Startland News and the Kansas City Star have partnered to publish content as part of the Star’s new special section, “Spirit.” This story will appear in the Star’s Oct. 23 Sunday edition.
Not all innovation is high tech.
And while the development of any particular technology is distinct, there remain consistent principles of how to bring a product or service to market. From paper clips to apps for augmented reality, it pays to do one’s homework.
In a community that’s touting its entrepreneurial prowess, Kansas City has no shortage of business folks from whom to learn, including the co-founders of Mighty Good Solutions.
The company was launched in 2014 by Ben Rendo and Anita Newton and has offices in the Kansas City, Kan., branch of the Bioscience and Technology Business Center near the University of Kansas Hospital. It has surged in recent years thanks to a device simple enough to induce the outburst, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”
Tired of lugging groceries up to his apartment in separate trips, Rendo invented an anchor-shaped doohickey called the Mighty Handle that allows a user to carry six to eight bags — up to 50 pounds — in one hand.
What was once a doodle on a napkin is now a device that is sold in 3,500 Wal-Mart stores, was featured on “Good Morning America” and in 2015 surpassed $1 million in revenue. In short, Rendo and Newton have a handle on their market. We spoke with them about their steps that snared success.
Identify whether the problem is real.
Research the market not only for prospective competitors, but especially for the people you think will buy your product. Determine if you’re actually addressing a pain point or simply pursuing a hunch.
“Talk to customers — in parking lots, through social media — and find out what problems they face,” Rendo said. “It’s one thing if our spouses think it’s a great idea, but we need people who are going to part with their hard-earned money to validate it.”
Build a prototype or minimally viable product — and it doesn’t have to be pretty.
As inexpensively as you can, develop a mock-up of your product to demonstrate its value. For Mighty Good Solutions’ latest product — Gear Twist — the two entrepreneurs turned to board game maker Hasbro for help.
The two snagged game pieces from Sorry, nipped their tips and then glued each to the ends of a wire. The jury-rigged gadget successfully demonstrated their desired device to manufacturers, who could then concoct a more presentable solution. Continually improve the product as you gather customer feedback.
Test the prototype with your target consumers.
Don’t rely on your own assumptions about what’s valuable to consumers. The comments and criticism you gather from would-be users are invaluable — use them to inform the next iteration of the product.
This is where Newton often sees entrepreneurs slip into pitfalls.
“The biggest lies are the ones you tell yourself,” Newton said. “It’s easy to fall in love with your own ideas. They are like your children. You’re proud of them, you spend a lot of time with them, and you want them to work. … It takes so much time to bring a product to market, and to see it fail is the worst. So we try to be very intellectually honest with ourselves and each other.”
Establish your brand identity.
Clearly define your benefits to consumers. If it’s a physical product, ensure that your packaging communicates how it makes life easier, better or more productive. In your marketing efforts, make messaging as understandable as possible and evaluate its clarity.
In the world of retail, Rendo said, presentation is crucial.
“The packaging is almost as important as the product,” Rendo said. “For a small company like ours, our packaging has to be our salesperson.”
Price and distribute it, but don’t forget to ask for partners’ help.
Retailer stores will expect projections from vendors, including price points, how many units will be sold per week and when they’ll be receiving more shipments. Newton said good partners will help optimize sales as changes invariably occur.
Tap as many sources of data as you can for honest feedback on how a customer interacts with your product. You may ultimately reject the feedback, but you have to be willing to accept and test feedback before you move forward.
A key to this phase, Newton said, is adaptability.
“It’s not a linear process — it’s like cutting water,” Newton said. “You’re constantly making a series of sub-optimal tradeoffs. … There’s a cycle of tradeoffs and new focuses to optimize different things. That’s the real art and challenge in bringing a product to market.”