From Prototype to Production

You just received your prototype back from the factory that you have been successfully negotiating with for a few weeks; your waterproof Bluetooth headphones have turned out just as you desired–they are the right color, are comfortable, and are completely functional. Before you charge ahead with confidence that taking your prototype to mass production will be smooth and timely, consider the individual steps that still lie between you and your end goal. Chances are, there will be some challenges and consequently, some delays, in the process of getting your product out to market. Consider the following pieces of advice as you forecast potential issues in your cash-flow, business model, or end product on the way to mass production.

Navigate Crowdfunding Carefully

The timing of your product announcement is critical to keeping market interest. It may be beneficial to manufacture a few prototypes before you fully engage in a Kickstarter campaign. Prototypes will show potential investors that you can produce your end product, and gives them an idea of what product shipments will look like since you will have many of the fine details figured out at this point. Then, you can utilize pledged money for your first production run and shipping costs.

Announcing your product earlier in the process may acquire you the seed money you require to get prototypes manufactured, and may help to establish a community of those excited about the product, but as more time passes between the announcement of your innovation and market availability, you also risk losing interest. Be sure to provide frequent updates to your backers; don’t be afraid to share disappointing news, such as sourcing issues for individual components, or delays in manufacturing. Your honesty will build trust between you and your backers and shows that still intend to bring your product to market without sacrificing on quality.

Consider Finding Help in Startup Incubators

There are a plethora of emerging startup incubators that are meant to help startups with brilliant ideas transition into business-ready companies fairly quickly. They offer a variety of services to startups, such as design reviews, access to software relevant for designing, engineering, and manufacturing, and help with developing a business plan, which is key to surviving through the production phase and anticipating cash-flow issues. As a bonus, working with these programs can increase the chance that a venture capital firm will invest in your project further down the line. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help from experts that will expedite the process from prototype to production.

Scaling Can Affect Product Quality

You may receive an attractive and flawless prototype from your chosen prototype manufacturer, but you should not expect that your manufacturer will be able to perfectly nail your product specifications right away once the assembly line starts moving. Many hands on the product and multiple assembly stations can lead to some errors, especially when the manufacturer is first pushing out large orders. Ensure that you are shipped production samples of your product to judge the quality yourself. When it comes time to send orders, perform inspections of at least the first few shipments to identify mistakes in product specifications and to give your manufacturer feedback.

In the worst case scenario, you may find that the manufacturer that created your prototype is unable to facilitate large orders. Since finding new manufacturers and training them on your product details takes a significant amount of time, it is best to figure out right away if your manufacturer is genuinely up to par for the task of large-scale production.

Consider Tooling, Packaging, Shipping, Storage, and Other Costs

Beyond your product itself, there are a lot of other costs that come up during the production phase– ensure that your business is financially ready to handle them! Before your factory can begin manufacturing on a large scale, they may rely on custom tooling to make your product; this may be a mold or a more substantial machine specially designed for your product, and the cost of this machinery can vary.

Attractive packaging is essential for the reputation and desirability of your product; it is so important that this will also be a part of your product that you will want to have prototyped. Aside from ensuring the attractiveness of packaging, check that the factory packages the final product in a secure way that prevents damage or loss.

Before you get too deep into production details, have a plan for arranging shipments from the factory, whether they will be coming by train, plane, boat, or truck. After you have accumulated an ample supply of your product, you will need some sort of storage or fulfillment center from which you will ship the final product to customers.

There are other fixed costs to running your business that will need to be considered, from maintaining your website, paying a bookkeeper, renting a workspace, to attending trade shows. These activities are necessary to support and advance your business, and you will need cash reserves to fund these costs when sales are slow.

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