The Prototype.

 

by_a_GIRL-12You have the idea. You’ve run it through the wringer and it’s still standing. Now you need a prototype. I had no idea where to start, so I googled “prototype”, and cold called companies. Of course I didn’t know what to ask them once I got them on the phone! I’ve now completed several prototypes with PRG Prototyping, Inc, and asked CEO Tyler Harrell to answer some questions so that you are more prepared than I was.

by a GIRL: You receive countless prototyping inquiries from entrepreneurs across the country. When do you know an idea is a good one?

TYLER: We don’t take on every idea that comes through the door. Any new product concept must have market potential and consumer desire. If these 2 things are missing, you will likely not succeed. I subscribe to an old marketing philosophy test to determine which ideas are “good”: (AIDA) attention, interest, desire, action. I believe a product idea must be able to draw attention from the intended market. Sometimes that’s a niche market, other times it’s mass market. Then the product must raise interest by demonstrating advantages and benefits. Once you have interest, the consumer must then desire what you have, or visualize the product being used in their lives in some way. The final step is action. Action can obviously be a direct sale of your product, but more importantly, the action of how and where you will sell the product is far more important. If the final action step answers the target market question, then there’s likely a way to succeed with your invention.

by a GIRL: Inventors are a paranoid bunch (with ample reason!). What should they require of a company in terms of confidentiality?

TYLER: Each PRG Prototyping employee must sign a strict confidentiality agreement to be employed, and every client that comes though the door is offered a mutual NDA (Non-Disclosure) and confidentiality agreement. We also clear our prototype shop of any product in development so that we don’t jeopardize your project confidentiality.

by a GIRL: What do you think makes one prototyping company better than another?

TYLER: How much of their team is in-house because not only do you want to ensure talented engineers are designing your prototype, but you are also concerned with speed to market. When you have engineering talent in house, a full in-house prototype development shop, challenges can be addressed more quickly reducing development time and overall time to market. You also want a company that invests in the latest technology to provide the fastest turnaround of all prototypes.

by a GIRL: So what is an inventor looking at in terms of cost?

TYLER: We provide basic CAD (computer aided design) services that start at $1,200, and full-scale product development and prototyping services to prepare a product for manufacturing. These services range anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000 depending on the complexity of the product. Electronic hardware and software programming can also dramatically increase the development costs.

by a GIRL: I now know an important part of an inventor’s development budget is not only: “What will it cost to make my prototype?”, but also “How much will 50 samples cost?”. Samples can get costly because the numbers are so small.

TYLER: Which is why you need to choose a company that also specializes in low volume runs of prototyping. My company has developed proprietary tooling processes to develop up to your first 10,000 samples. The best news is that China can’t even compete with our pricing on low volume samples.

by a GIRL: What are the phases of prototyping? Do I send you my kindergarten-style drawings and you send me back something fabulous?

TYLER: Ummm…something like that. First we conceptualize the product using 3D CAD software and then we identify the materials through testing. Just because a material works on one design, doesn’t mean it will work in a different design configuration. With engineering and prototyping, you’re trying to eliminate the things that don’t work, while at the same time trying to create what will work. *******************************************************************************

I’ve learned to get comfortable with arts and crafts. The way I communicated my second product idea to Tyler was through a ton of glue, cardboard, and shower curtain rings. I now embrace my time spent wondering the aisles of Home Depot, Michaels, and Staples searching for the best way to communicate a creative concept. The faster you can get your idea across, the less money and time it will take you to nail the prototype. Good luck!

 

The bulletin board speaks.

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I do work – a lot – at my desk. The other day I was taking stock of all the sheets I had pinned in my eye line and realized my office bulletin board displays me.  A couple call outs:

1.  I’m a mom obsessed with her child’s feet (to the point of taking a ton of pictures, horrified that they might lean out one day and lose all the baby pudge).

2.  I’m a big picture gal first and foremost, but I am trying hard to focus on the minute details (as illustrated by my messy beauty file drawing for my graphic designer). She’s excellent at deciphering pre-kindergarten-level art skills.

3.  I’m a sucker for quotes that speak to me. I believe that determination and perseverance outweigh everything else.

4.  And then there is the large, bold sentiment: “Well that was a SHIT idea”. If I am truly engaged in the creative process, then I am going to spin some doozys. And that is the way those doozys – those “shit” ideas – should be framed: as an inevitable part of the process and proof that I’m doing it. Not to mention, it makes me laugh.  So…

What’s on your bulletin board?

 

Good ideas.

How do you know an idea is a good one?  I thought my first product, HemmingMyWay, was an idea worth pursuing.  There was nothing like it on the market and women needed the adhesive snaps to solve a variety of wardrobe problems.  I concluded that investing our savings into its development was a good idea.  But at night, I would bolt upright – heart pounding – convinced I had bought my husband a one-way ticket to the poor house.  Fortunately, my gamble paid off.  HemmingMyWay was purchased by QVC and licensed by an “As Seen on TV” company that blasted our adhesive snaps into over 30,000 stores including Target and Wal-Mart.  And I’m still married.  Looking back on that first product experience, I realize there were reasons the product was more likely to succeed.  Now I ask myself a series of questions before putting a penny toward development.

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1.  Does the idea appeal to a large market?

Beauty File (pictured above) is an organizational makeup bag for a woman’s purse.  The potential market for this product is women ages 15 – 70.  The product also solves the “one disastrous hole” problem plaguing all makeup bags on the market.  Beauty file is designed with 9 different organizational options, plus a large mirror.  That’s a difference I can sell.

Note on market size:  I have had inventors pitch me their ideas for “moms”, which is seemingly a huge market.  But look closer:  all “mom” products usually target a mom of a specific age range of child.  Your market just drastically shrunk.  That’s not to say it’s too small, only to say: define this carefully, or use it to challenge yourself on how to alter the idea to appeal to an even larger market.

