5 things I learnt about product design in India that helped me develop 200+ products in 4 months

    A quick guide for any entrepreneur to get product design done the right way.

    6th Apr 2018
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    If you are reading this article, chances are that you are looking to develop new products. Being a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I could not afford a design team for developing my products.

    I am sure many of you here face challenges as you try to get your product designed and launched. Unlike large companies that have teams with a specific skill set, we startups have very less time and resources.

    I run a kitchenware start up – The Indus Valley. I am not a designer. If anything I am the furthest thing from it. I am a techie and management nerd. When I started it 2 years ago, the first 4-6 months went into solid product development. The first few months were very hard as I was trying to do things I had no skill or experience in.

    There are a lot of things that I learnt in that journey. It was hard but rewarding. I was able to develop a product range of 200+ products within 4 months.

    My motive behind writing this blog is to help our fellow entrepreneurs in their journey of product development. I wish I had someone telling me possible tricks and tips to make my efforts easier.

    I have highlighted 5 things that worked for me. This would apply to most product-based companies as I see most people overcome the same challenges as I have. I can assure you by reading this post you will save a lot of time, rework, money and heart ache.

    1. ALWAYS - Listen to what your target customers say.

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    Let’s start with the basic and obvious thing. Whatever product you build or make is meant to be sold to a predefined set of customers. There are many things to consider even before you decide to develop a product. I generally check for 3 fits before I implement a new product idea-

    i. Product Customer Fit

    ii. Product Brand Fit

    iii. Customer Budget Fit

    Product customer fit –

    Sometimes you might have a great product idea, but if it does not suit your target audience that is a major problem. Even if your product is wonderful, if it does not fit the needs of your user base it is all useless. Ask yourself if the product you have in mind will suit your end customer. This will help you automatically weed out bad ideas.

    Product brand fit –

    As a bootstrapped startup, we wanted to do everything that came our way. We did the mistake of focussing on things that did not suit our brand.

    Initially, we were trying to sell our natural kitchenware to commercial establishments like restaurants too. We were successful in creating traction but it also meant that we had to make a lot of customizations. This took our money and resources away from the core of our business, selling natural kitchenware to home users. Even if you find a best seller, ask if the product fits your brand story. If the answer is no, give it a hard pass.

    Customer budget fit – 

    This fit is absolutely key in determining the success or failure. When you are catering to the Indian market, if you want to be a mass market player, pricing is key. I am not saying all products must be cheap. Indian customers are Deal seekers and value for money buyers. Keep a target price in mind as you build your products. Ensure your pricing is comparable to your competition.

    In the focus of creating wonderful clay cookware, we ended up making clay cookware that cost above 1000₹ for the end customer. The product was perfection personified, but we stood nowhere near our peers in pricing and took a hit there. But quickly recovered and revamped our offering and pricing.

    2. Use data to lead your decisions

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    Let’s say you have found the right product fit for your target audience, how do you validate it? Always go find data.

    The easiest way is to sell a few samples of your prototype (in very attractive prices of course) and ask for feedback. Ensure that your questions are clear, brief and quantifiable.

    Every time we launch a new product I can assure you, I have used it 10 times before it goes to the shelves.

    But as the developer, we will have biases. That is where it is important to do your beta testing with your target audience base. You will get feedback on customer preference. This includes preferred size/capacity, comfortable price point, common uses, pros and cons.

    Let the numbers and customer interviews led your design journey.

    3. Find product gaps- It is easier to swim in less crowded waters.

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    As entrepreneurs in the urge to be successful we might fall prey to the tried and tested route as it is easy, proven and dependable. If you are product design company and not a trading company, search for product gaps.

    Again taking my example, the most popular item sold in cookware segment in India is “Pressure Cooker.” It was a high competition product for a bootstrapped start up with limited resources. Also this did not have ‘Product Brand Fit’.

    Find good product gaps and build a strong product. Think of the time spent in building this unique product as an investment. I can guarantee you, it will pay off.

    4. Find the right vendor

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    Making products is an expensive affair. The natural tendency is to try to make the products yourself from the get-go. It might be possible for some people, for others it is not that easy.

    As a startup, it is a good idea to keep all your expenses as operational expenses (and not as capital expenses). Also, the only way you can reap benefits of your capital expense is with huge volumes. This is not something you can get from day 1.

    Find the right vendor who suits your needs. Most manufacturers have fixed MOQs (Minimum Order Quantity) and rigid payment terms. There are a couple of things to look for in your vendor-

    i. Is your vendor ready to start with a prototype?
    ii. Is your vendor ready to work on small orders initially?
    iii. Does the vendor offer credit?
    iv. Does the vendor have capacity to expand to you future requirements?
    v. Is the vendor flexible and willing to meet your requirements?

    Analyse your vendor and choose the right one. I tend to build workshops and vendors with me. I believe in growing them as I grow. This is a lot of hard work but works great for me. You might need an established player instead.

    I would recommend having a list of ‘Must have’ traits in a vendor. Use this to select the one that suits you the most. Don’t forget to analyse the work dynamic. I tend to work with younger entrepreneurs over older traditional ones. They are generally more open to change. Personal equations matter a lot in high tension situations like delay and production error. Do factor that in.

    5. Always watch the purse strings

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    This is obvious but I cannot say it enough. Always have every rupee you spend recording. Even a simple bus ticket or the tea you drink on the way to see a vendor counts.

    This level of documentation is absolutely painful to do at the start but it will pay you off immensely.

    Calculate the margins that you need to give to your marketplace partners. This will all go into your costing and pricing.

    After all your effort, if you are not making a handsome sum of money – all effort will be in vain. So always keep your eyes on the price.

    Summary-

    I hope my article geared you up for your product design journey. Product design is a lot to do with the customer than your ability to use photoshop. Never feel small and worried about things that you don’t know. Work with your strengths and keep my tips in mind. I am sure you can do wonders.

    When I started my business in March 2016 I had just a vague idea of what to do. In a small time of 4 months, I was able to design and develop over 200+ products. This involved my travel to 5 states, 10 event days, countless vendors, focus groups and customer interviews.

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