People always tell you that starting a business is not a quick and easy journey, and that the “overnight success stories” you see tend to detract from the years of work that go into creating this business. success. So when I started my innovative underwear business, Perkies, I was hoping it would be the journey, not the destination.
That I he did not The hope was that it would be a three-year journey to find out how to develop my signed product (a sticky bra with replaceable stickers) before selling a single unit.
I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it. Seeing the brilliant reviews of women who feel safer while wearing our product makes up for every long day they spent calling manufacturers, all the prototypes I had to put together with my own hands, and every rash I developed while trying to find stickers. safe for the body that really worked (real story).
Nor do I think my multi-year timeline was out of the ordinary to create a product that didn’t exist before. But, there are things I wish I had known to set my expectations (and maybe help make the process a little smoother).
So, to help other inventive entrepreneurs who are embarking on the path of product development, here are four things I wish I had known from the start.
1. It was more complicated than I thought
When I came up with the idea to create a product for women who were tired of throwing away an entire sticky bra just because the stickers had worn out, it seemed so obvious. “How come no one has thought of this before?” I was wondering.
I quickly realized, however, that while others had probably had the same idea, no one had bothered to turn the idea into a final product, probably because there is tan many steps to do so.
Here’s just a brief overview: I had to figure out where to find the materials for each component of the product and then find separate manufacturers to put all these elements together. We ended up working with a manufacturer in China for bras, manufacturers in the US for the three different stickers we use, and an adhesive converter that laminates the adhesive layers together to the finished stack. I also had to work with many different experts to develop specialized materials and processes, and I quickly realized that I wouldn’t even be able to automate everything right away. Until recently, I was cutting the specific shape of our stickers by hand and I still add layered extraction tabs myself.
And all this adds to the delivery and compliance, in addition to the supply chain issues that have been affecting us since, well, the plague began.
Oh, and Murphy’s law applied to almost every step of the way. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to extend deadlines because I was waiting for a manufacturer, I’ve been close to tears because a vendor sent me something that didn’t work, or I accidentally sent a faulty sample to a customer.
Ultimately, what separates an idea from a real product is the entrepreneurs who have the strength to overcome it all. In my experience, I would recommend that you give yourself enough time and mental strength to deal with complications. I also found it incredibly valuable to befriend other product-based founders to pity them when I was among the weeds.
2. I needed a lot of time or a lot of money
I knew I would be able to speed up the development process if I could raise some funding – I could pay material experts to get the perfect stickers, I could pay the manufacturers to hurry my orders, and so on. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that no investor was interested in signing a check until they had a functional prototype. I couldn’t create my product without money, and I couldn’t raise money without a product.
Instead, I sacrificed my own time for R&D. And it wasn’t glamorous. I would spend weeks looking for manufacturers who could answer small questions as to whether the adhesive could be a few millimeters thicker to improve adhesion. For months, every time I went to a training class, I would wear different stickers to see what the sweat could hold. I would invite friends with different bra sizes to try on molds for me. It took a lot of time and effort to make small gains toward my goal.
I also chose to move in with my family to give me more financial clue (not that I had much choice). If you can’t afford to move home to start a business, I recommend that you make a plan on how to finance your idea or how to give yourself enough time to work. Can you find friends and family or angel investors who believe in you despite not having a prototype? (Since then, I’ve found that former founders understand the product development process much better than venture capitalists or angel investors who have never set up a business.) You can do product development nights and nights. weekends while continuing to work full time. ?
3. I needed to generate interest long before my product was ready
Mostly because I didn’t know how long this whole process would take, it was tempting not to tell anyone except my closest friends and family what I was working on until the product was ready.
Instead, I stepped out of my comfort zone and began to build traction on our social channels. We didn’t have any product images yet, so I designed funny graphics that hinted at our final product. I also found that fans liked to take a look behind the scenes of product development. In the end, it was helpful to keep track of potential customers once the bras were ready to sell.
Another valuable way I found to start building brand trust (and making some money) was by developing an ancillary product that could reach the market faster. While doing some early customer research, I realized that sticky nipple covers were a popular underwear in this category and would be much easier to develop, so we released “Perkies Petals” six months before the sticky bra came out. This had the added benefit of helping me solve sales and shipping issues before the sticky bras were ready.
Eventually, I learned a lot about the common pre-order strategy. We pre-ordered friends and family for the bras, and while the cash flow was nice, it also added extra pressure, especially when we had to keep pulling back the timeline (see point # 1).
My advice: if you’re thinking about pre-ordering, just do it with people you know will forgive you! And whatever approach you choose, do your best to build encouragement along the way. The last thing you want is to finally have a product, and then spend months and months looking for customers to buy it.
4. Product development never stops
After pulling back the release timeline over and over again (leaving my friends and family who had placed the hanging order), I finally set a hard deadline to release it in May 2021. Although the product still didn’t feel 100% there, I knew I needed to bring it to market at some point (plus I wanted people to have their backless bras before summer!).
This was difficult for a perfectionist like me, but it turned out to be incredibly helpful. I’ve learned a lot from hearing real customer experiences with the product. It was a good reminder that while you obviously don’t want a product that disappoints customers, you can keep improving things even after launch. (Remember: the iPhone did not launch with all the features it has today!)
Most of the feedback I’ve received has been excellent, but from some constructive notes from customers, I’ve changed the location of the replaceable sticker tab, improved the instructions that come with the bra, and more. We are also in the process of developing new products to keep the business growing.
In other words, even after almost four years, I’m far from finished. Product development doesn’t really stop, and if that sounds exhausting, this may not be the right path for you. But if you, like me, believe that the constant journey to build something new will give you energy every day, keep going. If you can put aside your pride and devote time and effort, you will create something that customers like, and that is an amazing feeling.