I joined the Scope of Work online community back in January (the newsletter about engineering & manufacturing previously known as The Prepared). A few weeks ago they invited Tom Gerhardt from Studio Neat to answer questions in a mega-chat session.
Studio Neat makes niche products from a slick little tripod mount for an iPhone to a wide-grip stylus for touchscreens. The two founders have a dozen Kickstarters and sell all their products direct to consumer – the ideal small business with ultimate creative freedom.
“When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia.” — Derek Sivers
Build for your community
A guy building his own brand asked Tom for advice on crowdfunding for products. I found his answer incredibly insightful.
“What really matters is who you are talking to and what you are saying. If I was starting out now, I would focus on designing something for a community I am a part of. Doesn’t matter how niche it is. Niche is actually a super power. I would start making something for that community and get the influential people in that community on board.”
Target 100 backers
The best way to learn to make a physical product is to put it out into the world and aim to build 100 units. You will overcome all the main obstacles of design, production, and procurement with a project on this scale, plus you limit the possible downside of shipping 1,000+ packages out.
I love this suggestion and it sounds fun to me to ship 5 products to 100 people each, just for the satisfaction of adding something new to the world.
Put ideas into the world for feedback
Tom and Dan had massive success with their wide-grip stylus, but it all started with a blog post. Early in the days of iPad adoption, they realized that the pens felt too small for the resolution of the screens. It made more sense to hold something closer to a marker since your lines ended up being thick and approximate.
They shared this insight with a blog post, including photos of a crude prototype stylus. And readers shared it widely, showering their idea with love. The Kickstarter for that product was a no brainer!
For another example of learning from real world feedback, check out my article, The Success in Amazon Enormous Fire Phone Failure, on the products that spun out from a $120 million failure.
** You can read the book from Studio Neat online — It Will Be Exhilarating **