Designing things to sell

I’m really sorry to tell you this, but that inspiring title is totally misleading, because it assumes an incorrect sequence. Only when you find out what people want and are willing to pay for, can you can throw yourself into design with a light heart. If you have done this, your chances of success are reasonably high, otherwise your success rate will be abysmal.

On the other hand, if you insist on designing things and then gearing up to market and sell them you are in good company. Many of the larger companies I worked for did that, usually because they had to produce something even in the absence of good input from potential customers.

Engineering/Development groups do not take well to sitting around waiting for marketing input. After all, there is no shortage of ideas and there are plenty of people willing to bet their careers on making them work. After enough time without guidance, a development group eventually gets into a pattern where they simply pump out new designs and basically turn a deaf ear to inputs from Marketing and Quality.

When companies put in a screening process to scrutinize new product viability, it is usually too late. Sun Microsystems had a complex product release process that covered the hundreds of details required for a “successful” release, but the project justification was usually a half-page memo which was not distributed. IBM had one of the most massive and well-organized product release systems I had ever seen, but I can’t for the life of me remember a document trail for justifying the need for the product. Both of these release systems required estimates of product volume, but there was little hard data to support the estimates.

So, why am I rambling on about this historical data. Well, if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it. Large companies with deep pockets can absorb many unsuccessful products. If you are in business for yourself, you can’t.

If you wish to succeed with your own business venture, I suggest you find some customers first! What a concept! Find these people and see what they need that you can provide.

Go out and talk to people for a few months. Network like crazy. If you can’t afford to spend your time schmoozing, get a job in the area you are interested in and keep your eyes open. If you are smart enough to start your own company, you will see many needs that aren’t being adequately met. You might even talk to your employer about setting up a company to provide the missing products or services. One way or another, you will find a business opportunity that is right for you.

Then you get to design a company, products, services, the whole shooting match. You may even get so busy that you consider farming out the product design to someone else. Don’t do it without thinking it through.

Make sure you keep enough of the fun stuff for yourself and that better include getting in front of as many customers and prospects as you can.

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