patents, and the lengthy process it takes to even secure patents in the first place, that feeling of running into a wall repeatedly became normal. David has learned so many lessons on this road to launch, and here they are:
Hold Off On Licensing Deals: It's been my experience that products do better with licensing deals after they've been on the market for some time. If you haven't gone to market yet, licensing will not be as lucrative for you, as it is for a long-term product. David's very first licensing deal fell through without anything actually happening, and luckily he was able to get out of the contract easily with no loss... or gain, except time.
Pace Yourself: After moving to work with his fourth engineer, and being set back several months, David realized his product could easily transfer between people, but his passion and drive were much more exclusive. The process is never as fast as you think it might be so pace yourself.
Choose Your Partners Wisely: David is generating a healthy dialogue with his most recent networking advances and is making fast progress because of it. You have to choose your network carefully so everyone is looking the same direction as you.
Don't Lose Focus: David started sharing too soon, an early prototype, and everyone muddied the water by giving irrelevant and hazardous advice. David started reconsidering his design features (feature creep) to fit other markets, and luckily brought it back in time to save the Tac Clamp.
Buckle Up, Or Tac Clamp In
Product design, launch, and survival is not for the faint of heart. David has learned so much since he began a few short years ago, and you should expect your path to be the same, even if the lessons are slightly different.
These setbacks are a part of the learning process. They help you learn the market, learn your product, learn yourself... and ultimately, they help you learn to survive. Whether you're 2 years in or 10, the market doesn't get any less aggressive or competitive.