Project Update #2 – How do I turn my idea into a product? (A guide for non-engineers)

Your product idea is garbage.

Jeeze, I’m sorry. That was harsh. It may not be ALL garbage, but the fact remains is that it’s nothing without proper execution!

Hindsight is 20/20, and if I could go back in time, besides bring back lottery numbers for the past 5 years, I would’ve majored in engineering to help prepare me for life a bit better. Alas, here we stand today, and I am not an engineer. I have no working knowledge of how to use CAD software and even my physics/math is a bit shoddy. But what I do have is the passion, the grit, and the skills as a scrappy go-getter with the blood-pounding desire to start a business.

So what do you do if you are a non-engineer with a product idea?

Step 1. You need to start with all-encompassing, rageful desire to make it happen

Simply put, you’ve got to have the passion and stamina start a business. It’s got to be something that drives you to grit your teeth and get your hands dirty. Maybe it’s the gambler in you that wants to see it succeed, but you’re not going anywhere without the drive to follow through when you hit a brick wall. When everyone else has already tapped out of the game, you’re the only one left standing to either keep grinding at it or step aside like all the rest.

Step 2. Research

So you say you’ve got the desire? Now that you’ve passed step one, you really have to do the initial research to see if this something truly new or something that already exists. And if it does exist, maybe you can do it too, but do it way better. You’d be amazed at how many people think they’ve thought of the next breakthrough product, only to find that it already exists.

When I first had the idea for my Freewheel Precision Gyroscope, I started with a basic market research evaluation. It is just as simple a google search for “precision gyroscope” to see what other gyroscopes in the category looked like, and how they sold. I did many variations of that from “push to spin toy”, “push to spin top”, “spinning tops” so on and so forth. I was gauging by a general search of if there was already a “push to spin gyroscope toy” was already there on the market. Turns out there are gyroscopes that are either string-started or motorized. From there you can do a general patent search. For that, I recommend using google’s patent search as a basic starting block!

Step 3. Sketch as much as you can and describe it in one sentence.

When I initially dreamt up the Freewheel Precision Gyroscope, I did a somewhat ugly, rough sketch on a piece of paper. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. In addition I wrote a one sentence summary that was clear and concise to describe my product. “The Freewheel Precision Gyroscope is a spinning toy that uses a push-to-spin plunger to actuate the spinning flywheel to extreme speeds.” I knew immediately that I had something great, and I shared it with my close friends who seemed to genuinely validate my idea. I asked for honest and critical feedback on whether they thought it could be successful. As part of your customer discovery process, you really should tell as many people as reasonably possible to get a better idea of whether or not your idea is viable or not.

Step 4. Research and Hire Professionals

All right, so we covered that you’re not an engineer. That’s fine! There are ways to get around this! If your idea is relatively simple, you can hire someone on a freelancing website called Upwork to connect you with reviewed professionals who can do the basic drawings for you. I would recommend this if you already have a pretty refined idea of how the device will actually function and all you’re requesting are the completed drawings.

With the Freewheel, we decided to go a more in-depth route, and we hired a professional product design/development company called KickrDesign, based out of Atlanta. So far we are very pleased with the work and relationship that we’ve built with them. But choosing the right professionals that fit my needs was a lengthy process that took about a month.

I kept a list of every engagement and pro/con list of the product design companies as I went through this research process. In all, I contacted 15 different product design companies located around the country, and I found them on google, facebook, twitter, and thomasnet.com. Only 9 of the 15 even got back to me after the first cold emails. There were varying levels of engagement from free Skype consultations, to one CEO who quoted me on the first call that they wouldn’t do it for any less than $100,000 for just design and proof of concept. Some were more thorough and engaging than others, and I documented the whole process to keep it straight. I found that some of the companies that responded to me would only quote the first few steps (basically just brainstorm sessions), and not all the man-hours required through prototyping. I didn’t like that they were not honest and upfront with a ballpark estimate of costs. In some ways, I felt like they were going to pull the wool over my eyes after committing a few thousand dollars.

In the end, we felt that KickrDesign came out ahead with a slight edge because their message was clear and they were understanding of my needs as a first-time entrepreneur. I also liked that they were full service and could be the right partner from the beginning to end, through design, prototyping, cost reduction, and connect us to the right manufacturers. Overall what gave them the slight edge was the confidence in them that gave me peace of mind. That alone justified that I accepted the slightly higher price tag would be worth it in the end. (I’ll give you another review at the end, to see if this held true!)
Bottom line? Do your homework, Hire the right professionals for you. Oh, and are you worried about people stealing your idea? You really shouldn’t be, but if you are, have them sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before talking.

Step 5. Protect your idea.

If your idea can be protected in any way by a patent, although not necessary, it is highly recommended that you file at least what is called a Provisional Patent Application or PPA before going public with your idea and its workings. I could write all day about how to do this the right way and on a budget, so stay tuned for my next project update!

To sum it all up:

  • Make sure you have the desire to see it through
  • Research, research, research (FIRST)
  • Sketch and describe, be clear and concise
  • Seek professional help
  • Always use protection

So a brief update on where The Freewheel stands?

We are ahead of schedule and currently at the door to a physical prototype. At this point we have completed:

  • Functional specs defined and refined
  • CAD mock-ups of parts and modeling
  • Finalization of parts

Next steps:

  • Sourcing materials
  • Prototyping
  • Assembly

We should be able to share photos of our design and prototype soon! Stay tuned!