2.  Does the pricing work?

Check out the price range of similar products in your target store and see where the retail price will most likely fall.  Big retailers have different markups than QVC or boutiques, but I think it’s a good rule of thumb to assume 220%.  Can you make the product and a profit before that 2.2 markup?  Sometimes the answer is “no”.

3.  Does a version of the idea already exist on the market and is it sold in the stores I want to be in?

Inventing a “better” version of a product that is already in your target stores is an uphill battle.  Many of the big retailers have contracts with companies that sell them many different products.  Unless the improvement changes the product substantially, your target store has – and is obviously selling – the product you want to improve.

If the idea has survived these 3 questions, pick a few trusted friends who fit your target market.  Ask them to give you 2 reasons they might buy your product, and 2 reasons they might not.  Framing the question this way will help you identify your idea’s attributes and shortcomings; it also gives them permission to tell you what you don’t want to hear.  Make it your goal to figure out any objections now – while you can still tweak the idea – so that all you hear from a buyer is “great idea”.

 

The Boss

I am not someone that has ideas fall from the sky.  I am someone that has to spend a lot of time and energy thinking – usually about the mundane, the ridiculous, the mental – until my brain decides to start firing in that creative realm.  The struggle to get there is not time I look forward to.  So I have learned, through the many years I spent screenwriting that I have to schedule these wrestling matches in my calendar, treating them as important meetings that cannot be cancelled or moved.  Now it’s one thing to show up for that meeting, and another thing not to bolt from the room after ten minutes of “I got nothin’.”

This is why I have the clock.

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Yes, my big secret to a successful brainstorming session is the cracked, discolored, pathetic-looking alarm clock I’ve had since my freshman year in college.  I’m sure a therapist could tell you why it is this clock that has power over me, and why I refer to it as “the boss”, but what matters to me is that my process works.  The rules are simple:  I set “the boss” for an hour and a half and cannot take a phone call, text, or touch a computer (if you tell yourself you are going to google for inspiration you are kidding yourself).  This is an old-school meeting over pencil and legal pad.  The first 40 minutes are usually a mess of thoughts that range from: “I really need to do laundry, I am out of milk, I can’t believe I haven’t worked out this week” to “that mirror would look better if I painted it blue.  And I should paint it blue right now.”  The lack of even one interesting thought culminates into:  “I can’t think to save my life and I’m going to sulk over an US Magazine and a kit-kat and feel really bad for myself.”  But if I can stick it out – and not shirk “the boss” – this is the very moment my brain is in the process of switching from mindless chatter to focused solution.  Since I love problem / solution products, my brain hones in on the problems bugging me, and the products that could provide a solution.  The products that exist on the other end of:  “Y’know they really should have a…”  Just like anything else, it’s a discipline.  It’s committing to a finite period of time and wrestling your brain to the mat.  And of course when it’s you against you, it’s really helpful to have a boss.

Inventing life.

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I needed a change.  My timing had always been poor, so it was apropos that I had decided I needed an entirely new career four months into mommy-hood.  If I didn’t start using my adult brain STAT, I was going to freak out more than I was already freaking out.  The problem was, now that I had bore my beloved lil’ screamer, my career requirements had grown more complex.  I needed a career that fueled my mind, and let me – occasionally – put my daughter’s needs above the jobs.  This realization aggravated me as much as it would my future employer.  Like my daughter, I had roared out of the womb on a mission.  Now, I found my go-get-‘em-heart breaking over the thought of being in someone else’s office, missing my daughter dressed in overalls for her debut as the star in “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.”  Hormones.  Suck.

WAY back in 1998, when I was single and the sky was the limit, I decided enough was enough:  I wasn’t going to assist any more Hollywood producers or directors and the only coffee I was making was mine.  If I was going to realize my dream of becoming a film director, I had to get on with it and make a film.   Fortunately, when you’re young, you don’t give a ton of credence to the fact that you have no idea how to make a movie, nor do you have enough money to even make rent.  Luckily, my dear friend Greg Dunigan wasn’t intimidated by the fine print either and wanted to be a producer.  The memory of the day that we sat down in my tiny LA kitchen to make a to-do list will always make me laugh.  We needed a camera.  Film.  A script.  Actors.  Credit Cards.   And so on and so forth until we were actually shooting a short film in that tiny LA apartment with my parents doing a stellar job as craft service.  Nine months later we were pretty stunned when the film received a wonderful review in The Hollywood Reporter.  It was chosen to air on Lifetime television and screened at numerous film festivals including Aspen, Japan, and Berlin.   When we raised the money to make the feature version of the short film, we knew:  this is only a longer version of what we’ve already done, and celebrated:  we’re not using our own credit cards!  The feature film sold to HBO.  To see “Written and Directed by Kara Harshbarger” on my television screen was everything I imagined it would be.

Certainly growing older and birthing a lil’ screamer fans the flames of youthful ambition.  But it was vital to be able to reach back and use those experiences as my touchstone on how to start my own business.  Let’s be realistic:  I am the only boss that is going to let myself occasionally put “show and tell“ above “important meeting”.  So I made a list and did a lot of googling.  It turns out spinning creative screenplays has a lot in common with spinning creative products and it has completely ignited my passion.  I’m not saying it’s easy to make a living owning your own business, but I’m doing it.  A lot of friends and friends of friends have called to pick my brain on the process, and I’m always happy to share.  I’m hoping that I can provide a more comprehensive map on this blog, because I would’ve found it useful when my first idea struck.  It would have been nice, amidst the sleep-deprivation and devil hormones, to be able to say:  “She did it and so can I.”