Making a Product: One Year In

Making a Product One Year In

Last year I committed to building a physical product. And I did this because I understand the people who get into eCommerce. I want know what state of mind they're in, how they handle their finances, and what they do before they even start building an eCommerce site.

Last year I promised to get a product ready to launch on Kickstarter:

By the end of 2018 I want to have a product ready to go. I know the publishing and/or Kickstarter process can be long so by the end of 2018 I want to be ready to go under contract with a publisher or be ready to start planning my own Kickstarter campaign.

And I'm going to officially mark that goal as complete. I'm planning to launch my product on Kickstarter February 5th.

More than just having a product ready to go I learned a lot about:

  • How product development isn't perfectly linear
  • The importance of building an audience around your product
  • How a tiny mistake can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars
  • How every piece of data about pricing seems to contract every other piece and you just have to guess.
  • The insane amount of time you have to spend marketing

Product Development

Before we start talking about manufacturing and order minimums let's just talk about making the product itself.

Product Development includes the initial idea of the product, creating a prototype, and iterating on the product. I started product development over a year and wrapped up most of the development ~6 months ago. But I'm still occasionally tweaking the product. It's a phase that you can go through as you're going through other phases.

Filter Feedback

I showed my product to literally hundreds of people over the last year. And one of the things I learned is that you have to be incredibly good at filtering feedback. In the morning I might get a bunch of criticism about my product and that afternoon I'll get praise for those exact same features.

As a creator you have to vision (or mission statement) for your product. And every time you get a piece of feedback you need to view it through the lens of your vision.

Unfortunately not everyone is your target demo. So even with careful vetting before you show them your product you're going to have to listen to a lot of feedback you're not going to use.

Feedback is Great For Articulating Problems Not Solutions

One of the biggest changes to my product came about 6 months into development. At the time I had a much smaller product. It was minimalistic and fit into this vinyl wallet.

Fry Thief Wallets

Wallet concepts from September 2018.

And people loved how portable the game was. But they was consistent feedback on the thin paper tokens. In fact people said, “I know this token is just a prototype so I can't wait until the full version has a nicer token”.

Fry Thief Tokens

Three sets of tokens for Fry Thief. Top are acrylic tokens which were eventually replaced with wood versions. Left is hard cardboard. Center are cardstock tokens that fit in the wallets.

But that token would have been exactly what they would have received in a finished product. The token wasn't thin because it was a prototype it was thin because that's what fit into the wallet.

People said things like “I wish this was nicer” and they said “I love the thin wallet”. But no one was clear and said, “I'd love nicer components even if that means upgrading to a small box and getting rid of the wallet”.

I had to come to that conclusion myself. So listen to your audience; they're dropping all of the right hints. But when you hear contradictory advice you'll have to experiment and see which one your audience prefers.

Landing Page – The Start of Marketing

Fry Thief Landing PageOnce you have a product it's time to let people follow along. About 6 months ago I created a landing page. This landing page is the perfect place to send people when people ask for more information about your product.

As people playtested my game if they seemed like they had a good time I'd prompt them to sign up for the email list. I sent out tweets, put a link in my email signature, and otherwise promoted the game in simple ways. This is where you get your first fans. And it's likely to come from your personal network of friends & family.

What's great about this step is you don't need to know your entire marketing message. If you have a name for your product you can get a domain, building a landing page, and start building that fan base.

Landing Page Technology

When it comes to landing page builders I wanted to try Kickoff Labs since they promised a “viral” element. If users share your landing page they automatically share a unique link and they're rewarded with points for each signup. As long as you give away a prize of some sort there's a nice incentive to share the page.

I had 410 users sign up through my landing page. Thirty of which were directly referred by another user.

Kickoff Labs Leads

30 of my 410 leads were referred by other users.

So when it comes to landing page software you don't need to get the premium landing page builder. Kickoff Labs is excellent but you don't need to pay that much. As long you can easily build a landing page with a signup form it will be good enough.

Manufacturing

After you have the basic idea for the product you want to create it's time to look for manufacturers. I started this process pretty organized with a list of ~10 manufacturers and found a few that seemed like great fits.

Unfortunately the more I promoted my product the more manufacturers found me and pitched me. You need to learn how to say no quickly. I was inundated with requests and thoughtfully answered each one. I lost a month of planning due to me chatting to each manufacturer that approached when I could have simply stuck with my first choice.

Pricing

Pricing is something that baffled me before this experiment and it still baffles me. From economics classes we have the supply & demand curve which helps you figure out the optimum price.

Supply & Demand Curve from Economics

Look how easy it is to find the optimum price in this model.

While that works great in retrospect how do you use this to price a new product?

I compared my game to similar games and found out that $15 is a pretty good price.

One thing I learned is that comparing to similar products on the market isn't necessarily a good idea. A month ago CMON (a huge board game company) reported losses of 4.1 million dollars. And unfortunately a lot of board game fans use them as the model for Kickstarter success. I don't want to follow in their footsteps. And if they weren't a public company I never would have known they were failing so badly.

You can use similar products on the marketplace as a starting point. But you have to look at your numbers. I know I can order 1,500 units from a factory, ship them to me, and ship them customers all while charging $15 + shipping.

Marketing

You start marketing your product before it's completely done but at a certain point you need to ramp up your marketing. And there's a lot here:

  • Create a name
  • Create a logo
  • Create colors
  • Create a brand voice (are we cheeky, serious, professional, etc)
  • Take professional photos
  • Create professional videos
  • Create & run ads

I haven't talked much about marketing my product and that's because I'm still going through this process. I've been experimenting with Facebook ads (which can be brilliant or terrible), podcasts, reviewers (influencer marketing), and sharing updates via social media.

What I can say is even with all of my sharing on social media, direct outreach to friends and family, and prompting playtesters I'd probably only have about 100 followers to my project. The rest of the leads came through Facebook ads.

Getting attention is one of the hardest things to do online. There's a bajillion other products out there. Why should I look at yours? Even if I would be interested in your product how do I find out about it without you having to pay an arm and a leg?

Still To Do

I'll continue to market my game and sometime after the Kickstarter share my marketing results.

After that I still have a lot to do and learn. Namely how to take pre-orders via Kickstarter & how to fulfill orders.

Advice for ECommerce Agencies

If you sell eCommerce websites to clients one of the most valuable selling points would be help with marketing. As the eCommerce entrepreneur I already have a lot of other tasks. If you have proven methods to market my product I'm going to be seriously interested.

And since marketing starts prior to the full eCommerce site you can get in the door with a simple landing page and marketing assistance.

One thing that's not helpful: don't throw out MORE ideas. There's a billion ideas to promote ideas, websites, and products online. I don't need more ideas. I need metrics that show me you know what you're doing and you can get the job done.

If I've done my job as an eCommerce entrepreneur and have enough margin in my products price then hopefully you can maximize that margin and help me get the most number of sales & fans to turn this into a profitable venture.

2 thoughts on “Making a Product: One Year In

  1. Great guide to follow when developing and selling a product. But I’m wondering why we have to create a landing page before finding a manufacturer or indicating pricing?

    • You certainly don’t have to have a landing page up that early.

      I did because the biggest hurdle in this online age is getting someone’s attention. If I show my product to someone and they’re interested I want to show them the landing page so they can sign up and I can capture their email. 🙂

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