Liz Long, founder of Learn to Make a Product a platform that supports customers to launch products, shares some of her new product launch tips and thoughts about what it takes for entrepreneurs to go through the development process and get their new products to market.
Liz herself is a successful entrepreneur who bought a range of reusable bags to the market in the USA which sold for many years. She’s also helped hundreds of people realize their products over the years, so let’s draw on her own experience, best practices, and tips to help you get a better understanding of what you’ll need to do, and pitfalls to look out for, in order to launch your product and start getting sales!
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🎧 How To Start Developing Your New Product (Feat. Liz Long)
How could a would-be entrepreneur start out with their new project and how long before they see ‘success’ after launch?
It’s possible to start with a day job and transition over time, and Liz has seen some of the most successful projects start out this way and people can use the income generated in their jobs to invest in the new venture task by task. However, some people thrive on pressure and like to dive in and quit their jobs.
Most successful projects start to gain traction and get sales within 6-12 months of launch. If it’s taking longer there may be some issues holding back the project which could be as simple as unattractive photography for the products. (04:00)
How long might it take to be ready to launch?
Setting everything up before launch is where people often have preconceived notions that it will take just 3-6 months. There is a huge amount to do before launch during what is basically the NPI process: Product development, reviewing prototypes, selecting suppliers, doing certifications, launching mass prod, monitoring that it is running correctly, managing the logistics, warehousing, fulfilment, etc. It is more realistic to expect a timescale of around 1-2 years to be ready for launch, especially if doing it as a side project. (06:20)
What are the benefits of private labelling VS custom product development from scratch?
Private labelling (branding an existing product type and making sales on, say, Amazon until the brand is recognized and revenue is coming in) is more successful if you have an existing following or are an influencer of some kind because they have an audience to sell the brand to. Without an audience, there isn’t much difference in the difficulty of making sales for either product type and so it’s probably better, on balance, for you to invest in making the custom product that you truly love rather than branding an existing product type (and being a distributor rather than a manufacturer).
In fact, it may cost you even more to sell a private-labelled product in a crowded marketplace where others are the same or similar because you’ll have to spend big on marketing and ads to be seen above them, whereas a more unique product will stand out more and may require less budget to get seen.
Data-driven entrepreneurs tend to do well in the private-label space, whereas creatives tend towards the new custom product side of things.
If you’re lucky an influencer may like your product enough to feature or review it for free, although this is becoming much rarer these days.
Some entrepreneurs just find the costs of developing a new custom product too high and, therefore, too risky, hence they choose to private-label, however, with great risk comes great reward and the ability to truly launch dream products. (07:40)
Are there product types that have a lower barrier to entry or lower investment required to get to market quickly?
Sewn products, apparel and accessories, etc, are easier to launch, but more costly to market as it’s a crowded space. Custom ‘hard products’ that require plastic injection molds for housings, etc, are more expensive to launch but can be easier to sell due to being unique and interesting. So either way, you’ll probably require a similar investment. That being said, the time and budget required to create tooling, do certifications, etc, for a product with a custom housing can be surprisingly long in comparison to simpler goods and often shocks entrepreneurs.
The most difficult products to bring to market tend to be perishables that have a shelf-life, but electronics, especially RF electronics, because there are so many complex requirements to fulfill such as certifications, testing, etc, are also complex and tough to launch. So when bringing a new electronic product to market this is probably the product type where the entrepreneur should be getting experienced assistance. On the other hand, it’s also the product type where obtaining outside investment tends to be easiest.
An initial investment into photos, your messaging, setting up a website, etc, will help attract investors. A good idea on its own isn’t worth much to them. (14:06)
What tools, sites, and resources are helpful to someone who is developing a new product?
Liz suggests her own platform, Learn to Make a Product, as it provides thorough new product launch tips and support at affordable prices. For selling, setting up a Shopify store as she hasn’t found better options. Sites that provide great copywriting and photography tailored for online stores allow you to get a lot done fairly cheaply, such as soona.co for photography and Upwork for almost anything! It is important to get help when deciding who to work with, though, as poor partner choice can badly damage or kill the project if the budget is wasted.
The same can be said for manufacturing, too, working with bad-fit partners can kill your project, and that includes great factories, for example, who just aren’t a good fit for your needs at that time. Renaud gives the example of Foxconn, Apple’s contract manufacturer. You could work with them and end up disappointed because you don’t have the army of staff behind the scenes on the ground in Asia facilitating the project and making sure that everything is set up perfectly that Apple does. So there are no ‘good factories’ in the absolute, a lot depends on the relationship and work put in around making sure that production runs well. (20:14)
How to find the right supplier/factory and if working with an intermediary is OK?
For inexperienced importers with a small or no network, the odds are against you finding a good supplier without help. This is especially true for simple goods, where there are a lot of ‘bad options’ out there. Working with an intermediary like a trading company is also a risk as they handle everything with their own suppliers and the customer is often left unaware of the real factory and their product could be being made by different suppliers using different materials or components which, obviously, increases the risk of non-compliant or unsafe products a lot.
That being said, trading companies can be a good starting point for entrepreneurs to get a foothold in the market, but they aren’t a long-term solution as you will lack the control over your project that you would have and need when being involved in sourcing, inspections, etc. (26:38)
Is it better to be overly optimistic or pessimistic when starting out?
Assuming that the factory is an expert in everything and has your best interests at heart is too optimistic. It’s better for entrepreneurs to be overly pessimistic or cautious and micro-manage the project at least the first time around because you are still getting to know your supplier and their strengths and weaknesses. Using a company like Sofeast to go in and check things on the ground in Asia if they cannot be there is important when it comes to retaining control.
A common issue that can cause trouble in new product launch projects like this is small issues seen during sampling, like a small defect. This defect is also likely to occur during production if not flagged with the supplier, so document it and make sure that they understand that there is an issue that needs to be solved before they can progress to the next stage of the project. (31:42)
Special thanks to Liz for sharing these new product launch tips that are great for an entrepreneur or small business with a burning desire to make their cool product idea a reality. Hopefully, it sheds some light on the path head, what to start with, and what to avoid! Don’t forget to check out her platform at Learn to Make a Product and if you have any questions about launching a new product, feel free to ask me, too.
P.S. Related content to this topic…
You’ll get a lot more new product launch tips and assistance from the blog posts, guides, and podcast episodes!
- The New Product Launch Roadmap you should use to develop & make a product in China
- New Product Launch: Taking Shortcuts vs. Preventing Risks
- What’s The Investment Required To Bring My New Product To Market?
- Navigating The Product Design and NPI Maze For New Products [Podcast]
- NPD Project Constraints (3 common examples)
- What is an NRE Cost (Non-Recurring Engineering)?
- Ultimate Guide To Sourcing From China And Developing Your Suppliers [eBook]