Photo by Rob Lambert on Unsplash

How to build a successful product

The year is 2021, digital is big, booming and people are making money in all sorts of creative ways. If you’re looking at developing a physical product. Prepare yourself for a longer than you think journey. Prepare yourself for some hard, expensive lessons along the way, but be ready for some happy tears.

Technology has made developing physical products easier and more accurate than ever. 3D printing gives you the opportunity to test out your product faster and cheaper. And the virtual world of 3D designs can help you render and animate your design with nothing being manufactured. We have these great tools at our disposal, it’s how you use them that counts.

The method of designing a product hasn’t changed in decades. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s physical or digital. We take a problem or pain point and develop a solution in the form of a product.

What is a successful product? Now this question differs from person to company to person to thinker. It’s when you sit down with your team, your husband or just your cat. You need to define your own version of success for your product and business.

Something that is long lasting?

Something that doesn’t stress you out so much you can’t enjoy your morning cup of coffee?

Something that adds value to peoples lives?

Something that you can make a living off of?

Something that doesn’t destroy the world and others, so you can get ahead?

Something that doesn’t devalue so fast?

Spend time thinking about this question it will help you sleep at night.


What’s the big idea?

Defining your mission or your goal or what you want the product to achieve in the beginning can be one of the most critical steps to developing a successful product. This first step helps keep a direction to all your decisions whether that be within the design or business or marketing. This will help you and your team build a cohesive product that ends up addressing your big idea. If you are developing a brand in parallel, very often your products mission can hold the similar values as your brand positioning.

Defining your mission could take a few iterations till you’ve gotten to the core. Don’t be afraid to get help, speak to a professional, pay someone, chat to family, go for long walks, whatever you need to do, know that it is a process. Understanding your reason/mission/goal can save yourself a world of pain later on and help develop a solid product direction.  

Does it make business sense?

Unless you drive a jet ski to work, chance are your idea needs to make some profit. You need to have some knowledge of the business surrounding your product. Use the information available online to determine if your product can make you money. You need to conduct some basic research to find out if there is a market, need or potential surrounding your idea. Look at competitorsor similar products, check their prices, look at Google analytics to understand need for your idea, ask questions to potential customers, etc. Researcheverything you can get your hands on. Maybe even ask someone else to have a look for you. A fresh, unbiased set of eyes never hurt.  

The important thing here is that you don’t design in your own vacuum. Putting on your blinders and steaming ahead without understand the business potential for your product can have a great product outcome, but maybe something not very business smart. The more of the market and business surrounding your idea you understand, the less in the dark you’ll be when it comes to making money from it.

This research might force you to adapt your mission slightly. Don’t be afraid of pivoting your idea if needed. But remember why you set outyour mission in the beginning. Be strong.

Be prepared to pivot, change direction, adapt and evolve your idea.

If you have run your own business before. You will understand that you have to be able to adapt to what changes around you. Just like a business, developing a product is like an ever-changing ecosystem. You change one thing, take away another and the whole product might start acting differently. It’s our job to be flexible enough to take the changes into account, but rigid enough with decisions to make sure the product still achieves the mission it is set out to.

Being aware of these changes is a big step in making sure you adapt your design to become not only a good product, but a great business smart product.


Be Patient, but not too patient

Great things take time. In some countries it takes up to 10years to become a doctor. We can only go as fast as our brains and the world allow us. However, we have that thing called technology which has changed everything… Except, creativity and innovation.

In product design, much can be the same with crafting a great product. We don’t know, what we don’t know. It’s such a perfect statement for taking a product to market. If you are developing a product totally new to the world, there will be moments of failing. We can guarantee that. It’s how patient and understanding you are of that failure that counts, how are you going to learn, adapt and develop a plan forward. This can take time and require patience.

If your product is more of a spin off from other products, the failures will be much less as we can learn from what’s already been done. The key to development is balancing time and allowing the design to evolve through thought.    

You will get to a point, you’ll know when you’ve arrived, the creative thinking and development has come full circle and it’s now time to release the hand break. It’s time to go all in.


Build a cohesive and thoughtful brand

Build a strong brand behind your product. Successful products have great cohesion between brand and product. People make decisions using their emotions, they want to feel something. Help them feel by making sure your brand stands for something.  

But remember, a brand is not a logo, a website or a shiny looking graphic. A brand is a movement, a feeling, it’s a group that stands for something.

Nike is not just a tick, it’s a movement towards greatness.

McDonalds is not a golden arch, it’s where you go to be happy.

Great brands make you feel, and great brands behind great products allow people to feel your brands place in the world.


Don’t get married to your products features?

When you set out to develop a product. You’re building something that can create value or solve a problem or look a certain way.

Product features will either add value to your goal or take it away. Through the development process you will come across features that you love, but don’t add value to your mission you set out in the beginning.

Be careful and aware of keeping those features around just because you like them. These can sometimes interfere with your initial goal.

Your customers will value your product more if the features are solving their problem perfectly with no frills, bells, and whistles. Keep it simple, concise and direct.  


Don’t do it solely for the money

If you’re doing it solely for the money, you might as well quit now. Jokes. I’ll never tell anyone to quit what their working on. But using money to be the main decision maker will lead to fatigue down the line and decisions going in circles.

2021 is fast paced and products are developed every day. There is so much already on the market. People are catching on. They want value. They don’t want a polished turd from 2010. They can distinguish between what they need and what they want.  

Building something just for the sake of making money will be tougher than just building something that solves a pain point or adds value to people’s lives.

Both will make you money, but only the one will have longevity, true value and probably make you more money.


Do you have the right team?

This can be so true for everything you do in life, so it’s worth a mention. Whether it’s just you or you and a team. Find people that compliment your skills, find teammates that add value into areas that need value. Look for people that are open and can work together towards the goal.

Sometimes a lesser skilled more team player person is better than a highly skilled solo player.

Hire out any work that you can’t do well. If you can affordit. Understand what you can do, and outsource what you need to be done. This helps save time.


Listen to people, but not everyone

Unfortunately, everyone has an opinion, even your bestfriend tells you what they think about a project they have no idea about. It’s your job and incredibly tough job at that, to decide what and who you listen to.

One of my best friends is a commercial fisherman, I don’t ask him advice on how to sell our speech therapy toy. He doesn’t even understand the benefits. However, I do brainstorm with him about moulding problems as he is a hands-on technical dude.

Make sure you distinguish between experts, people in the industry and someone that doesn’t even know what you are designing for.

Find your potential customers and talk to them, find technical people to help you solve technical issues, speak to people that have taken a product to market for business advice. Block everything else and toughen up that skin.


Last words:

At the end of the day, if you work hard at something, chances are you could make some sort of a success of it.

There are many ways to build a successful product. It comes down to your attitude and understanding of what’s out there. Be smart, think about things and don’t be afraid to talk about your idea.

Be persistent, patient and try to see the lighter side to the inevitable failures. It’s better than the inverse.

Author: Dylan Cooper